As the focus shifts towards a younger generation of skilled craftspeople, three young apprentices get the chance of a lifetime on the set of This Old House.
There aren’t many young people who can say that Tommy Silva was the one who taught them how to install a window or how to frame a deck. For three young apprentices who were lucky enough to win a national casting call to guest star on the show’s 39th season, their mentors and teachers will be none other than the beloved cast of This Old House.
Who are these young apprentices? They’re all Millennials and they each have their own motivations for seeking a career in the skilled trades.
Nathan Gilbert, 28, from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, was inspired to join the trades after growing up working alongside his father—a finish carpenter who loved working with his hands. Bailey Beers, 19, from Eustis, Maine, always had an appreciation for working with her hands, and after discovering a love for woodworking in high school shop class, Bailey was hooked on a career in the trades. For Austin Wilson*, 18, of Wilmington, North Carolina, his reasons for pursuing a skilled trade were a little more personal.
“I’ve always heard my mother say that she wanted to buy her own house one day, or she liked something specific about a certain house,” said Wilson. “The only problem was she never had the money, from taking care of six great, but always busy kids. So, I made a promise to her that I would build her a house one day, and I plan on sticking to my commitment.”
Construction is underway, and these three apprentices are becoming part of a long-standing tradition.
“I applied because I watched the show when I was younger and always thought it was so cool to see the outcome of the projects. When I heard there was an opportunity to actually be on the show, there was no question about it, I just had to apply,” says Wilson. “This is an honor that will not be forgotten. When I get older and have my own kids, it will be a story I can tell and help them have confidence in themselves.”
As the team breathes new life into an 1879 home, Nathan, Bailey and Austin have had a hand in creating a larger kitchen; new mudroom, laundry and master suite; overhauling the HVAC system; installing a wood-burning stove; and a new garage and bedroom suite for the homeowner’s parents, who are retiring and want to spend more time with the family. According to the apprentices, working with a house with this much history comes with its own challenges and important lessons.
“I have learned that old houses are far from perfect. Time and wear take a big toll on them and you have to pay special attention to everything that you add or take away,” says Beers. “Everything has to match. If the house is crooked anything you add on has to be crooked or it isn’t going to look right.”
And when it was time to replace the home’s original windows, Tom Silva shared his exacting advice for window installation, where taking the time to get the details right is more important than moving quickly.
“We installed Marvin aluminum clad double hung replacement sashes. In doing so, Tom stressed the importance of installing the sponge ballasts plumb and set at the right depth off of the casings,” says Gilbert. “He also wanted to ensure that the sashes locked into the counter balances, so they went up and down smoothly and locked together with ease.”
Aside from the technical skills they will take away from this experience, for these young craftspeople, there are bigger lessons to be learned.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from the This Old House pros is that you’ll never know everything,” says Beers. “No matter how much you think you know, the trade is forever evolving and you can learn new things every day.”
This Old House and Marvin are proud to support Generation NEXT and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to close the skills gap by encouraging young people to master vocation trades. Stay tuned to hear the apprentices’ advice for other young people who, like them, see the value in a hands-on career.
*Austin Wilson (1999-2018) passed away in January of 2018. In memory of his inspiring story and dedication to his apprenticeship with This Old House, please read words of remembrance from cast member, Kevin O’Connor, and fellow apprentice, Nathan Gilbert.