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North Bay Structural Engineer Give Students Valuable Building Skills

SAN ANSELMO (KPIX) -- With big skills and tiny homes, a San Anselmo man has crafted an innovative way to tackle a shortage of skilled workers, build work opportunities and give back to the community.

Structural engineer Sean Ticknor teaches participants with no prior construction experience how to build a home measuring 24 feet by eight-and-a-half feet from scratch in just nine months.

"Everything you see here, they have touched. We started with a metal trailer and a pile of sticks, and they built the entire thing. So they got to try everything," said Ticknor.

The San Anselmo man founded Big Skills Tiny Homes in 2016. The nonprofit is working on building its fifth house in three years.

Ticknor trains four participants at a time in an outdoor classroom in Fairfax five days a week, where they learn everything from carpentry and cabinetry to electrical and roofing.

Graduates get career counseling and follow-up for five years.

"Everyone one who's finished the program has been offered a job in the trade," Ticknor said.

Most of the tiny homes have gone to those in need like wildfire survivors and the homeless. A pair of the structures went to house young people at the Tiny Homes Empowerment Village in Oakland.

Mateo Litras knows the project he's working on will go to a family of three who lost everything in the Butte County wildfires.

"Like, we're building a sanctuary; a home for someone. That's amazing," he said.

For the current build, Ticknor is partnering with Alyssa Nolan of the Tiny Pine Foundation, which constructs homes for wildfire survivors.

Nolan says Ticknor is an expert craftsman with a generous heart.

"Anytime I call Sean and say, 'Hey, think you can build one more?' or 'Hey, think we can get through this?' he's always so willing to come alongside and help. That's a big blessing," she said.

Ticknor says it costs $40,000 in materials to build one tiny home. The nonprofit relies on donations -- both financial and material -- and nothing is wasted.

In fact, the wood for the master bedroom of the current tiny home comes from office furniture donated during the pandemic. The closets used to be desks.

Ticknor has fielded questions from as far away as Korea about how to replicate his model.

He's hoping his program will help ease the housing crunch.

"It just makes me feel fantastic. I just like the idea of 'if you build builders, the builders will build,'" he said.

So for building Big Skills and Tiny Homes, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Sean Ticknor.

Big Skills Tiny Homes is accepting applications for the next cohort of students in fall 2022. The deadline to apply is April 15. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, with an interest in building, and have health insurance.

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