Nickerson Fitzgerald, 2017 MTTI Building Trades Graduate, is a Carpenter at Spagnolo Homes.

Nickerson Fitzgerald, 2017 MTTI Building & Property Trades Graduate, Works As A Carpenter For Spagnolo Homes In Rhode Island.

Nickerson Fitzgerald2017 Building & Property Trades Technician

Nickerson Fitzgerald
2017 Building and Property Trades Technician Graduate
Carpenter at Spagnolo Homes

During high school, I had no idea what work I wanted to do.

I was sure that what I was learning in school didn’t apply to what I wanted to do in life.

I worked summer jobs while staying with family in Tennessee.

My first job was at McDonald’s. The following summer, my buddy’s stepdad, Ken, started his own carpentry and painting company. He asked if I wanted to learn a trade. I started by pushing a broom and helping him with demolition.  Then he let me paint one door. When he saw how I painted the door, he let me paint intricate trim at all of his worksites.

Having Ken show me how to paint and teach me about carpentry felt cool.

Being a high school student, I didn’t think much about it at first. It was simply fun. Seeing what I accomplished at the end of each day felt rewarding.

The summer after High School, I worked with a different contractor, Ron.

I started learning about framing and using saws. I had no real long-term plans.  I hadn’t liked high school, so I wasn’t planning to go to college.

When I turned 18, I moved out of my father’s house.

I worked three jobs—in retail, as a cook and as a painter, whenever a job came around. The apartment I shared with my friend and his girlfriend was so small it felt like I lived in a closet.

The money I made just barely covered my basic living expenses.

I believe you have to enjoy every second you are living. Each day, when I came home from work, there was an opportunity for some crazy adventure. One evening, a bunch of us drove 5 hours to New York City just to eat hamburgers at the famous chain restaurant, White Castle.

I became a good cook, but didn’t want to cook 40-hours a week.

I thought about what a blast it had been working with Ken—painting and learning about carpentry.  My mom searched online for a school and found MTTI. When an MTTI Admissions Rep contacted me to schedule an appointment, I surprised her by saying, ‘I‘ll be there in an hour.’ I showed up, way overdressed in a button down shirt and a tie. Touring the Building Trades shop, I saw a ‘playground’ of saws and tools.  I was sold even before I walked through the door.

I loved going to MTTI; everything taught in the program related to what I wanted to learn.

I’d been thinking about building since the summer I had worked with Ken. My only real experience when I started school was painting and light carpentry. I tend to overthink things. Pat and Don, my Instructors, taught me to take the work out of my head and put it into my hands. They would explain how something is supposed to work. Then they’d show us how to do it. Finally they had us practice the skills hands-on, under their supervision. Once you have all 3 steps, you are usually ready to do it on your own.

At times, I would screw up in class.

The Instructors played the part of foremen on the job. They would say, “The board that you just cut incorrectly is a $300 piece of trim.” I learned a lot from my mistakes, by seeing how Pat and Don would get around them. They taught us how to recognize our mistakes, fix them—and most important, to take pride in our work.

We completed projects using hand and power tools.

Understanding which tools will give the outcome you want tells you what to set up for the job. That gets you one step closer to working efficiently—because time is money.  You need to be 100% focused in carpentry—plumb, level square, straight—make sure everything is perfect or every person on the site is going to know.

During school, I wanted to learn everything about building a house.

Some people came to the program thinking they only want to be a plumber or an electrician. They learned all about that one field and just got by in the others—then figured out at the end that it’s not the field they most want to work in. Carpentry is my passion—but on the job, I’ve had to wire things or understand how the plumbing or HVAC works. It makes me a better carpenter to know about all of the trades, and helps me plan ahead for our subcontractors.

When I interviewed for an internship, I was immediately offered a job.

I was ready to build something. I started by doing a lot of demos, mixing concrete in a wheel barrow, digging ditches and pushing a broom.  You have to pay your dues as an apprentice—everybody has had to do it at the beginning of their career.

After a year, I was hired by Spagnolo Homes.

During my first weeks, the foreman needed a couple of minutes to mill a piece of finish work. I thought I had better go clean something to stay busy. Bob, the owner of Spagnolo Homes and craftsman of 30+ years asked me, “What are you doing? We’ll clean this up later. We have a lot of trim to do—hop on it, so we can get it done.” I asked, ‘I can do that?’ He replied, “What do you mean? That is your job.”  After that, I hopped on jobs I knew needed to be done, and cleaned up at the end of the day.

I love working for Spagnolo Homes.

The owners, Bob and Sherry are very personable. Bob, is easily one of the best carpenters I’ve met and is willing to teach me. He gives me tips and pointers on how to do things faster—then watches me. If I do it right, he’ll say, “You’ve got it!” It gives me the opportunity to truly learn my trade. Working at Spagnolo Homes, I am honing my skills, speed and efficiency. I am coming into my own style of working.

Working for Spagnolo Homes felt like someone had ‘flipped a switch’.

Shortly after I was hired, I worked on a deck. I began to see that I was really doing carpentry. Not long after that, someone at a bar, where I had once worked at night as a cook, asked me what I do for work. Without hesitation, I answered, ‘I am a carpenter!’ I was excited to recognize that it’s true—I really am a carpenter!

Going to MTTI changed me for the better.

I went from being a kid who would come home looking for adventure, to being a professional tradesperson—who sometimes brings my work home with me. This can feel stressful—but my level of interest makes me know I am pursuing a career, not just a job.

I manage stress by learning more.

If I am working on something new, I’ll read engineering notes or watch a You Tube video to expand my understanding. In a house, everything abides by laws of physics; I try figure out how it works and what will be the best way to tackle it. Once I have a good idea of how I will approach it, the next day on the job I notice my stress level has dropped.

Going to school while working full-time felt like trial by fire.

I worked 5 nights a week—until 3 or 4 am—and got to school by 8:30 am. It took sheer force of will to push forward some days.  I am glad I took a lot of notes—it helped me remember what I had been taught. My classmate Caleb also worked a full-time job, and he had a wife and son at home. If Caleb and I could make it through the program, I have to believe anyone can do it. If you have a passion for the building and property trades—if it is something you really want to do—you can make it happen.

Attending MTTI, you develop a level of dedication to the work.

Employers look at you as more than just a worker—you are an investment. When they pay someone at the end of the week, they expect that the money they pay out comes back to them in the work their employee has completed. Although they look for experience when hiring, they want someone who is passionate about what they do. Someone who loves their work is worth more than an experienced person who doesn’t like to do that work.

Feeling I am part of the change to a house or property makes me love carpentry even more.

I have so much appreciation for what I am able to do now—handle a saw, get my hands on the actual building of a house or addition. Pat and Don gave me more than just an education at MTTI. They instilled in me a work ethic and passion for the building trades that makes life worth living.


Photos: Nickerson in front of the addition he is building at Spagnolo Homes; installing lighting in the module at MTTI; accepting his diploma at graduation from Instructor, Pat Church; at the site of the addition being built by Spagnolo Homes.