Apprentice Spotlight: Brian “Bud” Benson

Thanks to the following people Griffin Hagel, Aaron MacKay, Marquam George and Bud Benson for this story and the work that they do at Iḷisaġvik College.

Brian Benson

Apprenticeship Details

Occupation: Building Energy Retrofit Technician (BERT)

Training sponsor: Iḷisaġvik College

Employer: North Slope Borough Weatherization Program

Term: 2,000 on-the-job learning hours

Related instruction: 150 hours

“Just like whaling, [weatherization] is hard work. It’s got to get done, though.”

Can you tell me about where and how you grew up?
I was born here in Barrow but I partially grew up in Iowa. I was there for six years. It’s like the both of the best worlds, knowing how it is in the Lower 48 and up here.

Do you like corn or are you sick of it by now?
I love corn. (Laughs.) It’s my favorite vegetable.

When did you come back to Barrow?
When I was twelve. I’ve been here and in Wainwright. Been in between both, but primarily Barrow now.

When did you first realize what kind of work you wanted to do?
Well, it started off with my dad because we were just about to start projects, and then he got diagnosed with a sickness, and so all that went on hold. When I got up here, I started picking it up with my uncle Kenny, and we worked on stuff. We built a temporary garage over his boat. Twenty-foot boat and we built that structure in a day and a half, two days. Nothing fancy. Just to keep it out of the snow.

Brian Benson

Weatherization can be tough, dirty work in extreme environments. What makes the job worthwhile?
Just like whaling, it's hard work. It's got to get done, though. I get joy out of seeing how happy [clients are] knowing that their house is going to be warm throughout the cold winters. It's pretty good that way. There's nothing better than seeing their smiling face. Something hits you right here in the heart.

[I like] learning. Picking up a lot of stuff from [my coworkers] James, Adrian, Aaron, and that's stuff I can use the rest of my life. I'll be able to bring this knowledge with me if I go build a cabin someday. It’s something I want to do.

NSB Weatherization Specialist James Kagak packs cellulose insulation into a floor in Barrow using a blowing machine.

What sets it apart from other construction jobs?
Well, we have an extreme climate up here, and it just makes sense to get into something where you can apply what you learn to people's houses. It's not just like doing it for a commercial building. We're doing it for a homeowner. And then you meet all kinds; our clients are always good people. They're always happy with the work that's done. ‘Cause, you know, money's tight for some people up here, and with this service, it's really helpful for everybody.

Where you do you see yourself after graduating from this apprenticeship?
As far as this is going, this is one of the better opportunities I've had. Picking all this up and working next to a master carpenter. That's all going to be helpful. It's stuff I can apply for further on past the year mark. I never really thought of seeing myself going to college. This is putting that foot in the door. Maybe spark another interest in other courses they offer. Be something fun to do.

“Be prepared for long, hard hours, but it’s all worth it. This is something that you can bring with you for the rest of your life.”

Building science instructor Marquam George originally developed the BERT curriculum. Here, he discusses blower doors during a training at Iḷisaġvik College.

What would you want other young people considering a career in the trades to know?
Be prepared for long hard hours, but it's all worth it. This is something that you can bring with you for the rest of your life and everything you're applying yourself to. If you have work to do at your house, you already have a heads up. You don't have to hire somebody to do it.

Part of learning is also being able to teach what you learn. It's not just learning. You can help others who might not have an idea of everything. I'd like to see younger people getting involved in [the trades]. This is great hands-on experience.

Interview condensed by Griffin Hagle.

View the original press release Press Release:  Iḷisaġvik College Extends Tuition Waiver to ALL Alaska Native Students

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Energy OutWest

Energy OutWest (EOW) is an independent organization devoted to the advancement of knowledge and practice in the field of weatherization. EOW is a very active peer exchange organization directed by a board with representatives from fifteen states... View More

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