The right tool for the job depends on you… and if you can use it as a hammer

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“The right tool for the job.” It’s a saying that my father used quite a bit.

It’s a saying, “the right tool for the job,” that’s so popular it’s been co-opted by other, non-trade industries, but I never fully appreciated it until recently.

From experience, I’ve learned it basically means “If you have the correct tool for the job, you probably won’t ruin things, and you’ll curse much less.” For my decades of putting tools to the test, it all comes down to one thing… can I use it as a hammer?

Of course, by that I mean, “Which tool will be the highest quality, most durable and the best bang for my buck?” But also, I’m probably going to use it as a hammer eventually, either because of frustration, rage or pure necessity. There are so many places to find yourself the perfect pipe wrench, drill press, or miter saw for whatever job you’re tackling, that it’s mind-boggling to think about. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 categories to help you decide not what tool is best, but what tool is best for you.

Homeowner tools

Congratulations, you just bought a house! You’ll need tools for up-keep, and repairs. Just go Craftsman, hit up Sears, or find a nice K-mart special-30 piece tool set. That’s all you really need. No need to spend a Corvette’s worth in tools for light-bulb fixtures and table leg repairs. Done.

DIY / hobbyist / garage-r tools

You’re a serious DIYer. You need a quality tool for the job but you don’t need the best tool on the market. I’ve worked on my car since I Corey's Dad-Tool Box purchased it at 14 using whatever tools my dad had. They usually weren’t the best quality, but I still use some of them to this day. Go Craftsman for hand tools or better. Their wrenches, pliers and hammers are perfect for everyone from the weekend track racer to the most Ron Swanson of us all. The higher initial price is out-weighed by the lifetime use of the tool. Just check for the warranty so you can replace it if necessary.

Full-time trade and craftsman tools

If you make a living off your tools, you’re going to want something that will pay for itself over the years. You need power, precision, and durability. The hands down consensus is that if you want the best tool that’ll last a lifetime, you want Snap-on.  If your company is paying, or if you can afford it, Snap-on is the best bang for your buck for any dedicated, daily wrench jockey. They have consistently beat any challenger for best in the business. If that isn’t a possibility, brands like SK, GearWrench, Matco Tools and Mac Tools offer replacements with warranties that are just as good with only a minor sacrifice in strength and durability.

Still not sure which tool is right for you? Start simple and build up from there. You may find that, most of the time, you need the basics but for a few specific jobs, it’s worth investing in the right tools. Like my dad always said, “The right tool… “

Working with Trade Schools in Construction

Being able to find qualified talent in the local workforce is what every small business in the trade’s industry wishes they could do more easily. As the talent pool of workers seems to be gradually drying up in the New Hampshire area, contractors, plumbers, and electricians (to name just a few) are finding themselves in new territory. Not only are these businesses and tradesmen bidding for jobs and competing for contracts, but they are now also in fierce competition over attracting top candidates to join their companies.

With the housing market continuing to recover and homeowners throughout the region looking to update their homes, businesses are doing all they can to keep up with the demand whilst struggling to fill in the ranks of their company.

The Next Generation of the Construction Industry

Instead of passing the storm complacently and waiting for the labor shortage issue to correct itself, there are steps towards improvement to be taken, one big stride being to reach out to the younger generation within the community.

This presents a two-way street, each direction holding equal importance. Keeping the youth interested in the trades; and likewise, keeping the trades industry interested in being more hands-on in developing the youth into a viable workforce.

And so what’s the best way to reach out to the younger generation and introduce them to the trade industry within their community?

Some NH Vocational Schools for Construction

There are a number of vocational high schools throughout New Hampshire, offering courses from heavy duty mechanics to the building trades, and from basic woodworking to electrical engineering. These public schools have been providing such courses for years now, and with current circumstances being as they are, it’s time local businesses start taking more interest.

In southern New Hampshire, both Alvirne High School and Pinkerton Academy have exceptional vocational centers, and for students in the greater Manchester area there is the Manchester School of Technology, to name just a few.

Getting Involved with Local Schools

So where to start? Perhaps with a little research and outreach.

Not every vocational school offers the same courses. Finding out the specifics of each school can be done via their websites. Or take it one step further by reaching out to their respective directors and teachers. Inquire about the number of students they have enrolled in their courses, what challenges they face in developing their programs or students, and are they in need of any resources. Are they in need of tools or equipment? Do they follow industry trends?

Perhaps it’s also a good idea to inquire about being a guest speaker of sorts, introducing the latest technology used in the field or presenting them with case studies and asking for input from the students on how to address a real life issue. It would also be a good idea to reach out to other local businesses in the area and get them involved, providing the students with a variety of resources and options.

The overall goal with reaching out to local vocational schools and students should be to peak their interest, keep them motivated, and assure them there are plenty of exceptional, well-paying, challenging jobs waiting for the right candidates to emerge and take them. In an industry which is struggling to find qualified candidates, reaching out and taking the initiative is a much needed step in the right direction.

 

Trades Networking: Pounding the Pavement Still Has Merit

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While the trades industry is most definitely evolving into a more accessible and technology-centered organism, at the same time it is still undeniably rooted in the tactile and “hands-on” approach that has been passed down through generations.

Though there is much to be gained by familiarizing yourself with the online trades world, and seemingly limitless avenues to pursue once you learn to navigate the channels and resources available, you simply cannot overlook the fundamental value of that good old-fashioned hand shake. Because the trades industry is one of constant change with a wide range of participants, projects can be extremely diverse and stretch out over long periods of time.

As we all know, construction is done in stages; this means that, depending on your trade, there are various stages where you can visit a job site in person to make introductions, hand out your company information, and hopefully do some networking, for both that particular project as well as potential future projects.

One of the best things about the construction industry is that projects are often hard to miss, particularly new residential construction and commercial tenant improvements. Are you a flooring installer?  Do you see a new home going up with a sign on the perimeter fence identifying the general contractor?  Are they only in the framing stages?  Go to the site and introduce yourself.

Take a walk through your local shopping center, and you will likely find at least one retail store with a hoarding in front of its doors, and construction going on behind them. Check out the job site and find out who is in charge, and ask questions.

Have they secured a company for your particular trade yet and if so does that group need an extra hand with this or other projects?  Is this store a chain that’s renovating multiple locations in succession?

Many of these projects are in constant flux because of budget and design evolution. Clients increase budgets, change their minds, run into problems along the way (oops- we didn’t know we had dry rot behind the sink…now we don’t just need a plumber we need a drywall restoration company), and thus create many opportunities for you to get your business card in the mix.

Don’t underestimate the value of your presence and an in-person handshake.  You may not always find immediate work from these impromptu site visits, but you will have broadened your client network and potentially set yourself up for projects in the future.

So, grab a stack of business cards and get out there!  Best of luck!

How To Become a Certified Welding Inspector

The American Welding Society (AWS) has many different types of certifications for welding professionals.  While all AWS certifications carry the organizations endorsement, the Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) certification is arguably their most popular and desired credential.  I recently received my CWI certification, and I would like to use my experience in attaining this certification to layout in a simple manner what it takes to become a Certified Welding Inspector.  The three main components to becoming an AWS CWI are satisfying the prerequisites, studying for the exam, and passing the exam.AWS Logo

Prerequisites

As with most credentials in life, there are several prerequisites that need to be satisfied before you can obtain your CWI.  The first worth noting is the required combination of work experience and education.  There are several different combinations that meet the demands of the American Welding Society.  You must also be able to pass a vision acuity test.

Studying for the Exam

The amount of studying that I recommend for the CWI exam really varies from person to person.  Coming from a 4 year formal college education in welding engineering technology, my studying was pretty relaxed.  However, if you have a limited knowledge of welding, particularly welding symbols, weld examination, and weld qualification, you may want to put in more effort.  For self-study, there are a variety of books that the AWS recommends.

If you aren’t feeling so sure of yourself, the AWS also provides a seminar the week before you take your exam.  This covers all parts of the exam and includes all of the study materials you need.  This seminar week is quite popular, and I hear it substantially improves the test taker’s chances of passing.  Be aware, though, that it comes with a hefty price tag.

The CWI Exam

I have heard of some pretty high fail rates for this exam.  I won’t pretend that I know the exact numbers, but I will say that roughly half of the people I took the exam with were there to retake a section.  There are three sections, all multiple choice, and you are allowed two hours for each one.  They are:

  • Part A: Fundamentals Examination
  • Part B: Practical Examination
  • Part C: Code Book Examination

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Overall, with breaks, I was at the exam site for just about 10 hours.  You do not take the test in any set order.  You could, for instance, start with Part C.  Once the exam is finished, you walk out without knowing your results.  My results were back to me in a little less than two weeks time. 
If you receive a 72% or above for each section, congratulations! You passed!  If received an average of 72% or above, but received below a 72% on an individual section, you have to retake that section.  If you averaged below a 72%, you have to take the exam again.

The AWS provides a variety of testing sites and times to take your CWI exam, so get studying!  Good luck!

Best Practices for Skilled Trade Training Programs

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Skilled trade training programs are vital to developing skills in students entering the trades and helping to close the skills gap, but what makes a great training program? What’re best practices for skilled trade training programs? What do the best training programs do differently? We set out to answer these questions by surveying 50 programs across the country about how they connect with students, alumni, and industry partners. Through these conversations, we found patterns that go across locations and school types, from community colleges and high schools to apprenticeships and workforce development programs.

We identified the biggest pain points and best practices of the programs training trade workers around the country. The best programs form the center of a community with benefits on all ends of the spectrum, including current students, alumni, and employers. It all starts with the communication in this network.

What’s often overlooked in today’s programs is the importance of removing uncertainty for students entering skilled trades careers. Put simply from a welding student in California,

“I’m not sure where I’ll wind up after this,”

Many students don’t know the pathway from their program to a thriving skilled trade career, so great programs are key to making this clear. They do this with constant connections to employers, shop visits, and more — all components to a well educated trade student that go beyond skills education.

One of the best ways to demonstrate pathways to current students is a tight alumni network. Alumni are invaluable for hiring opportunities and inside knowledge of employers. Establishing a system for staying in touch is one of the best steps programs can take to ensure the success of future cohorts– not to mention they’re a great resource for filling instructor positions at training programs.

As for employers, many schools rely on personal connections to build and maintain these crucial relationships, but they require an unreasonable amount of work from already overburdened instructors.

“We don’t have anything other than me passing on a job opportunity,” said one school administrator.

The best schools combine this hands-on touch with a system to identify matches between hiring companies and available graduates, systematically involving employers at every step of their program.

We asked all of these questions, and more, in our quest to identity how the best training programs operate, and how WorkHands can help. In the coming weeks, we’ll roll out key findings for each side that engages with training programs so stay tuned… And if you want to tell us more about what your training program’s doing to be successful, we’d love to hear from you.

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

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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 http://www.workhands.us/stickers and let us know where to send ‘em.

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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.

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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.

Phillips-Safety Gold Lens Review, UPDATE

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What’s going on, ‘Hands!

I’m back with my update on Phillips-Safety’s gold lenses. To get you new users/followers up to speed, a couple months back I conducted a welding lens shootout (review) that included American Optical’s (AO) Weld Cool, Phillips-Safety gold lens, and Harris Products’ Omni View gold lens. All three lenses provided excellent clarity and visibility, but the gold coating on the Phillips-Safety gold lens flaked off as soon as I put them under water to clean them, directly out the package. I sent an email to Phillips-Safety informing them what had happened and was contacted immediately the following morning, by one of their staff. They paid the return shipping, sent me replacement lenses and assured me that this was a fluke.

Over the past several months I’ve been putting these replacement lenses through the wringer, taking them out of my hood almost daily to clean them with soap and water. I made sure not to exercise the same caution I normally would with gold lenses, applying more pressure than I normally would while cleaning them under running water. Heavy duty liquid detergents, brown paper towels, rags, t-shirts, I used anything I thought someone would have on hand in a shop or out in the field to clean their lenses with. I wanted to make sure the gold coating was not coming off and did everything I could think of (aside from intentionally scratching them) to get it to delaminate from the glass.

At this point I know you’re thinking, “enough BS, how did they do?” Well, I’m happy to report they exceeded my expectations and the coating did not flake, actually they didn’t even scratch. Phillips-Safety’s gold lenses passed my tests with flying colors and officially have my stamp of approval. If you’re in the market to purchase a new lens, I’d definitely recommend giving these a shot.

A special thanks goes out to Bill B. over at Phillips-Safety for his great customer service.

Work safe and have a great day,
-Alejo

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!

Launch Day

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It’s finally here, launch day. Starting today, anyone can sign up for WorkHands to build their reputation in the trades online (and mobile soon, too).

Starting this summer, we put a countdown on our white board in anticipation of this day. It finally reads zero, and we couldn’t be more excited about that. The whole team has put in a lot of effort to getting WorkHands to where it is today.

That team’s really grown this summer and includes everyone from the founding team to our industry experts, beta users, advisors, trade school instructors, students, friends, and family. We knew from the start that we couldn’t do this alone, and it’s been amazing getting everyone involved. We owe all of you a huge ‘thank you,’ and even that doesn’t quite express our gratitude.

Here’s where it gets even better though — launch day is just the start for WorkHands. The blue collar web won’t be built over night so keep getting involved, telling us what you want, and inviting your co-workers.

We’ll keep busting our tails to serve workers, whether that’s new products (did we mention we have a few apps coming?) or partnerships that help incorporate more of your world in the trades on WorkHands.

Let’s go out and build something special.

 

Photo courtesy of: David Glover

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.