In 2016, This Old House launched Generation NEXT—a multimedia campaign designed to help close the skilled labor gap in America by sparking interest in the trades as a rewarding career path and raising money (nearly $700,000 to date) with partners like American Standard to support trade school programs and scholarships for qualified students. As part of our ongoing commitment to the cause, we recruit apprentices to work alongside the TOH TV crew.
Recently we asked Season 41 apprentices Kathryn Fulton, 35, of Pembroke Pines, Florida and De’Shaun Burnett, 21, of New Orleans, Louisiana to share what they’ve learned on the job site before returning to their hometowns.
What motivated you to apply for an apprenticeship with the TOH crew?
Kathryn: I’ve always had a passion for interior design, and construction, but I never thought of it as a career—just something that I liked. As I got older, I realized it isn’t just a hobby. So I left my accounting position a few years back to study and pursue a career as an interior designer. When I saw this opportunity, I thought it could expand my skills because I wasn’t confident in my construction abilities.
De’Shaun: I’ve been interested in carpentry since high school. My motivation was to pick up more skills than I already knew from interning at unCommon Construction for three semesters. I wanted to learn different ways of building, so I applied for the chance to meet my future goals.
What was your biggest surprise after joining the TOH job site?
K: I understood that I was coming into an educational home improvement show, but what I realized is that we’re not just performing for show. This was a real-life project—a genuine learning experience—and they document us actually working. Shoot days didn’t mean faking things for the camera. That was a surprise to me, but also a benefit because at no point was this experience lost on me.
D: I learned that having more skills, and the tools you use, can change how you do the job. I discovered that some of the same types of work can be done in a different, more efficient way.
What was it like being filmed for the show?
K: Because it was so natural—not a scripted production—and we’re actually working, it really wasn’t that hard. You have cameras on you, but it wasn’t a distraction. It was also really cool working with the talent. I watch the show and subscribe to the magazine, but I’ve never worked for a professional company in this field, so being around the crew and cast, including Kevin, Norm, Tom, Jeff, and Jenn was amazing—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. These are people that I can count on to teach me how to get the job done right. Plus, they are humble and willing to share their expertise, which has made it even better.
I was also the only female laborer on-site for this build. When I got here, I didn’t want to be treated any differently, and I really wanted to match the work of the guys I was building with. It’s a tall order, but they have been very patient and respectful.
D: Shoot days for me meant that while there’s a camera on you, and you may have to re-film something, you’re still learning; it still feels like a normal day. Working with the talent was so inspiring. I loved hearing from the crew about how they started their careers, especially the tricks of the trade that they’ve learned along the way.
Did you discover a new part of the trade that you’re now interested in?
K: My main focus in Florida was interior design and remodeling. I thought I would just brush up on my skills, but it’s been an eye-opening experience because I had never thought beyond remodeling before. We took a two-week break from the show to participate in a home building course at the Shelter Institute, which also expanded my career goals. This is the environment I like to be in. I like being involved in every step of the project, seeing the finished product, and the satisfaction of the clients. Ultimately, what changed for me is the scope of what I plan to pursue, which is now a career in building and project management.
D: What I learned about myself is that I like to know the basics of every aspect of home building. I found it just as interesting to work with the electricians and the plumbing crew as the framers and fine carpenters. But the biggest thing I’m taking away is that I don’t have a problem with getting dirty. I enjoy breaking a sweat and going home knowing that I put in a good day’s work.
What’s next for you?
K: This experience has changed my outlook on what I can accomplish career-wise. I’m definitely going to pick up where I left off in Florida, expanding on what I learned here, and continue to pursue my goals.
D: When I get back home, I plan to start working with unCommon Construction to teach other teens about the field. I’ll be helping them every Saturday to build a house from the ground up. We get them together to build a home and, at the end of the semester, we reward them for their work with equity awards and scholarships. This has been a blessing and a life-changing opportunity to see how far I can go in this field. Thank you This Old House for this experience!