So, You Want To Be A Mold Inspector?

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I started in the mold business about six years ago in the St. Louis, MO area to expand our business while construction was slow. As a general contractor, I dealt with mold on a limited basis. Spray some bleach on moldy wood and you’re done. I was also curious about mold. My business partner and her family where experiencing a wide range of health problems. Was mold responsible?

I took a course through the South Eastern Mold Institute — a learn-by-mail couse. (Be careful here. Some courses are not approved by all states.) Before I started examing other peoples homes I started with my partner’s home. I took samples and sent them to a series of labs to get anylized. The results where less than satisfying. My partner had been urging me to get a microscope to really see the mold. I soon found out you can’t really be a mold inspector without a microsope. I put everything that even looked remotely unusual under the microscope.

Lint at the base of your refridgerator — mold.
Anything sticking to a fan — mold.
Slight discolerations of wood — mold.

 

What I had always been told was harmless lint or dust turned out to be very dangerous species of mold. As a mold inspector, to truly understand what you are dealing with, you need a microscope.

Mold comes in two varieties — a plant with roots, stems, branches and endless amounts of seeds or an animal called slime mold. Slime mold are increadibly small creatures that live in a tightly compacted colony. At least one species feeds on fiberglass insulation, which is how I found them in an attic in Omaha — the yellow insulation was almost gone.

The plant side of mold is your bread and butter, and you must understand one very important point. Mold can kill you. Mold spores get deep into your lungs and cause inflamation. Your cell walls can rupture, and you start bleeding into your lungs. I have had this condition twice.

To help prevent dangerous molds from harming you, use a respirator with a carbon filter. Humans breath in oxygen and breath out carbon. Molds breath in oxygen and exhale a long list of dangerous toxins. The carbon filter absorbs the toxins before they get to your lungs.

I once had a petri dish full of a mold that was in its early stages of growth. I took off the lid to look at the mold and marched off to my microscope . While I was walking, I noticed the mold was giving off this very pleasant odor. As I was thinking that I could use this mold as an air freshener, I was hit with an incredible headache. It felt like six red hot drill bits slowly boring into my temples. I cannot ever remember being in so much pain, and as a result, I’ve never removed a petri dish lid without my respirator on since. When doing mold inspections, I recommend a full face respirator. Mold can even grow in your eyes so it’s best to cover up entirely when looking for mold.

Now let me tell you a little bit about your customers. Most of have been to many doctors with no results. Some have even been sent to a psychiatrist because the doctors could not determine their problem. They’re often desperate and very confused. Molds toxins can attack the nervous system very much like a virus so many of the symptoms are the same — mood swings, inability to problem solve, headaches, suppression of your immune system so you’re always sick. This is particularly dangerous in children.

Do not be surprised if they treat you with hostility. These are some very sick people and nobody seems to know what’s wrong with them. In time when you keep hearing the same complaints over and over again you will know what’s wrong with them. It’s the mold.

Just remember — when it comes to mold, you are dealing with peoples lives so be very thorough and kill ‘em all!

The Set-Up Crew

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 When you’re a Brickie apprentice, working on a large job site like a multi-story condo or some other large composite masonry structure (composite is when there are two tiers of masonry running up parallel, one seen from the outside and one on the inside), the coolest thing is to get on the set-up crew. The set-up crew shows up an hour or so early and sets up the work for the day, which is especially important when beginning a new story.

You get to work with the Laborers and the other trades to lay out the materials so everything is in place and the floor can go up efficiently. You learn the symbolism of the story pole. You check the blueprints for marks and distances so you can make sure, as the day progresses, that all the Masons are going to have the accessories they need to integrate into the story as they build up. If they have a mark for electric boxes, then they need electric boxes when they get to that height. You have to know when that is and have that equipment ready at the right time. It can’t be too early and no way can it be late.

Me (Brick apprentice): “Hey, you got wire nuts?”
Electrician: “Yep.”
Me: “You must go through a lot of underwear.”
Electrician (cracking up with my Foreman): “That’s a new one!”

 

Yeah, that’s a perk of having thoughts — new jokes. Everyone likes to crack jokes at work, especially early as the coffee is kicking in. If you don’t know, wire nuts are the little caps the Sparks use for joining wire ends inside the junction boxes that are in the walls around you. Just one of those things you never see; one of those mysteries hardly anyone thinks about through the course of a normal day.

On large projects (the good ones, at least), the Contractors and the Foreman of the different trades work together to keep everything humming along. Everything gets synchronized so that everyone is where they need to be with what they need to build on time. It was an awesome and fascinating experience going through that, watching it and participating in it, and it gave a cool new meaning for me for the termorganized labor.

Seriously, it’s very organized and synchronized. I’m truly grateful to have been a part of those buildings, and for leaving my sweat and the energy of my hard work in those walls.

 

Photo courtesy of: flattop341

My New Respect For “Nerds”

EDITOR’s NOTE: We swear we didn’t put Alejo up to this. In fact, we had no idea he was writing this post. We were pretty excited about the first two ideas he pitched us — one on buying the right boots and the other on lunches on the job site. Stay tuned for more of that in future posts of his.

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My name is Alejo and I am the newest member of the WorkHands team. I’m a journeyman pipefitter with over 10 years of experience in refineries across the continental U.S. I started with WorkHands a few months ago after responding to a Craigslist ad. The ad stated WorkHands was a new internet company designed to help skilled tradesmen find employment and were looking for an individual involved in the industry to work part-time spreading the word. It sounded like a perfect fit for me as I’m outspoken and would be communicating with the type of people I work with daily.

After sending in my resume I decided to see what WorkHands was all about. At the time, the website didn’t offer much information, but from what I was able to gather, it’s just what the construction trade industry is lacking. A few days later I received a call from James (VP), that turned out to be an impromptu phone interview of sorts and he said he would like for me to meet with Patrick (CEO) in person — I was stoked! I met with the two of them in person later that week and apparently they liked what I had to say as I’m still here.

My title is Industry Expert and my responsibilities would initially be to consult with them once a week to answer questions about work in the trades. Although my participation was minimal, it was still gratifying to know that I was contributing to what I believed was a revolutionary tool to help craftsmen find employment. We continued meeting for a few hours about twice a month until I was laid off from another job around mid-July. It was around this time that Patrick asked me if I would like to pick up more hours, I gladly accepted. My responsibilities remained the same, but I was meeting more frequently. Patrick again asked me if I would like to pick up more hours and become more involved in the day to day operation within the company, obviously, I said yes. This is where my lesson in the difficulty of computer work began.

It makes me feel good to know that they are working hard to help all the blue collar workers out there.

Alejo Aragon

Before my first full day of work Patrick asked me if I could type. I let him know while I was in school I typed around 74 words per minute but was currently down in the mid 50s. I arrive around at the “Brainasium” (my girlfriend and I refer to the office by this because I told her the building reminds me of the building in the movie “Grandma’s Boy”) around 10:30am prepared to type my butt off. My first task was to learn my way around Google (Gmail/Drive/Gchat) because that’s how info is shared and how the employees communicate amongst each other — not really a big deal — it’s pretty user friendly. Once I learned how to find my daily assignments, it was time to start completing them.

At the top of my priorities list was responding to and fulfilling sticker requests. Simple enough, right? Wrong! Now, I consider myself to be a somewhat computer literate person, but working on a MAC when all you’ve owned are PC’s proved to be a rather daunting task. I was able to fulfill all the requests, but it took me an average of 7 minutes per request, which is not what I would consider an acceptable time.

Next came entering RSS feed URL’s into a spreadsheet. This really showed how very inefficient I am with a MAC, it took me around 12 hours over 3 days to enter in just over 400 URL’s. This and editing a keyword list were the two tasks that gave me a whole new outlook on the field of computer work.  After my first 8 hour day, I was mentally and physically drained, to the point where I was dozing off on the BART ride home.

Before that day, I always thought typing on a keyboard all day was easy. I always thought to myself, “I can do that. I work my ass off for weeks, sometimes months straight for 12 hours a day, in the heat and cold,” I don’t think I could have been more wrong. Sitting in a chair all day staring at a computer screen might not be labor intensive, but believe me, it’s far from easy. I only lasted about 8 hours before tapping out, and these guys put in 12+ hours a day (recently for 7 days a week). They might not be lifting structural iron into place or moving sticks of pipe around, but they are definitely working hard. It makes me feel good to know that they are working hard to help all the blue collar workers out there.

Patrick, James, Paul, Andrew, Jeremy, and Malcolm — on behalf of myself and fellow craftsmen that will benefit from the hard work and countless hours you have invested into this site, THANK YOU!

Hey, You’re A Girl!

“Yes sir, you are correct. And you must be a rocket scientist?”

The funny part about this story was that this gentleman actually was a rocket scientist. And yes I am a “girl”. Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch. I’m a grandmother.

I’ve worked in the electrical/building trades for over 30 years. I wish I had a nickel for every time that I have heard that statement, “Hey, you’re a girl,” from both men and women. When I heard it last, I was actually working at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as a senior security specialist. The gentleman that made that statement was actually a “shuttle” rocket scientist and was surprised to see a “girl” doing the job that I was performing. I worked for a contractor installing secure perimeters for the launch pad areas and for top secret communications compounds. Most of the work involved fiber optic, CCTV, IDS, Access, and other “electronic security” platforms.

At 3 years old, I was introduced to electricity by way of a wire coat hanger in an electric receptacle. I was thrown several feet and decided I had to find out what that stuff was that knocked me for a loop. I started my career in 1980 as a helper on a HUD housing project doing residential wiring. Right out of high school, I thought I would be interested in radio/TV repair. I attended vocational training in my hometown and soon decided that I hated bench work. It was too boring for me. I had to move, create, and DO. My then husband suggested that I apply for the project he was on (that HUD project I mentioned earlier).

Following my husband in his pursuit as a union carpenter, we soon moved to a bigger city. He suggested that I try out for the IBEW NJATC 4 year apprenticeship program. I applied and was accepted in 1985. On my first day as an apprentice, I was sent to a coal power house and was the only female on that project. Talk about intimidating! The very first tool I was given was a 4ft chain wrench. I was still naïve enough to ask how I would become an electrician with a huge wrench. My foreman pointed to a huge ditch and told me to hop on in. I was introduced to a duct bank run, 4 and 6 inch rigid pipe that I was to help install and tighten with the wrench. Back then there was no such thing as schedule 80 PVC unless you happened to be working as a plumber.

When I “topped” out, I was the first female from that local.

Kelly Slayton

I finished out my apprenticeship in different industries, pulp mills, steel mills, kaolin mines, institutional, government, and learned many things along the way. When I “topped” out, I was the first female from that local. My union brothers used to tease me about changing the name from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, to International Sisterhood of Electrical Workers. I told the brothers that since it had been named IBEW for over 100 years, it would probably stay that way. I didn’t expect anyone would change the name just for me.

Throughout my tenure in the electrical trades, I have gotten to see the advancement of technology. (Thank goodness.) I am glad that with technology, most of the materials, 4 and 6 in rigid, has gotten smaller, more efficient, and easier to handle. Nanotechnology, solar, renewable energies, fiber optics, weren’t conventional methods like they are today. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled, earned an honest, and interesting living, and still consider myself to be on a journey.

My current adventure (job) is as a Fiber/SCADA specialist with a local utilities company. I work with fiber optics, compared to 4 and 6 inch rigid. I think my ideal job right now would be to encourage other women to avail themselves of the opportunities they could find in the trades. Get your education; apply yourself to bettering your life by doing something beyond the pale. Is it hard? What isn’t that is worth the effort. Is it for everyone? No. But if as a child you enjoyed taking things apart or tinkering, you should really look into the skilled trades. Not only can you learn a lifetime craft, you’ll also be building a better tomorrow. We will always need lights, a roof over our heads, or a toilet to flush, to say the least.

I still find it amusing to hear “Hey, you’re a girl”.

Greed Destroys, Business Builds – The Determination Of Value

There is no value that can be ascribed to the comfort and memories that a family in a Northern region will enjoy thanks to a Masonry Heater built by someone with the patience, passion, skills, experience, and materials to build it. Regardless of how much that family pays the Master Mason, the memories and the comfort resulting from the trade will eternally exceed the value of that work. Can a value like that really be determined? Is there any amount of money, really, that can afford those comforts and memories?

When I walk along a busy street, like many people who have spent years of our lives working, providing and creating value, I have this tendency to see a cityscape as an event through time, rather than a moment in time. I see moments of the past overlain with subsequent, logical, methodical and purposeful activity which was the foundation for the seeming chaos of the moment. My experience allows me this pleasure. I can understand the events by some that led to the experiences of many, and that is ultimate value.

I see the foundations of the buildings being poured or built by hand. I see the corners and the first courses laid. I see the sills and the lintels set. I see the scaffolding being built. I see the workers walking those planks. I see bricklayers hanging over the walls like bats, their trowels ringing the walls like bells from the past raining down a fine mortar product that dries before it hits the ground.

[N]ever despise a callous-clad value creator again.

Robert Run

As you are seated in a hall, listening to a symphony, I hear the wires being snaked through the walls as the Spark apprentice builds her triceps. I hear the Trim Carpenter’s blood blister nursed with a curse as he affixes ornate trim. The drums of wood stain, jostling and bumping are tympani. Drills, tile saws, torches and the banging of ladders are the honest cacophony in a world where the big lie of easy living is projected into the living rooms of haves and the have nots alike.

I smell festering deals, I smell brokers and agents, I hear phones getting slammed down, and I hear Champaign bottles popping. I see groceries getting paid for. The contractor is a grunt. The Real Estate Mogul is the smirk he wears, because the kid mixing the mud is the business person.

Oblivious, some haven’t yet identified their own value. They belittle labor and skill as though they would never do anything “below their station”. They have been trained by some unfortunate ideological disaster to see the creative, industrious, and difficult (but necessary) work as some kind of punishment. Soon, hopefully, they will experience that moment, that precious first moment of value creation for others. The feeling fused to that is meaningful and life changing. After experiencing it, may they never despise a callous-clad value creator, again. They will look at the world that surrounds them with awe, knowing that human energy is alive in so much they had taken for granted. Welcome to a world buzzing with the residual energy of creative humans.

Plenty of people are grateful for and appreciate what they made from life. They know what’s behind what they have, and do not take a moment, or the people involved in the process, for granted. Simultaneously, the oblivious lay everywhere, filled with irrational entitlement, expecting some kind of ride to heaven on the backs of others.

Across the spectrum, to the oblivious, I say learn a skill and learn it fast. You’re getting ready to need it. Across the spectrum, to the industrious and grateful, I raise a glass.

 

 

A Summer In San Francisco At WorkHands

On my third day in San Francisco, I got different assignment than what I was used to at WorkHands. With only a map, a camera, a clipboard, and a stack of business cards, Patrick and James asked me to walk around the SOMA district and talk to any person that looked like they worked on a construction site about our “American Flags on the Jobsite” campaign for the Fourth of July. I had to better get to know the people we were serving at WorkHands, they said.

I was nervous. I had absolutely no idea how to get around the city and catching a construction worker on their lunch break can be seriously intimidating. It took a few tries to get into the flow of it, but eventually it was actually kind of fun. People were interested in what I had to say, and I got a great adrenaline rush talking about this product that I so strongly believed in. By the end of the day, I ended up at the best view of the Bay Bridge in the city. I was excited about finally being in San Francisco, and I knew the next six weeks were going to be incredible.

I’ve been working with WorkHands since October 2012. Since the headquarters was in San Francisco, I worked remotely from college part-time. I was grateful to have a job, and the work I was doing was interesting, but without actually being with the rest of team, it was hard to see any real progress. When Patrick told me that they were bringing me out to San Francisco for the summer, I had no idea what to expect. I had never really been on the West Coast before, but I was excited to finally meet my coworkers that I had seen only on a computer screen for the previous eight months.

If these past six weeks have taught me anything, it’s that I am extremely lucky to be a part of something like WorkHands.

Malcolm Johnson

Since then, a lot of my friends have asked me what I do everyday for a company that’s building a website for skilled trades workers since I neither code nor work in the trades. As much as I try, it’s hard to say what I do everyday. With only five people, you pretty quickly realize that everyone has to do a little bit of everything for things to run smoothly.

Did you request a WorkHands sticker for your welding helmet or toolbox? Have you taken a look at our Twitter or Instagram feeds? Chances are that if you’ve done any of these things, you’ve seen some of the stuff that I do around here. I’ve done a lot of on-the-ground outreach at construction sites and talked to numerous workers all over California. But what’s great about WorkHands is that we all contribute together; the engineers can help with business development while the business development guys offer their ideas on the website.

If these past six weeks have taught me anything, it’s that I am extremely lucky to be a part of something like WorkHands. We’re building an amazing product, and I’ve got so much to take away from this experience. I’ll continue to be a part of the team from New York for my sophomore year, and I will literally be counting down the days until I can come back to California, to San Francisco, and to WorkHands.

All Wood Is Not The Same

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I started working in Northern California about thirty years ago.The normal woods we use for everything are Western Douglas fir and Yellow Pine. These woods will hold any type of nail very well. But, when I moved to Texas twelve years later it was a completely different story.

Of all the problems that I anticipated using different types of wood their ability to hold a nail never occurred to me. Of course you would expect to have differences in wood strength. The old uniform building code has a very good section on the different types of wood and their structural abilities.

I do not remember seeing any reports on the ability of wood to hold a nail. I had my crew in Texas tack on some form boards with 8d sinkers. The next day many of the nails had slipped out about an inch. I could easily slip the nails back into place with my finger. I went down to the lumber yard and picked up a box of screw shank galvanized nails. When I have a problem with nails holding I always use the screw shank nail. Of course you can usually use screws. I say usually because on exterior finish work I do not like the look of screws.

For general framing you will need to use brights they seem to hold in all types of wood. Even galvanized nails, which are usually very good in most woods, did not do well in some of the midwestern woods. For gun nails use the gold tipped brands. Several companies make them and I have found they hold like screws in all types of wood. I had a problem in a home I was building in St. Louis Mo. the red tipped gun nails just slipped out. I pulled out the red tipped nails and used brights to replace them. From then on I have stuck to the gold tips with no problems.

It’s a different world outside the West Coast, especially when it comes to the trades. Wood types are often not stamped and the lumber yards may not even know what species of wood they are selling you. I have had to change from using solid wood headers to a laminate type for the certainty of structural strength. The east coast douglas fir bends like a rubber band I don’t recommend them for anything.

My advice for those of you who are working outside your normal area is to take nothing for granted and fluff your price as much as possible. If the job very tight cost wise just walk away. Better to lose a job than lose money on a job.

 

Photo courtesy of: Jesse Wagstaff

Safety Advances In Union Construction Make A Difference

Having worked as a concrete hand on high-rise buildings and with occasional stints in my youth as an iron worker, I remember being annoyed by the barrage of safety rules that union contractors started implementing twenty years ago. It seemed like a pretty big pain to wear all that extra safety gear, and I resented the hell out of it all.

I also remember carrying injured men on sheets of plywood and putting body parts in lunch boxes to rush them to the hospital alongside the broken remnants of a fellow worker, but it was still difficult in my youth to put the two together.

As insurance premiums have risen, large union contractors seem to have become obsessed with safety. Their projects are crawling with safety people. Some days, you can’t seem to get anything done because of safety rules, and for younger workers especially, it can be a source of major frustration.

Think of it from a union perspective however, and it is as if we have achieved a dream some forty years in the making. Since we stood together as workers and forced the government to enact OSHA in 1971, we have finally reached a day when workers are given all of the tools and training they need to ensure their survival. For the first time ever, we are told by contractors that we must wear all of the proper safety attire on a project. We are given the opportunity to not only refuse to perform unsafe work, but we are encouraged to stop work any time that there is even a question.

Today, on many projects, we’re even required to perform a pre-task evaluation of everything we do. It is the culmination of decades of advocacy and struggle. Countless men and women had to die on the job to reach a day when contractors pay us to stop, examine our work for the day, and view every step of it from the standpoint of safety.

If it all seems like a pain to an eager worker, then you’re not thinking about it from a union perspective, and you’re not remembering the thousands of workers who gave their lives and limbs to reach this era.

 

 

Made In America Is What Inspired Us

Besides all the cookouts and family gatherings, fireworks and vacations, this past 4th of July was a reminder to us at WorkHands just how awesome this country is. America’s infrastructure has grown for 237 years, and it’s our skilled trades workers that continue to make this possible. Here at WorkHands, we recognize every one of this country’s 16M tradesmen and women, and it’s our goal to create a network specifically for them.

Last week, we went around WorkHands headquarters and took pictures for the 4th of July. The plan was to visit nearby construction sites and photograph any American flags that we could find. It was easier than we expected. There were red, white, and blue themed hard hats, stickers, lunch boxes, and flags everywhere, and, luckily for us, they were happy for a chance to display their national pride to the camera.

One guy in particular caught my eye; he had an American flag sticker on his hard hat that read, “Buy union – Buy American”. He agreed to let me take a picture of the sticker, but only if I would leave him out of the photograph. But, as I went to snap a photo of his hat, he changed his mind. “Fine, I guess you can take my picture, too, but I’m not the face of all of this.”

I quickly snapped the photo before he could change his mind again, thanked everyone on the site for their time, and moved on.

As I thought more about it, I kept going back to what Union Sticker guy said, “I’m not the face of all of this.” Maybe he just wasn’t interested in attention (like Patrick’s dad), but, to us, he IS the face of all of “this.”

He, and every other worker that put on an orange vest and hardhat this morning, is the reason that we’re doing what we are. We’ve spent plenty of time pouring over statistics and facts and trying to understand how exactly WorkHands can benefit the trades. But there’s something about talking to workers, and hearing their personal stories and perspectives that makes this all worthwhile.

We’re trying to create the best blue collar website possible, but we can’t do it alone. No matter how much we learn, there’s always room for improvement. Have an idea about how to improve the website? We’d love to hear it. We’re building WorkHands for you — the plumber, the electrician, the landscaper, and the construction worker with the union sticker. It’s your ideas and insights that we care about and are going to make WorkHands great.

The importance of the skilled trades for this country’s future is something that we take seriously and seeing the words “Made in America” gives us a sense of pride, reverence, and purpose. WorkHands is made in America, and to us, those three words mean everything.

 

 

How To Become A Skilled Trade Worker In The New Economy

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

– Benjamin Franklin

The Great Recession that rocked the nation’s blue-collar workforce has been showing signs of recovery. Will you be ready when blue collar jobs start coming back? Being prepared to get a construction or industrial job in 2013 will require more from you than ever before. These are my top 5 tips to enter or re-enter the skilled trades workforce:

  1. Get an education beyond high school. Even though this may not be a requirement to enter into most blue-collar jobs, having an AA or some college credits will increase your chances of landing a good job or being accepted into a union apprenticeship program.
  2. Go where the work is. No one wants to move away from family and friends, but in today’s economy it may be essential.
  3. Get proactive. The competition for these new jobs will be fierce. You need to utilize all your resources, both personally and professionally to help land a good job.
  4. Be flexible. A lot of the new jobs that are coming will be temporary or part-time. Especially in the non-union sectors. Think long term.
  5. Work Hard. One thing that keeps a lot of people from being a success is work. – Unknown Remember that you’re a blue-collar worker, and that means that every day you need to produce. If you have the mind set that you will work harder than the guy next to you, you will be successful.

I’m well on my way to becoming an old-timer and I’ve seen more than my fair share of failures and bad economic times. In my time I have done all five of these things myself, and I can say that being prepared and having a good game plan is the best way to stay at the front of the pack.

For example, I have been a Journeyman tile setter with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers for 10 years. But before that I had to work many non-union jobs, in the tile industry and elsewhere. I have also been “on the road,” as it’s referred to in the trade, moving 5 or 6 times in as many years to follow work. I have pretty much resigned myself to go where the jobs are available.

On the issue of hard work, man I’ve been there, done that. Even now when I got hired on to a new project through my union local, there are times I don’t really know all of the people I’m working for. If you’re working for a new company, and you’re the new guy, boy you better be willing to put in a good days work every day.

Along the way and today, I have been educating myself to the best of my abilities. Attending community college helped me land more than a few good jobs and attending school now to complete my BA will help me in the future. Always be focused on learning and perfecting your specific trade.

These are just a few tips on how to be successful in the blue-collar world. Of course, nothing is guaranteed and situations change with every employer. As long as you work hard, and work smart, your chances of getting hired in the new economy will be better than ever.