Eating Healthy On The Job


I can’t count how many times I’ve eaten from the “roach coach” only to regret it hours (or sometimes minutes) afterwards. Eating a chorizo, egg, and potato breakfast burrito smothered in ketchup chased down with a Rockstar was almost a daily occurrence in my younger years. I would show up a little haggard from the previous night, scarf one down and get after it. In my early 20′s I could eat just about whatever I wanted and not have it affect me, back then “healthy” was lettuce on my Big Mac.

When I hit 27 things began to change, eating a breakfast burrito made me feel heavy, like I had concrete for breakfast, even chased with a Rockstar I felt sluggish. This is the point where I made the decision to stop eating from the truck or at least try to avoid it when possible (when your shift turns from a 12 to a 16 or 18 hr day, you’re not left with much choice of what to eat). The bachelor meal plan while quick and easy started to take it’s toll on my body.

A proper diet is key to staying healthy and aides in allowing you to be able to perform your job until you retire.  Eating smaller portions more frequently keeps your metabolism constantly working, burning fat and providing your body nutrients & energy. Many think eating less is better, but it actually causes your body to go into ‘safe mode’ storing fat and digesting food more slowly because it doesn’t know when the next meal will come. A proper meal plan should consist of a minimum of four meals a day (5 is ideal to keep your metabolism working), with breakfast being the most important.

A bowl of oatmeal or scrambled eggs makes for a light, but filling breakfast to start your day and should be eaten before you leave the house, not at the job site. Eating at home will allow the food to settle in your stomach during your commute and/or safety meeting. Your second meal (when working a 12 hr day) should come about 3 hours in and be a light snack to hold you over until lunch, a small helping of fruit would be ideal. The sugar in the fruit will give you a quick boost and will be easy to digest. The portion of your third meal (lunch) should depend on if you are eating a 5th, by this I mean if your next meal will be dinner then a larger portion will be required to hold you over until then. If you are eating a 5th meal, then your 4th should come about 3hrs after lunch. Beef jerky makes the perfect afternoon snack by providing your body with a lean protein that sits light in your stomach. Finally, dinner should be enough to make your hunger go away, but not enough to make your feel ‘full.’ It should be eaten at least an hour before bed and no later than 10pm to allow your body time to start digesting the food before you lay down.

Eating healthy on the job is difficult to do especially when you’re out in the field all day, but planning your meals for the week and grocery shopping accordingly make it easier. Eating a greasy burrito or breakfast plate from the taco truck may be easy and taste good, but it can make a long day much longer. Our jobs are already hard, why make them harder by filling your body with unhealthy food? There’s a reason performance cars run on premium, if you put good in, you get good out.


Photo courtesy of: Marshall Astor

Going to trade school, 10 years after high school


When I got my notice in  April of 2013 that a layoff was coming, I began looking in to trade school. I contacted Fox Valley Technical College (Wisconsin) to see what I needed to enroll in the fall 2013 semester. My plan was to attend their Welding Production program.

The first thing my wife and I did was budget our money so that we were able to pay our bills on time. After some number crunching we were happy to find we’d be able to pay our bills with one income and as it turns out, we even had enough to splurge twice a month to enjoy ourselves. It took almost a month before I was able to collect unemployment (and as of January 2014 my benefits have been exhausted).

I was officially laid off on a Friday in June of 2013. The following Monday I had an appointment with Workforce Development to discuss a dislocated worker voucher to help me with my schooling. Multiple appointments later I was awarded $1,000 per semester to help with schooling.

Following the layoff I attended the new student orientation. It was there I received all the pertinent info I necessary to start school in August (The tech school staff were a pleasure assisting me with making sure I was able to start in the fall).

I completed my first semester in December with a B average. I never would have pictured myself going back to school, especially after being out for near 10 years. I’ve worked 9 years in manufacturing, four of those years at Oshkosh Corporation in Oshkosh, WI and the other years at Quad graphics in Lomira.

During my first semester I used multiple processes (GMAW, SMAW, PAW, and OFW) on a variety of metals including carbon steel, stainless, and aluminum. I also learned print reading and AutoCAD. Currently I am learning GTAW, FCAW, & Robotic Welding processes and learning to program Fanuc, ABB, Panasonic, and OTC Daihen machines. If you asked me how I’m doing in school at the moment, I’d have to answer with, Awesome!

With my second semester nearing completion, I’ve began searching for a job in my chosen trade. Many places I have applied want (require) 3-5 years of welding experience, some wouldn’t even give me an opportunity to interview. I attended multiple job fairs and got a few leads, but the jobs had been filled. I’m currently still trying to find a part-time job while still in welding school, but it’s very difficult to do because my classes are from 11am-5pm or 12pm-4pm. Most places are full with part-time help or will only hire me full-time once I complete my schooling. My refusal to go to a temp agency hasn’t been very helpful either.

Beaten, but not broken, I decided to test my luck again at another job fair, last Saturday. After 3.5 hours, I’m happy to report, I was offered a direct hire job! They weren’t sure on details but would contact me in the days to come.

Tuesday I received a call asking if I’m still interested in the job, my obvious reply was, “yes.” They informed me a managers meeting would be held to discuss where they needed welders, but would let me know soon. Later that day I received a call to see if I wanted to take a 2nd shift (1:30pm-9:30pm), Welder II (mostly programming robots) position, I was really excited and agreed to it immediately. From here I was given the information required to take my drug screen & background check and given my tentative start date, May 19th (I graduate on the 18th with a technical diploma).

My instructor said the company is a good one and the starting pay is around the average for someone with a technical diploma. He also reminded me that the school will always be there for me should I decided a few months or years down the road that I want to brush up on my skills for a weld test or if an employer asks for it.

Thanks to wife for supporting my decision to go back to school, it was a few tough months.



Photo courtesy: parkerwelds

Free Stickers for Hard Hats, Tool Boxes, and the Job Site – You Want ‘Em, We Got ‘Em


People love stickers.

We’ve learned a lot about the trades since launching WorkHands back in September of last year.  We’ve visited dozens of trade schools, auto shops, manufacturing facilities, and construction sites, and there’s one huge takeaway that we’ve seen repeatedly. Stickers are like currency in the trades.  And knowing how much you guys love them, we’re happy to dish em out.  That’s what our WorkHands stickers are all about. There’s no catch, no gimmick–the sticker and the shipping are totally free. All you have to do is go to and let us know where to send ‘em.


Why do we do this?  The answer requires a little knowledge about the history of hard hat stickers.  Workers originally started putting stickers on their hardhats in order to show information that people on the job site might need. The stickers often indicated what company a worker was with, what qualifications he had, or even what training he had completed. In this way, a hardhat was like a wearable resume.  And the older and more wear and tear on the stickers, the more experience the guy under the hat had.


So that’s why we do it.  We love seeing the WorkHands sticker on the job site next to everything else you guys have slapped up there.  Getting to see our WorkHands logo out in the field is all the reward we need. The pictures you guys send in our proof positive that guys on the job like what we’re doing.

We love seeing pictures like this one from our users. Whether it’s on your hard hathood, or tool box, a WorkHands’ stickers look great out in the field or in a shop. If you snap a picture of your stickers in action and send it to us, we’ll even feature it on our social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). To get claim your stickers click here and start doing work with WorkHands today.

Work Boots: The Cheap, The Expensive, and The Painful

I frequent welding forums and a common topic of discussion I see frequently is, “should I spend the money on [insert expensive quality boot manufacturer]?  I’ve been involved in the industrial construction industry since the age of 19 (I’m now 30).  My first construction job was as a temp power installer, making around $12 an hour.  My first pair of boots was a pair of Brahma’s from my local Walmart.  They were light, comfortable (at least in store) and most importantly (at the time) cheap, around $40 I believe.  They were my first pair of steel toe boots and at the time I was unaware that I have wide feet.  My first day in those boots is a day that I can recall almost like it was a few minutes ago.
By about the second hour of my shift, I was ready to call it a day.  Both feet, on both sides of my feet were swollen and getting rubbed raw due to the steel toe being to narrow for my foot.  I sucked it up and made it through my shift, but my feet paid the price.  My feet were seriously blistered by the time I got home.  When I arrived home my Grandfather asked me about my day (I lived with both of my Grandparents at the time), I explained to him the actual work portion of my day wasn’t bad, but my boots made me want to quit a few hours into my shift.  In all his wisdom he was quick to reply, “did you buy regular or wide boots?” I explained to him I didn’t even know wide boots were an option.  He told me to always buy wide boots when purchasing steel toes, even if the normal size feels comfortable when you initially try them on.  After my lecture on proper boot sizing, he ended up loaning me the money to purchase a pair of quality boots.  I went to my local Sears and purchased a pair of tan leather Timberland Pros (and some thick work socks).  They kept my feet warm and dry, a bit heavy, but very comfortable.  Those boots lasted me my entire electrical career, a little over 2 years (I was fired for a brand new spool of 4 ought wire falling from my truck on the freeway, but that’s a different story for a different time).
My next job was as a laborer for a chemical cleaning company that serviced everything from crude refineries to Jelly Belly.  I believe my prized Timberlands lasted me 2-3 months in the refineries, before the toe wore through and the chemicals began to eat at the stitching on the soles.  Being a hard partying 20 year old, I was broke and had to resort back to a pair of Herman Survivors from Wally World (Walmart) and this time, I made sure to purchase them wide.  My original plan was to wear them until my next paycheck then buy another pair of quality boots, but after wearing them for a couple days and feeling how light and comfortable they were, I decided to get creative.  I knew the sole wouldn’t last that long, maybe 4-5 months, but long enough for me to pay my bills and party without having a week off from drinking, definitely long enough to save for a couple hundred dollar pair.  I had to make sure the upper and sole stitching lasted at least as long as the soles.  I went out and purchased a pair of toe protectors to keep the toe from wearing through prematurely and ran a bead of flexible silicone around the perimeter of boot to protect the stitching from chemicals.  This worked amazingly well and I was able to wear those boots until the sole was worn flat, about 5 months.
My first (and only) pair of Red Wings came courtesy of my next employer. The company had (and I believe still have) a deal with Red Wings where they would give you a voucher good for one pair of boots (of any price I believe) at a 15% discount. The money is deducted out of your weekly check in increments (I believe it was $25 a week). I can’t remember the exact model, but they’re 8″ boots and I’ve had them for so long they don’t even make them anymore. I paid around $220, but it was one of the best investments I’ve made in my career. Being on your feet for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months at a time is not something you want to do with a cheap pair of boots on your feet. I still have this pair of boots (for over 5 years now) and just had them re-soled early last year because I wore a hole in the sole that allowed my feet to get wet. I don’t wear them much anymore because I spend most of my time welding in a pair of wellington’s (to keep my laces and feet from getting burnt), but should I need them, they are ready for action.
The cheap Walmart boots have greatly improved in fit and comfort, but the soles still only last months (I plan to see if I can get a pair resoled and will let everyone know how it goes) so, you will have to purchase up to a few pair a year, at which point you will have spent just as much for a quality boot, but you if that’s all you can afford, you have to do what you have to do. Having said that, to answer the question of, “should I spend the money on a pair of [expensive boot manufacturer]?” In my opinion, definitely, YES!

Edison’s soup


After a week off for my hand to heal from the aluminum burn, I got to descend into the dank oily depths of the machine shop. The shop was the darkest and grungiest place in the whole factory, with loud screechy noises and mean old guys with scary eyes. Definitely not the most inviting place for a swinging young bachelor like myself, regardless of my pursuit of rigorous on-the-job training. I continued running punk rock songs and cheap date plans through my head to drown out the negativity.

The smells of a machine shop are always distinctive, and this one stank of fresh and burnt cutting oil, and coffee, also fresh and burnt. The corner of the machine shop is where the company’s Bunn-o-matic coffee set up was located. I was hoping for some real coffee like I got in Germany, but most of the guys drank so much coffee and loaded it up with so much cream and sugar (hey, it’s free!) that they wouldn’t have known if they were drinking coffee made from pencil shavings. So, crappy Folgers or Yuban coffee it was, whatever was on sale. With half of it spilled on the hotplate or dribbled along the floor by half-asleep guys toting their personalized cups to their workstations, that quarter of the shop will reek of cheap, burnt coffee for the next 100 years, even if they tear the building down.

The tools in the machine shop were quite an assortment, including everything from an enormous old manual lathe with a six inch wide leather drive belt, flywheel punch presses, saws of every type, reciprocating shapers and drill presses to a fairly new (25 years!) six tool turret lathe that I liked to set up and run because you could spit parts out of it pretty fast. I won the admiration of some by using the tailstock on that turret lathe to push-broach a square hole into some brass hand wheels right after drilling, saving a lot of set up time and broken broaches on an overpowered press.

Finding new ways to do operations better and faster were my favorite things to do, but through this process, I found the machine shop Supervisor was padding operations for overtime and keeping his buddies on when we could really do without them. If I hadn’t been the boss’ kid, I probably would have had an “accident” with an airborne ball peen hammer or a flattened lunch box at least, had I ever been inclined to carry such a damn dumb thing.

I didn’t start right there at “the top” though. My first assignment was to grind the slag off of torch cut steel parts on an enormous belt sander so we could fixture and drill them. That thing got more of my skin than steel, but I did love making 6ft long spark showers on it. There I was introduced to the joys of breathing steel grinding dust without a mask, and that particular smell stays with you, for a long time, ick.

My next trial was learning how to sharpen a drill bit by hand. Some of the more advanced machinists had fancy little fixtures and tools to measure the grind, but I had to learn by measuring with my eyeball and then check with the fancy little tool to verify that my eyeball was correct. That was a good way to learn because our bodies have an amazing ability to measure things on their own. Thereafter, I always measured by eye, and verified by scale. I still do that with everything from guessing what a piece of meat weighs at the grocery store to reckoning the time by looking at the position of the sun in the sky, then verifying.

One of the most memorable jobs in the shop was setting up a Swiss screw machine with the little 5ft, 85lb. genius machinist, named Mel,  who apprenticed in Thomas Edison’s shops. Yes, he was really old by the time we got to him. He never bragged, but the mastery in his methods and his amazing depth of knowledge made us think he probably taught Mr. Edison a thing or two. I persuaded him to set up an apprentice Machinist program similar to what he had done, and I was really nervous about the first day of my training.

I arrived early and waited until Mel the genius showed up and finished his third cup of coffee. He looked up, glared at me, got something out of his top secret, well guarded and booby trapped (really) tool box, and stalked over to me with “it” in his skinny little paw. In the gloom of that part of the shop, I could only make out that it was a thick, dark green book as he slammed it on the table in front of me. Machinery’s Handbook NINETEENTH EDITION it said on the front. He looked up from it to me and said, “Read it, and when you’re done, come talk to me about your training.” He turned on his heel and went off to work on his project. I picked up the little book and hefted it. It was only about 5×7 inches but 3+ inches thick and gave off an aura like an ancient artifact. As I opened it and started to “read” it, my gut churned. I turned from one chapter to the next, hoping for something interesting or good pictures, but no, it was bad, bad bad. There were full chapters on thread type and pitch (including the popular Whitworth threads!) and logarithm tables and fits and tolerances and my eyes went numb after about 30 seconds.

I set it down, took a breath and picked it up again, thinking if I flipped to the last page, I would see that it was a trick or hollowed out or something, but no, there was only an index in the back to better search out geneva wheels and gear hobbing secrets. It was drier than a 10 year old newspaper in the Sonora desert, drier than any martini ever made and possibly more befuddling. It was 2,000+ pages of crap I would never use and I knew then I would have to make a choice. Baffle him with BS or do the thing, and neither sounded fun.

Once I started digging in to it though, I decided it was all good because it is for reference, not reading or memorization. Nobody knows all this stuff, they just go to the book when they get stuck. I did really enjoy the section on strengths and characteristics of materials though, and dug deep on that. For a solid week I did as he asked and read it. I looked over the little green book and made up my own index of good stuff and CNN2K (Crap Nobody Needs 2 Know) noting the pages on tap drill sizes, materials and fasteners. Tools and feeds/speeds I would learn from the masters who actually told me to read the chips and sound of the machine and adjust.

I brought the book back to Mel one morning and said “OK, I’ve read it, lets go.”

He looked at me and said, “You read it, all of it?” with a wry grin on his face and his arms folded on his chest.

“Yep” I said, bold as anything.

“So what is the tap drill for a 7/8”-9 thread in 304 stainless, what machine would you use, what are your feeds and speeds, and would you cut it dry or use some cutting fluid? What tap would you use under what conditions? How would you de-burr it? Inspect it?” he asked.

“Well, let’s start here in materials and then go to tooling” I said evenly. I flipped to the section using my index, which he craned his neck over to see. To prove I had been paying attention to him in his little special ops shop, I discreetly turned the index over so he couldn’t see it as I flipped pages in the Machinist’s “bible,” just like he would do to me. I made notes and moved through the book again. A couple of minutes later, I came up for air and started to tell him the basics and also that to finish the job, I would need the input of the master to start at the right point to avoid breaking tools or the work piece or hurting somebody as that was a pretty big hole in tough material.

He stared at me for about five seconds, shook his silver coated head, mumbled “smartass” and walked off. An hour later, he invited me to lunch, and I was really shocked as I had never seen him consume anything but coffee. He just said, “Meet me back in here at noon,” and walked off. I got there early out of deep curiosity, but he had locked the door! I waited for my watch to hit straight up noon, and tried it again, and of course it was open. He had put a tablecloth on the 4ft x 8ft worktable and he sat on one side staring at me. I took the chair opposite him and just sat down, waiting for him respectfully. He pulled a bowl up from a side table and pushed it over to me. Soup, I could see. Great, I thought, summer in inland San Diego, it’s about 500 degrees in here with no AC, and you give me a bowl of hot soup for lunch. He says, “Go ahead,” and I grab the bowl and see it is kind of bland looking with some noodles and veggies and mystery meat. He plunks down salt, pepper, Tabasco and soy sauce with a little smirk he is trying to hide. I smell a rat here so I think quickly.

“May I please have a spoon for my soup?” I said.

He smiles and hands me the one he had hiding up his sleeve. I am thinking, “this looks really bland, and, how good can machine shop soup be, made by somebody who apparently doesn’t eat? And where the hell did he make this?” Watching him carefully, but trying not to be obvious, I make a hook with my hand and pull the condiments over. He smiles coyly. Hmmmm, OK. I grab the S&P to do a double shake, but he flinches as I cock my arm. Gotcha. I put them down and look at him again and smile. I look down at the soup, move it around with the spoon, move my face closer and sniff it, then finally take a small spoon full and try it. Not bad, not great, salty enough.

“Are you going to have some too Mel, or is this just your treat for me to start training with?”

Genuine smile this time. “You weaseled the first test, but you did better than me on the second one.”

“Tests huh?”

“Whenever anyone applied to work at Edison’s shop, he would have them come in and, before any interview or talk, he would offer them the soup, very specific recipe. If the person tasted it before spicing it, fine, they were open to learn and probably good students. If they went right for the salt and pepper without tasting or even sniffing, they were know-it-alls and they got the bum’s rush out the door. I was a starving kid and didn’t even wait for a spoon and never put salt or pepper in soup anyway. You get extra points for asking for a spoon, but you will lose those points unless you show me the paper you were cheating off of with the Machinery’s Handbook test.”

I laughed out loud at that, and showed him my index. He liked my system OK, but still said it would be good to commit much of it to memory. I told him I believed it was only for reference, but he said “you need to know it for bidding jobs and showing the other machinists you are smarter than them.” So, I made a small compromise. I offered to memorize my index and asked him to teach me the rest. He stared at me again for about 5 seconds, then got up and walked off mumbling “smartass”.

I worked with Mel for about 5 months until he got bad sick and was out for several weeks. I learned more about critical thinking and how to approach a challenge than specific rote skills, and the rough edges of his quirky nature and crusty demeanor smoothed out some as we got to know each other better over coffee, fresh and burnt and soup, just right.


Photo courtesy of: Kheel Center

On-The-Job Training Continued

Fabrication Shop sml

So there I was, soaking up the what, why and how of all the different departments in our fabrication shop. We had quite a group of guys working there, including several who had been in Vietnam recently. Some were gung-ho about it, while others glared at my questions or told me to shut up and get back to work. Watching Sons of Anarchy now, I see a reflection of some of these guys with their choppers and tattoos, especially the ones who were given the choice of going to jail or ‘Nam.

One of the best fitters in our fabrication shop was a crusty kraut named Gunther Pfutzenreuter (say that 3 times fast!). I enjoyed practicing my German with him and he showed me how to straighten heavy plate steel by heating it cherry red and then quenching it with a water hose to shrink the concave side in to alignment. He managed to pull a 3/16″ gap in to no more than 1/64″ over a 3 ft. area. It seemed like magic at the time, but he said it was only amazing for an American. For a German, it was no big deal. (Typical germanic mindset, all humility and kindness…)

I quickly learned which gases, tools and filler material to use for different metals in the weld shop. Our best welder once had to fill a huge gap in aluminum plate and devised MIG/TIG, whereby he ran the MIG gun with his right hand and fed 1/8″ round stock in to the weld puddle with his left hand. We laughed a lot about that and he constantly told me he needed a raise for his invention. He learned his trade repairing shot up aircraft in Vietnam, saying the worst part was the smell from welding up an area that hadn’t had all the blood/guts washed out well. The next worse was “finding” live ammo that had dropped in to hiding places and having it go off in mid-weld, usually while in some tortuous position. Now that is some rugged On The Job Training right there.

The sheet metal guys showed me the hydraulic press to straighten assembled units that were banana shaped after welding. I did OK there after some good coaching and moved on to seeing how flat I could mash things with that hydraulic press, starting with soda cans and “ending” with a guy’s lunch box. As beautiful as the experiment was with salami sandwich and apple oozing out of his microscopically thin lunchbox, I think he was actually kind of mad about it. He had it coming though, being a habitual tool thief. Unwritten rule 13 states: steal a crescent wrench, lose your lunch.

Of course, he was subtle about his revenge for my pressing his lunch box. Weeks later he asked me to hand him the big chunk of aluminum on his table. As I grabbed it, my 20 year old mind, distracted by girls and motorcycles and weekend planning, was sent an urgent, frantic, angry message by my hand. “Put that red hot gosh darn chunk of aluminum DOWN, NOW!!” It turns out that aluminum doesn’t turn red or discolor when you heat it up like steel.

The lesson here is either: don’t mash people’s lunch boxes (borrring) or check every surface in the weld and fab shop before you contact it with your delicate lily white skin. That applies for most any place. Most anything over 120F will hurt you, and the hurt goes up proportionally from there. That includes the machine shop, the auto shop and the kitchen too. A glass casserole dish coming out of a 350 degree oven is as dangerous as cutting torch splatter, and maybe more so depending on who is operating the casserole dish!

Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle

Recycle photo

 Over the years, when things got rough, or when my intellectually oriented friends were trying to get me to get back into college, I had to take a couple of gigs here and there that were office-related. I had this one where I sat at a desk and watched news shows and talk shows and listened to news broadcasts on radio. What you did is note product mentions and any famous people, like politicians or celebrities mentioned as well, and you took notes.

As you might expect, the place was run by, and crawling with spooks. I never got roast beefed, but you’d have to be extra thick not to know who was working that joint. They are so “darn” weird, those Company Joes. When they weren’t prying into my social life or making fun of my preference for bicycles over cars, they were having weird political cake parties where they would try to make each other mad by not inviting each other to partake in some baked good or another. Then they would walk around apologizing to each other for not including each other. It is as weird, ridiculous, and meaningless as it sounds.

Hating on me for my environmentalism was one of their amusements and my coffee cup. I kept it with me and re-used it instead of using plastic ones. It was from a gas station, and I wrote in marker over the logo, “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”. This was the early 90′s so not only was that a really punk rock thing to do, but it was way before being a greenie was hip and cool like it is now.

I have made a living by re-using old building materials, making art with found items and selling it, fixing things people throw away and selling or trading for things I need or want. This is real, marketable, valuable skill and creativity. It’s not theoretical, or conceptual.

How many people can walk around and pick up a bunch of random stuff, then create something out of it that is useful, durable, and meaningful? It’s magic, man… 3D. That’s what I’m sayin’. It’s mental merging with the physical, an idea manifesting before your eyes, with your hands. It’s vibratory, the whole thing. When you work with your hands in the trades, you are simultaneously the integration of, and the integrator of the mental and the physical. Look how cool you are.

When you think about it like that, it helps you realize that you are involved in the world in a unique way that lends itself to mindfulness. What are you going to create? Where are your thoughts going to take you? Because it all starts in the mind. What is the mark you are going to leave? Is there going to be a debate as to whether what you contributed is negative or positive, or, when people look at what you’ve done, is it going to be 100% clear that it was good, and groovy, and creative, and a net gain?


Photo courtesy of: Intel Free Press

Always Be OTJ Training

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 5

 So what do you think OJT stands for?

With all the acronyms and text shortcuts thrown around these days, it could be anything from Orange Juice Tea to Outside Job Truck. You might know it stands for On The Job Training. Many of you have experienced it, and hopefully it worked out well for you.

For me, on-the-job training happened in the time before fax machines and beepers, and just after flint tools and saber tooth tigers. Yep, it was the 70s. The prevailing notion at the time by many in industry was that a college degree was a waste of time, leaving grads with only a theoretical knowledge that had to be scraped away and replaced with real working knowledge via hands-on labor in various areas of the plant or jobsite while being yelled at by an ex-drill sergeant shop supervisor who didn’t like namby pamby college boys one bit. OK, maybe that was just my experience, but the conflict was definitely there. In general, colleges and universities didn’t train engineers and designers in practical situations, and manufacturers and builders weren’t offering a bachelor’s in Press Break-ology or PhDs in Sheetrock-etry. So what’s an eager young man to do with time and opportunity?

I took the idea of OTJ by the horns and made it my own starting with my first stint at my dad’s company. After learning every machine in fitting/welding, the machine shop, forming shop and blast and paint (Oh yes, I just loved wearing all that protective gear and shoveling 500 lbs. of steel shot in to the recovery chute every hour in 105 degree heat), I discovered what I liked and didn’t like, what I was naturally talented at, what made me hurt more at the end of the day (watch this pretty blue light, Oh no, if you aren’t doing the welding you don’t need a hood…haha) and what made more money. I gravitated toward machining because of the variety of tools, and also because I loved running the enormous punch presses and making the whole building shake.

We got to do some interesting R&D work for NavSea Engineers on experimental and prototype gear for Navy ships. This is what really got me interested in new product development and pushed me to learn more about different materials and processes. I learned that there was a lot more to learn, and re-visited the other departments I had worked in with a more earnest desire to soak up the info and put it to use.


Photo courtesy of: Tetra Pak

Face The New World


 This post by Alejo Aragon, where he writes about discovering the world behind the scenes of internet businesses via data entry is what inspired this piece. It really is something that should not be taken for granted, and I also know from experience. The world has changed. We do not live in the same arena we did 10, or even 5 years ago, and we are not going back.

In December 2001 I was finishing up working with a Masonry Heater outfit, and I was in a pretty bad truck wreck. I walked away from the accident, but barely. I was driving down a hill on un-sanded ice, under the speed limit on a Maine back road and the truck wheels lost hold, my truck spun out of control. Picking up speed down the hill, I slammed into, and wrapped my truck around a tree at the bottom of the hill. Of course I was wearing my seat belt, and if I had not relaxed my body to avoid stress injuries and slumped sideways to protect my head, the 6″ branch that utterly obsoleted the driver side window would have killed me dead, for sure, the permanent kind, as in “Rob no longer exists”. Too bad I am not some kind of junkie; I could have gotten free health care for my injuries. I suffered two bulged, and one herniated disc. I could barely walk; my pelvis was tilted and twisted. I could not lift my right leg 8 inches, but I could lift my left leg over my head and hold it there. It was really weird. The pain seemed multi-dimensional. I was fortunate that one of the best chiropractor and spine specialists in the US happened to live and work close by, so I was happy to spend what savings I had on sessions with him.

I spent most of the next three months on my stomach. I was doing a Winter house-sit at a place that had internet, so guess what? I started researching environmentally responsible products as they relate to construction, and I started teaching myself code. There I was, lying on my stomach, in the middle of a Maine Winter having crazy, seriously insane back spasms, doing research and learning code. I taught myself HTML, that’s what was mainly happening back then, and no sooner did I learn it, it became nearly defunct as a stand-alone programming language with the advent of CSS and a more pronounced dynamic internet dependence on a programming code called PHP (Personal Home Page Tools).

About 8 years of chronic pain which gleefully was not permanent, a few hundred hours of Yoga, many adjustments, and a world of experience later there are things I can do with my back now that I could not do when I was a Buck. From time to time I still have spasms down the entire right side of my body, those sharp pains that remind me how proud I am to have skills and to be a contributor. And since then I have tried my hand at a couple of internet projects where I had to use the HTML, the CSS and the PHP. It’s not easy. It really is not easy.

It’s the kind of sometimes grueling mental work where you bury your head in it and look up at the clock in what seems like five minutes, and three hours have passed. Then you look up at the clock in what seems like two hours, and only ten minutes have gone by. It messes with your head. The people who devise and work on this stuff are champions. That is why I have to express that is for real.

I have spoken with these guys, they have added me to their industry board, they respect my experience and my knowledge, and that of the others on the board. They are reaching out to people like me in building the business. I’m lucky. In the words of John Lennon, “A working class hero is something to be”, and these guys are working class heroes. All my new heroes are nerds. We come from similar working class backgrounds and they have a genuine appreciation and honor for their Blue Collar heritage.

Workhands is the bridge between the old world and the new world of labor. What is happening here, and what their plans are will definitely change everything, and it’s about time someone stepped up for the working people. We have to look out for each other since it is obvious at this point it’s not coming from anywhere else.

The world IS a different place. The old ways are not coming back. The people in politics try to blame the other people in politics for the difficulties people are having facing it, and rather than helping people face it they use it for political opportunities. But the digital age has changed the way we deal with information. All of our economic issues are not about outsourcing, some of it is about obsolescence, and those jobs are not coming back. I never would have thought in a million years when I started my Brickie Apprenticeshipthat I’d be doing something like this.

I guess when I had that accident in 2001 I was just lucky I was driving a very solidly built Ford Ranger, made in my Blue-as-hell-Collar home town of Detroit Michigan, where I was taught to wear my seat belts, that were insisted upon by Ralph Nader. So yeah, in this world of virtual assistants, digital storage, telecommuting, and performance based pay, some things change, and they don’t go back. But some things don’t change. If you want to learn something you can, no one can stop you, and maybe YOU’D BETTER.


Photo courtesy of: Onno Zweers

Hard Hats……. For Everyone?


How many times have you seen someone wearing a hardhat and had no clue why they were wearing a hard hat? How many times have you had no clue why you were wearing a hard hat? If the answer to that last question was “everyday” then it looks like this article may be for you.

So why do employees have to wear hard hats? They wear them for insurance and safety purposes. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Yes, but is it reasonable for every single working person who does not sit at a desk to wear one? Construction workers have always worn hard hats, but the reason I’m writing this article is because I’ve noticed an increasing number of unnecessary hard hats lately. Everyone from landscapers to garbage men are sporting hard hats these days. I haven’t seen my mailman wearing one yet… what reckless behavior!! Anyway, this article isn’t about the people who actually need to wear hard hats. It’s about the ones who don’t need to but are forced to anyways.

One my favorites is the “anyone on site must wear a hard hat” situation. Last year my construction management class toured a building, and we all had to wear hard hats. The building was 95% done with not a single piece of heavy machinery on site but all 25 of us were made to wear them anyway.

One of my other favorite hard hat situations is the “hard hats in a factory in case the roof falls” situation. Another funny one is when Home Depot employees wear hard hats and safety vests while they stock shelves in a aisle temporarily closed off to the public. Is this really about safety or just the appearance of safety?

I think being safe is smart, but I sometimes think modern society is becoming too obsessed with safety. Sometimes I think safety gets in the way of common sense. How long will it be until I have to put on hi-vis gear just to legally leave my house? How long will it be before I have to put on a hard hat and safety glasses before I can shop at the local grocery store? Alright these examples are a little extreme but you get the point. I feel like in today’s society we will do anything that sounds safer no matter what the cost or social implication.

I don’t have anything against safety. Hard hats are a good idea for many professions. Fast food chains give their employees hats because the hats complete their uniforms and keep hair out of the food. Construction companies give their employees hard hats because porous materials aren’t waterproof and don’t prevent head trauma. What I was trying to get at through this article was that hard hats are necessary for some, but that doesn’t mean everyone should be required to wear them.

We have to actually think with our heads and not just protect them.

Photo Courtesy of: Brecht Bug