Every technician has a toolbox, but what do you NEED to have in it? While there’s no “right” answer, here is a list of tools that FlexTrades’ most successful technicians always have in their toolboxes – and some recommendations for the average Joe, too.

Hand Tools

  • Wrenches
  • Hand Drivers
  • Pliers
  • Hammers
  • Chisels & Punches
  • Files & Deburring Tools

Power Tools

  • Drills & Drivers
  • Cutters & Saws
  • Grinders & Sanders

Measuring Tools

  • Calipers & Micrometers
  • Square
  • Scale
  • Indicators & Edge Finders


  • Flashlights
  • Calculator
  • Markers & Soapstone
  • Notebook

Hand Tools for Your Toolbox


Machinists and maintenance technicians need a good set of wrenches, ratchets, and sockets in typical SAE and metric sizes. A good adjustable wrench and a set of Allen wrenches are also must haves. Most also carry a quality torx set because of their prevalence in industrial settings.

Hand Drivers

Hand drivers may be the toothbrush of tools; rarely appreciated though used every day, but that’s what makes them essential. Every technician prefers a power tool for any job, but sometimes you can’t get power tools where they need to be. A good selection of hand drivers with varied lengths and a multitude of heads (slotted, Philips, square, etc.) can often be a big job saver.



Whether used for holding work pieces, trimming and stripping wires or turning the nut a wrench can’t reach, a technician can never have too many pliers. From slip-joint to locking and needle-nose to linesman’s, make sure this tool is well represented in your bag.


Technician or not, everybody knows about hammers, but those used in manufacturing aren’t your father’s claw hammer. It doesn’t matter if you need to set tooling and fixtures, make repairs, fine adjustments, or just knock something loose. A good collection of specialty hammers such as ball peens, brass, and dead blows will more than pull their weight in the shop.

Chisels & Punches

Sets of up to 1” for chisels and punches can go a long way for working on tooling, fixtures and finished work pieces. Having them may also be the difference between saving the machine, the tool, or your fingers from unnecessary damage in the process.

Files & Deburring Tools

Files and deburring tools are integral for finish work on parts and features for both machinists and welders. Owning a great set of both is often all that separates a tedious job from an impossible one especially when dealing with fine materials or high tolerance pieces.

Power Tools for Your Toolbox

Drills & Drivers

Drills and drivers replace hand tools, where appropriate, to save time and physical strain. Recent advancements in battery technology now allow many companies to make great entries in this field. However, regardless of brand, the choice will always be between power and physical profile (smaller drills = smaller, less powerful batteries). Be honest about the work you do most or be prepared to see this collection grow quickly.

Cutters and Saws

Cutters and saws help make faster, more accurate, cuts more often than hand tools. You can choose from corded or cordless varieties, and both have their advantages. The convenience and portability of cordless versions normally win in most scenarios. Remember though, it’s still a battery tool. The same considerations apply to these as mentioned for drills and drivers.

Milwaukee 2720-21 M18 Fuel Sawzall Reciprocating Saw Kit

Grinders and Sanders

A quality belt sander and an angle grinder, with both cutting and grinding heads, are essential for rough maintenance and fine finish work. It doesn’t matter if you’re a welder, machinist, or maintenance technician – you will have to clean up weld slag or tool chatter at some point. Pro tip, if you need to use either for more than a few minutes at a time, go with the corded version. Cordless sanders and grinders drain batteries quickly!

Measuring Tools for Your Toolbox

Calipers and Micrometers

A quality 0-1” micrometer and a good 6” caliper will take any machinist a long way by accommodating most typical sized work pieces and features. If you need a bigger range for your daily work, then your toolbox is probably already in great shape without this list. Pro tip: Analog dials never have batteries die, but digitals have fewer parts that need cleaning to maintain accuracy over time.


Machinist square or combo square, both will help you start and check your work. You won’t get far without one or the other. When buying, go for sturdy over fancy.

Scale (Ruler)

A 6” scale is standard, and I recommend sticking with metal for durability and accuracy. Indicators and edge finders are essential for setting your axis, finding the edge of your part and fine-tuning settings. A scale is often overlooked, but you’re simply not a machinist without it.
*Pros can get their measuring tools piece by piece or in a kit to meet all needs, like this one from Insize. But most Joes can get by with just a good tape measure like this classic from Stanley.

Miscellaneous Items 


Flashlights make it easier to do work when you can see it. Get a few and make sure at least one has a flexible head. Magnetic bases frequently come in handy too.


Don’t use your phone as a calculator – there’s a greater chance you’ll wreck it. A calculator capable of performing trig functions is a must for multi-axis machining.


Being able to read your markings on greasy, oily metal is essential in production environments and being able to remove the markings after is a plus.


This is your most important tool as a technician because it allows you to reference work you’ve done and make sure you can apply that previous knowledge to the current job at hand.

Tool Storage

When you go to the job, your tools need to come with you. FlexTrades’ traveling technicians all need a quality toolbox that is portable, adjustable, and lockable. This 22-inch rolling system from Husky is a great option! If you’re wondering what to do with the tools you decide to leave at home, they need to be stored properly as well. We suggest you watch this interview with Stor-Loc, a great American-made option, before deciding on your next tool chest!

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

Every work site has its own requirements for PPE, but they all begin with boots. Steel or composite safety toes are the standard, but built-in internal metatarsal protection boots are becoming more common all the time. Waterproofing, slip resistance, and electrical ratings are other things to consider when buying boots. Something like this pair from Red Wings checks all those boxes.

Hard hats or helmets, safety glasses, and hearing protection are often provided by the employer, but every technician has a favorite that works best for their job. When you find yours, buy two immediately!

Position specific equipment like auto-darkening visors for welders and respirators for painters are also PPE worth considering.

While this list is not definitive, it’s a great start to building your kit. See what your toolbox is lacking and consider adding some missing items.

If your collection already includes everything mentioned above, and you know how to use it, you’re probably ready for a career in the manufacturing industry. Send your resume to marketing@flextrades.com and we’ll get you started!

How It’s Made – Plastic

Plastic has been around for much longer than most of us know. In its earliest form (some say as early as 1600 B.C.), plastic was produced by Mesoamericans who harvested latex from the Panama Rubber Tree and processed it with liquid from the Morning Glory Vine. However, the production of plastic (as we now know it) started many years later when Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) was invented during the 1930s. Since then, there have been other types of plastic discovered and invented with each having its own strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately determine the end use.

So, how is it made?

Step 1: Raw Material Extractions

Crude oil and natural gas are extracted (drilled) from the ground then transported to a refinery.

Step 2: Refining

During the refining process, these natural materials are turned into multiple products including ethane and propane (which are the foundation of plastics). The refining process is very similar to how gasoline is made. With the assistance of a high-temperature furnaces, as well as pressure, ethane and propane are broken down into smaller molecules creating ethylene and propylene.

Step 3: Polymerization

In this stage, catalysts (a.k.a. chemicals) are added into the process and bond individual molecules into a polymer. When heated, polymers are incredibly moldable, making them great for plastic products. There are two ways in which this polymerization process can occur, and each way makes its own polymer (or resin), and each resin has its own set of pros and cons (which ultimately determines the end product it’s used in). You can find resin types in the Resin Identification Codes (RICs) on plastic products. Resins include Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polystyrene (PS) among others. PET is the most commonly used plastic in the world.

Step 4: Nurdle Making

You read that right… now it’s on to nurdle making! Nurdles are little plastic pellets made from the resins created in the polymerization process. The process to do so is through melting and cooling operations. Once these lentil-sized pellets are produced, they are shipped from a petrochemical refining facility to manufacturing facilities where they are melted down and formed into a final product.

Step 5: Plastic Forming & Fabrication

Manufacturers compound, mix, and melt the plastic pellets with other ingredients to very specific recipes. When followed, these recipes determine the characteristics and properties of the plastic product. The melted plastic is then formed into shape by plastic forming machinery, which is determined by the application of the product.

Common Machinery Used to Form Rigid Plastic Products Includes:

  • Injection Molding
  • Extrusion Molding
  • Blow Molding
  • Compression Molding
  • Thermoforming
  • Rotational (Roto) Molding
  • Polymer Casting

If you are a plastics manufacturing company, or someone who has worked in a plastics manufacturing facility, you likely fully understand this process. If not, check out our blog page to see what else we can help you understand better. Regardless of where you rate your plastics knowledge, keep reading because did you know that FlexTrades can help you find the right people for your company and/or the right job for yourself, too, regardless of industry? Check us out online at FlexTrades.com to learn about all that we can do for you.

Manufacturing as an industry has taken some hits over the years, but it’s always proven to be very resilient. Even with the pandemic, the threat of a recession, a retiring (and limited) workforce, as well as supply chain issues, manufacturing came out stronger on the other side of it all. In fact, Deloitte forecasted a 2.5% growth in GDP for 2023. How about that for resilience?

Listed below are four ways manufacturing will stay strong and come out ahead in 2023… and beyond.


5G networks, cyber security, cloud adoption, IOT (the Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence), AR (Augmented Reality), and VR (Virtual Reality) are all investments that manufacturers are finding value in. The implementation of this technology enhances efficiency and effectiveness across the production floor.

Supply Chain Review:

The pandemic really brought out flaws in supply chain management as it relates to manufacturers. As a result, companies are reassessing their supply chain and looking toward ways to become more supply chain resilient. By diversifying vendors and vendor locations, manufacturers will still experience disruptions but not at the levels witnessed in 2020.

Smart Factories:

Manufacturers are seeing that implementing smart technology in their production process reduces operating costs while also improving efficiency. And rather than implement it piece-by-piece, manufacturers are adopting the technology system-wide, wherever possible.

Data & Analytics:

Manufacturers are focused on collecting data. Data, when combined with analytics and technology, provides manufacturers with an opportunity to understand their operations more accurately than ever before. This allows them to see actionable insights in real time without high costs and long waits. In fact, this market is forecasted to grow by 16.5% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2019 and 2026.

What It All Means:

So, what does this mean?

In short, it means that skilled trade work isn’t going away. It means skilled trades workers will still be needed because manufacturing will continue to prove its resiliency and, as a result, continue to grow.

Join the FlexTrades team today to experience top notch pay, the opportunity to travel, and the ability to work and learn new skills with some of the greatest manufacturers in the United States. If you’re new(er) to manufacturing, don’t worry – we have that covered too. Join our ReTool team for the opportunity to upskill and train for the dream job you desire. And if you’re a manufacturer yourself, consider FlexTrades as a labor solutions provider.

The skilled labor shortage in America is a growing problem that requires our immediate time and attention. It is a problem that was strengthened by COVID-19, the great resignation, and a myriad of other issues that we’ll discuss in a few minutes. But how bad is the skilled labor shortage, really, and what can a company like yours do to overcome it?

According to a study conducted in 2022 by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 8 million skilled trade jobs were lost in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, which spanned much of 2020, 2021 and 2022. In the time since, about half of those jobs have been filled, but what about the remaining 4 million vacancies that continue to mar industries like manufacturing, transportation, and construction? Is there any immediate or long-term relief in sight? The answers to those questions are… complicated, for lack of a better phrase. Let me explain.

No singular, defining reason for the skilled labor shortage can be given without serious scrutiny, and before we seek to fully understand what’s driving this complicated issue, we will first need to spend a few minutes looking deeper into the primary factors that are causing the problem.

Problem 1: There aren’t enough qualified candidates

COVID-19, the great resignation, the rise of remote work, a decline in apprenticeship programs, retiring baby boomers, the elimination of shop classes, stagnant wages, and dwindling enthusiasm for labor-intensive work among younger generations are all a part of the skilled labor shortage we face in the United States. This shortage, in turn, translates to fewer qualified applicants for every skilled labor career available right now. Too many jobs and not enough qualified workers, that’s the crux of the problem.

Problem 2: The false perception of skilled work

Fifty years ago, choosing a career in the skilled trades meant that you had a steady job, a decent paycheck, solid health benefits, and the means to be able to provide for yourself and for your family. But the great steel mill closings throughout much of the northeast from 1980 – 1988 were anything but kind to the perceptions we place on skilled labor careers.

For many born between the years of 1975 – 2005, a career in skilled labor is considered a “fallback career,” or rather a job you take only if you can’t find anything less labor intensive that suits you. This idea is completely ridiculous, and shame on our fathers for teaching us to believe that a four-year degree was always the better choice.

Many of today’s skilled labor careers offer excellent pay, benefits, job security and a clear-cut path to promotion and advancement. In fact, there are companies like FlexTrades that not only pay technicians well, they also offer the freedom to choose what assignment they take on and where… bridging the skills gap and offering flexibility to its employees at the same time.

FlexTrades offers an immediate, no-brainer-type of solution to the skilled labor shortages we face, so why aren’t more companies taking advantage of this model? That’s a great segway into problem number three.

Problem 3: Our fathers failed us and we, in turn, failed you

I am a journalist by trade who entered the marketing world shortly after the U.S. economy went belly up in 2008. And I hate to admit this because I’m partially to blame, but our parents, and other people in positions of influence and prestige, have failed skilled laborers.

We have failed you because our father’s failed to teach us that by bypassing a four-year degree you could study a skilled trade, graduate relatively debt free and have a promising career waiting for you after getting out of school.

We have failed you because we pushed the idea that getting a degree, landing a corporate job, and making a career outside of the skilled trades was the better choice.

We have failed you because we are the product of a liberal educational system that was never meant, or designed, for skilled tradespeople.

We have failed you because we did not create, educate, or promote insightful content about what it truly means to be a skilled laborer.

We have failed you because, at our very core, we are engrained to push the corporate agenda at all costs to keep profit margins up and expenses down.

That’s all on us… not you. It’s our collective bad, and I think it’s high time that we change the way people think about skilled trades.

Problem 4: Our educational system is broken

When I was growing up, I was taught that to land a good job and build a good life for myself that I needed a college degree. I have two of them, a B.A. in Literature and a M.A. in Journalism.

Six years of schooling and $100,000+ in debt later, and not only do I question the wisdom of my father, but I also question the faulty logic his generation held when educating children about what it means to be successful.

Our educational system is broken when it has failed to teach us the value that comes with building something tangible, with using your hands and a little elbow grease to create a life for yourself that’s worth living.

Our educational system is broken because collegiate institutions care more about profit margins than practicality. They want you in their schools. They need you in their schools. Just don’t expect a cushy job to be handed to you when you graduate. It doesn’t work that way.

My grandfather, a man born in 1911, crafted his entire career with his bare hands. He worked as a ship builder, a steel mill worker, a tavern owner and finally as an entrepreneur who fixed and rented cigarette machines, pool tables and video games to local restaurants and bars. He saved every penny that he could. He made a small fortune in the stock market. He didn’t have a degree from a four-year institution, nor was he afraid to get his hands dirty to earn a weekly paycheck.

A mechanic friend of mine once told me that if the water runs clean when you first wash your hands after work each day, you didn’t work hard enough. At the time, I scoffed at this notion, but the older I become, the more I respect and understand what he meant. And by the end of this article, I hope that you will, too.

Problem 5: Lack of training and upskilling

As a company, if you don’t invest in your people, they won’t stay with your organization for very long. Today’s workers are smart and savvy. They know the difference between a work culture that fosters growth and one that stifles it.

If you find yourself working for a company that doesn’t encourage growth via on-the-job training, or if you find yourself working for a company that doesn’t give you the tools you need to thrive, then you’re working for the wrong company. It’s that simple.

The Pivot

Now that we’ve addressed the problems, let’s examine solutions to the same.

Solution 1: Offer better wages and benefits

Do you want to find great candidates to fill your vacant skilled labor positions? Here’s a pseudo-revolutionary idea… offer better wages and benefits. For far too long, the monetary compensation given to skilled tradespeople has not grown alongside the rising costs of, well, of everything.

Did you know that wage stagnation for skilled tradespeople in 2010 – 2020 was far worse than it was in the decades that preceded that time? It’s true. In fact, median wage growth for skilled tradespeople rested at 4.7% in 1998 while bottoming out at 1.6% in 2010. That means that in 2010, skilled laborers could expect a 1.6% wage increase year over year. And it wasn’t until COVID-19 happened that the corporate world started to admit, publicly at least, that wage growth percentages needed to increase if they wanted to keep their manufacturing and industrial plants operating at maximum efficiency.

Solution 2: Perceptions can change over time… with a little bit of effort

We need to get rid of the stigma that surrounds skilled trade jobs. We need to do away with the notion that if you work with your hands for a living then you are somehow lessor than those who sit at a desk all day.

Let me take this a step further.

It is time we started championing skilled tradespeople. Afterall, it is they who manufacture, maintain, and refurbish the goods we buy every single day. Even in manufacturing and / or industrial plants that are heavily automated, skilled tradespeople lead the way. Someone needs to run the machines, and someone needs to maintain them. 

Industry 4.0 (a fancy term for the future of manufacturing) shows that we will move further and further down the road to advanced automation, but for every manufacturing job lost to robots, there will be 1.7 jobs gained. So, while the traditional notion of what it means to be a skilled tradesperson may shift in the coming decades, the demand for expertise on the manufacturing and industrial floors will never dissipate.

Remember, there is no substitute for human ingenuity and creative problem solving.

Solution 3: Stop thinking like our fathers

Our fathers are the biproduct of the “greatest generation” in history. They grew up in a world full of dreams, promise and possibility. More often than not, they spent their lives working with their hands in order to provide us the opportunity to do something different, and perhaps that’s the reason they remained so adamant throughout our lives that a college education was needed in order to make something of ourselves.

Now, I am not saying that my experience is your experience. Nor do I mean to imply that generalizations about a generation of people are anything more than blanket truths.

My grandfather and my father were great men. They each had a different view of the world, but both wanted simply what was best for their families. And I imagine that you want the same. But here’s the difference. The world we now live in now, when compared to the worlds our grandfathers and fathers spent most of their lives in, are very different places.

Eighty years ago, my grandfather could never have imagined the connected world we glide through today. He could never have imagined that we’d all be walking around with computers in our pockets that give us instant access to a never-ending stream of information. 

Forty years ago, my father could never have predicted that we’d be able to, with just a few clicks of a screen, have instant video conversations with anyone, at any time, and anywhere across the planet.

Technologically speaking, we have advanced so much as a society in the past 120 years. In fact, over the past 60 years, we have witnessed an explosion in technology the likes of which we as human beings have never experienced before. Knowing this, it is past time to stop thinking like our fathers because the world our fathers thrived in, the world they helped create, is no longer the world we’ve inherited.

Solution 4: Make trade school free for everyone

When you were growing up, imagine if you were given the option to a.) attend trade school for free – or – b.) take on debt to get a four-year liberal arts degree. Would you have made the same choice? I am not sure that I would have.

I was a lost 18-year-old kid. I had no direction and no sense of purpose. I went to college right out of high school because I didn’t fully appreciate that there were other options to consider. I knew what skilled trades were, but as I have mentioned a few times throughout this article, I was always taught by my father that a bachelor’s degree, at the very least, was needed if I were ever to become a successful person. Was he right? I think not.

Looking back on my life, I wish that I had taken a shop class or two in high school. I wish that I would have educated myself more on the options available to a young man desperately seeking direction. I wish that I had known the full, transparent truths about student debt. I wish that I had understood the value that comes from making something with my hands. I wish…

I can’t change the past, but collectively, we can shape the future.

Let’s give today’s youth a better path. Let’s offer them the information, the tools, and the incentives they need to break away from the idea that in order to be successful you need a four-year degree. You don’t. In fact, I posit that many who work in the skilled trades right now are far better off financially speaking than those who pursued corporate careers only to find themselves sitting in cubicles wondering… what if?

Solution 5: Make upskilling a critical part of your company culture

People who feel undertrained and / or underappreciated will leave your organization at some point. Why wouldn’t they? But devaluing our employees, or watering them down to mere numbers, is a mistake that today’s manufacturers can ill afford to make.

At the top of this article, I explained that the crux of the skilled labor shortage problem in America is too many jobs and not enough qualified people. This is a fact. But what if we decided to treat employees as human beings rather than margins on a spreadsheet? What if we decided that training our manufacturers and preparing them for career advancement is far better than letting them walk because they lacked certain skills or demanded compensation that your company wasn’t willing to pay for?

I get that upskilling takes time, effort, and a monetary investment, but so does hiring and onboarding, and perhaps the latter costs far more.

It is past time that we started treating skilled laborers with admiration, respect, and appreciation for all that they do for our companies and for our country. It is past time that we started nurturing skilled labor careers from the jump with a clear-cut path to advanced responsibilities and increased pay if one continues to work hard, produce results, and show a desire for growth.

That’s a Wrap

That was a long one. Thanks so much for sticking around, everyone.

We now know what’s driving the skilled labor shortage in the United States, and we also have some solutions to the problems causing it. But what can you and / or your company do to overcome the immediate issues that stem from a lack of skilled talent? That’s a great question and a great way to wrap this all up.

Companies like FlexTrades are the immediate solution to the skilled labor issues we face throughout the United States. Why? Because they have the talent, and your company has the need. In fact, just tell FlexTrades what type of manufacturers you’re looking for, where you need them and for how long, and they will deliver highly qualified workers who can help turn your backlogs into revenue without breaking the bank.

FlexTrades has hundreds of skilled technicians ready to be deployed on a moment’s notice, so don’t waste another minute wondering how you can solve the skilled labor shortage problem, and let the experts at FlexTrades begin to solve it for you.

Do you have any questions? 

I can be reached at bshaw@flextrades.com. You can also visit our website to learn more about our services, who we are as people, and why we offer immediate solutions to the skilled labor shortages you and your company are likely experiencing at this very moment.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this article, and I’m already looking forward to the next one. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and each other.

When COVID-19 hit, consumers and manufacturers alike quickly learned just how fragile the global supply chain was. They also learned just how important supply chain resilience is. Let’s talk about both now.

What is Supply Chain Resilience?

Supply chain resilience is the ability to withstand and minimize the effects of supply chain disruptions. It is planning and preparing for possible disruptions; the goal of which being fast response and recovery when those disruptions occur. It is not being invincible to interruptions but rather being able to overcome them without a big impact to operations and / or customer deadlines. But how is supply chain resilience accomplished? That’s a great question. Supply chain resilience is going to require big changes by manufactures in three key areas… technology, processes, and people.


Supply Chain Technology

Reviewing old technology, adopting new technology, and always looking for emerging technologies is critical. Technologies that help overcome supply disruptions include:

  • Real-time analytical tools
  • ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning software that manages the entire business from finance, human resources, manufacturing, supply chain, procurement, and more).
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Robotics or Automated Systems
  • Digital Manufacturing Systems
  • Cryptocurrency like the blockchain
  • Integration of systems and software across the supply chain including those from suppliers, warehouse systems, stores/customers, etc…


Supply Chain Process

New Forecasting Techniques:

  • Oftentimes, company forecasts focus on their own needs as it relates to demand. If demand is this, we need to do this. But companies need to dig deeper than that. Dig into what the supply chain looks like for suppliers, the demands and risks suppliers could be facing and how those demands and risks will affect operations.
  • Note: It’s very important to truly understand the products and goods that bring the most value to an organization. Build a commodity management strategy for these products which essentially allows for the management and coordination of all items related to these key products, including procurement, production, and distribution. This can be helpful when facing an inevitable disruption to the supply chain.

Build In Inventory Buffers:

  • Yes, it can be costly to no longer operate in a just-in-time fashion, but what’s even more costly is missed deliveries and lost customers when there’s no inventory.
  • Supplier Diversification: This could mean asking existing partners to supply parts from a wider variety of manufacturing locations, or it could mean adding in new suppliers with locations and processes different than that of current suppliers.
  • Note: To implement multi-sourcing, calculate the revenue impact of the disruptive event (i.e., natural disaster, global or localized pandemic) that occurred.

Nearshoring or Reshoring:

  • Upon first thought, nearshoring seems to be the opposite of supplier diversification. Many believe supplier diversification means offshore suppliers, but a diversified supply chain is one that focuses on companies locally, regionally, domestically, and globally. The local and regional level can be more expensive, but it also shortens both cycle and delivery times.


Supply Chain People

  • Build relationships with 3PLs and contract manufacturers. Diversifying partnerships with 3PLs is vital to the distribution of product, and contracting other manufacturers for the production of a product is important, too.
  • Upskilling: A manufacturer’s workforce is critical to surviving supply chain disruptions. A cross-trained workforce lessens the need to be reactive in hiring and eases challenges caused by supply chain issues.
  • Create a commodity management team and a supplier management team. These two teams understand supply chain to its fullest, its pricing (particularly as it relates to demand), and the general manufacturing market while also building great relationships with suppliers for mutual benefit in the future.

Enacting these tools takes time, attention and money in the short term, and it’s hard to commit to spending more money now for a potential risk in the future but the risk is ultimately worth the investment.

What do you think? Do you have any question? Feel free to reach me anytime at kmooney@flextrades.com.

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a military invasion in Ukraine. The unrest continues today. 

As a defense partner and military ally to Ukraine, (the United States established diplomatic relations with Ukraine in 1991 following Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union), companies like ours have committed time, energy and resources by providing aid, financial assistance and delivering humanitarian support in Ukraine.

In fact, on February 28, 2023, Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed American businesses during the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) board meeting. NAM CEO, Jay Timmons, stated “Manufacturers in America will continue to stand with Ukraine.”  

Here are a few examples of American manufacturers supporting Ukraine during this war.  

  1. In Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry Co. (WAFCO) drastically increased their production efforts to build 3,000 medical sterilizers for UNICEF. UNICEF has been buying sterilizers from this company since the 1970s. 
  2. MSA Safety Incorporate is a leader in the development and manufacturing of safety solutions and products to protect people and infrastructure. Core products include self-contained breathing apparatuses, gas and flame detection systems, and fire and rescue helmets. To support the war on Ukraine, MSA Safety Incorporate donated over $400,000 worth of safety equipment to Ukrainian firefighters.  
  3. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) is a leading American company specializing in digital products and systems that protect, control, and automate power systems with the goal of preventing blackouts and improving power system reliability. With their expertise in hand, SEL manufactured equipment to help monitor and manage substation equipment in Ukraine.  
  4. In the small town of Lima, Ohio, there is a big production facility (25-acres large) doing big things. In this building, owned by the Army and operated by General Dynamics, you can find about 800 skilled trades personnel disassembling Abrams tanks down to the hull and rebuilding them until they’re good as new again.  
  5. AeroVironment out of Arlington, Virginia, generously donated unmanned aircraft systems and drones in addition to ramping up production to meet contract requirements with The Defense Department. This isn’t surprising considering their support after 9/11 led them to become the world leader in small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  
  6. General Electric’s Gas Power division has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to manufacture for and supply Ukraine a mobile gas turbine power plant. By doing so, this piece of equipment could supply at least 100,000 homes with electricity as well as hospitals, schools, and other critical infrastructure.  
  7. In addition to all of these, MANY manufacturers have committed hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars to Ukraine to support efforts in defense, rebuilding, emergency and medical services. Check out this list of manufacturers who have already donated and pledged to continue to donate until the war is over.  

Of course, this isn’t all the companies in the U.S. supporting Ukraine. Even if we tried to list them all, we wouldn’t be able to. Manufacturing is a complex and interwoven industry supplying anything and everything during war and peacetime.   

If you’re looking to support Ukraine, a great place to start is here. 

The core of FlexTrades’ business is addressing the skills gap in manufacturing. This is a big undertaking when one considers that the latest analysis shows a skills gap of 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by the year 2030.

But the skills gap isn’t just something occurring in manufacturing. It’s happening across all industries, so what can employers and employees do to combat this issue? Upskill!  

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling is a term used to describe the process by which employers provide learning and training opportunities to develop the skills and experience of their employees.

Upskilling can also be done on an individual level. This happens when an employee finds, and takes, opportunities to learn new skills while increasing their marketability as a candidate.  

Upskilling – What Does it Mean for Employers?

What is Upskilling? 

As an employer, the first step towards upskilling (and ensuring the success of upskilling) is to understand that it takes a shift in culture.

Upskilling is a long-term investment, and it’s important for company leadership to make upskilling a priority.

Employees are always wondering what they can do next, and without commitment from management and executive leadership, they will look to grow somewhere else. Need proof? Just look at the great resignation

Right behind low pay, the biggest reason an employee leaves a job is because they can’t see (or aren’t given) opportunities for advancement. It is critical that the right upskilling opportunities are being created by, and talked about, across the company. Even though employees want to be given room to grow, they don’t always know what upskilling means or how to make it happen.  

Some great ways to create an upskilling program as an employer include:  

  • Allow employees to “own” their career and then ensure management supports that while the company enables it.  
  • Empower your employees to speak openly about opportunities they want or need.  
  • Invite employees to participate in tasks or projects outside of their department.  
  • Ask your workforce what they want, what their goals and interests are, and where they want to go.  
  • Ensure that there are formal programs available, through HR or Learning & Development, that allow for upskilling on the job to meet employee needs.  

Employers – How to Upskill

What is Upskilling 

There are a number of ways to upskill your employees… or yourself. Consider the following:  

  • On-the-job Training, Mentoring, Job Shadowing, And Peer Coaching: You might not think you have the time to execute the above, but think about this. Finding the time to train a new employee when a current employee departs is a lot harder than upskilling.
  • Hire External Experts or Specialists: This could ease your concerns about finding the time to train and upskill, but it might have a steeper price tag than in-house training.
  • Job Rotation: Move employees between jobs in an organization to build skills, knowledge, and competencies. 
  • Provide Additional Responsibilities to Employees: Be careful with this one. If it doesn’t meet the employee’s desire for upskilling, it will be considered “extra work” and will not benefit you or the employee.  
  • Provide Virtual Courses (e-learning) with a LMS (Learning Management System): Provide courses available to employees during their own time and courses assigned by the company (and considered required). It can be beneficial to reward your employees for taking these, whether that be free lunch one day, PTO hours earned, or a financial reward of some sort. Provide opportunities for formal education or training with a third party, educational institute, or something similar.
  • Road Map the Path From One Company Role to the Next: Be clear about what next level work and jobs require from a skills perspective. Encourage employees to self-analyze their skills against those, ensure management does the same thing, and reward progress or milestones. This puts ownership on both the employee and the employer. Having a clear path of expectations for progression within a company makes it easier to determine how to get there.  
  • Request Feedback on Training, Learning, Development & Upskilling Effort: It might seem that you’re doing a good job once you start upskilling, but if you don’t know if the efforts are working for your employees, you’ll still find them leaving for other opportunities.

Employees – How to Upskill

What is Upskilling (2)  

If you’ve made it this far and are looking to upskill yourself, than you probably have some solid ideas on what you should be doing, right?  

Request Upskilling Opportunities From Your Employer

The first thing you need to do is have an idea of what “upskilling” means to you – what do you want to learn, why do you want to learn it, what are some ways your employer can help you learn it, and in what way can it be provided? These are all great questions.  

Upskill Yourself

  • Don’t count on others to do all the work. Upskilling is just as much about you as it is your employer. Go out there, find the ways in which you can upskill yourself, and do it!  
  • Take a free or paid for course (online or in-person).  
  • Hire a career coach or mentor.  
  • Conduct interviews with those in your industry or roles about what they do and what you can do to get to that level.  
  • Join groups or become a member of associations in your trade or industry.  
  • Map out your career – where are you now, where do you want to be, and what is required at all the stages in between? 
  • Spend some of your free time learning on an individual basis. Start small with microlearning and build up from there.  
  • Research other opportunities. See what other employers are doing – do they have clear career paths with milestones for their employees? Do they have an LMS or course-based learning opportunities?  

What You Put Into It

Upskilling is an investment in time, energy, and cost. If you’re a manufacturer who would like to upskill but still need to fill a temporary skills gap, contact FlexTrades today.

Likewise, if you’re a skilled technician, you can join our team because working across the United States, with a variety of manufacturers, is a surefire way to upskill yourself!

Thanks for taking the time, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.  

In general, there are two types of job markets, a candidate-driven jobs market and an employer-driven jobs market. As it stands today, the United States is in a candidate-driven jobs market, but what is that and what does it mean?

What is a Candidate-Driven Jobs Market?

A candidate-driven jobs market happens when candidates have the upper hand. What this means is that jobs are abundant and employees (candidates) call the shots.

What Does a Candidate-Driven Jobs Market Mean for Employers?

  • It’s time to rethink compensation. Where can improvements be made? Is company-wide compensation equal or better than the competition?
  • Candidates are prepared to negotiate pay, perks, and benefits. Companies should be willing to negotiate and also willing to concede, if necessary.
  • Reconsider the years of experience required. This invites those with fewer years of experience to apply and, oftentimes, it’s those applicants who are most eager to do the job.
  • Make sure that there is room for advancement. Having an upskilling path and a plan for the advancement of every employee is critical to retaining employees.
  • Think again about the critical skills needed in a role. Are there any “must-haves” that aren’t really “must-haves?” Make those skills a “nice-to-have,” and watch the applications roll in.
  • Not everyone is actively looking for a new job. Targeting passive candidates who aren’t seeking new jobs may be interested in what else is available.

Recruiting Top Talent is Hard

In this market, it can be hard to recruit (and retain) top talent. That’s where FlexTrades comes in. With our technical knowledge and team of skilled technicians located nationwide, we can help you and your company find the people you need to continue thriving. Contact FlexTrades today to learn how we can help your company bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be as a manufacturer.

Spanning the course of history and all around the world, innovative women have changed lives with their ideas and inventions. To celebrate and honor them this month (National Women Inventors Month), we’re sharing the stories behind seven female inventors who changed the course of history. 

Margaret E. Knight (1838 – 1914)


Margaret “Mattie” Knight, born in York, Maine is said to have invented over 100 different machines and patented at least 20, including the first machine to cut, fold and glue paper into flat-bottomed paper bags. In 1867, Mattie began working at the Columbia Paper Bag Company in Springfield, MA where bags were cut, folded, and glued by hand. This got Mattie thinking there had to be a better way. Just one short year later, she invented and built a fully functional machine for cutting, folding, and gluing paper bags. It’s said this machine replaced the work of thirty people. I believe it’s likely saved many from irritating papercuts too!  

Josephine Cochrane (1839 – 1913)

Josephine Cochrane 

Josephine Cochrane was a 19th century socialite who realized a need for her invention after noticing her heirloom dishes were left chipped from washings. However, her idea was just that – an idea, until she was suddenly left widowed and in debt. Realizing she needed to do something grand, she pursued the dishwasher idea, received a patent for it in 1886, and an award at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. She went on to start up Cochrane’s Crescent Washing Machine Company, which sold dishwashers commercially. Upon her death, the company was purchased by KitchenAid, a Whirlpool Corporation.   

Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000)

Hedy Lamarr 

Hedy Lamarr (full name Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was born in Vienna, Austria. She had a successful film career in Czechoslovakia, and after meeting an MGM studio head in Paris, emigrated to the United States. She went on to star in many successful films from 1930 to 1960. It was during this time (and World War II) that Hedy read about enemy interference with the guidance system of radio-controlled torpedoes. With this information in hand, Hedy raised the idea that a frequency-hopping signal might prevent the interference. In 1942, Hedy received the patent for her technology. It was adopted by the U.S. Navy in 1960 and is the basis of the principles behind Bluetooth and GPS technology.   

Bette Nesmith Graham (1924 – 1980)

Bette Nesmith Graham 

Have you ever made a mistake and wished you could erase it? As a typist, Bette Nesmith Graham made plenty of mistakes but found the process to correct them difficult with the technology of typewriters at the time. Bette’s inspiration came after noticing painters were correcting their mistakes by simply covering it up with more paint. As a result, Bette decided she’d use a tempera, water-based paint (matched to the color of her stationery) to correct her typing mistakes. Over time, she saw her actions go unnoticed by her boss. Soon after she started using her corrective tool, a colleague requested her own bottle which Bette shared and labeled with “Mistake Out.”  With a little more refining (in her kitchen laboratory), and assistance from a paint company employee and a chemistry teacher at a local school, Bette finally started her company and continued production from her kitchen. With patent in hand (and a new name – Liquid Paper), Bette moved from the kitchen to her backyard, and eventually to a house, where she began selling Liquid Paper. By 1967, it was a million-dollar business. 12 short years later, Bette sold the company to Gillette for $47.5 million dollars!   

Dr. Temple Grandin (1947)

Dr. Temple Grandin 

Dr. Temple Grandin has a Ph.D. in animal science and is a world-renowned speaker and teacher.  She invented animal handling and restraint systems, including the center track restraining system, used to handle nearly half of all cattle in North America during the slaughtering process. What’s even more amazing about Dr. Grandin is she’s done great things with what some may consider a limitation. You see, after failing to speak for the first few years of her life, Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with “brain damage” at the age of two. Misbelieving this diagnoses, Grandin’s mother continued to pursue other explanations through connections with therapists, neurologists, and researchers. Without an understanding of Grandin’s medical needs, school and relationships were hard for her.  It was while Grandin was in her mid-teens, her mother came upon a checklist for autism symptoms and determined that Grandin must be autistic. Grandin went on to receive a formal diagnosis as an adult. To this day, she is an author, expert, and spokeswoman for autism.   

Stephanie Kwolek (1923 – 2014) 

Stephanie Kwolek 

What is lightweight and durable while also cut-resistant and heat-resistant? Kevlar. And, thanks to Stephanie Kwolek, as well as a coincidence or two, we have it. Stephanie began her early life pining for the medical field, and even after graduating with a B.A. in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University, it was still her intent. But a chance opportunity to take a job at Dupont (a chemical company) led Stephanie down a very different path. Stephanie began working at Dupont with the goal of making enough money to continue her education. However, she found polymer-chemistry very interesting and ended up staying with Dupont for 40 years. During this time, not only did she invent Kevlar, but she also contributed to other products like Spandex (Lycra) and Nomex and successfully secured 28 total patents. Today, we see Kevlar in more than 200 applications including body armor, PPE, aircraft composites, automotive components, conveyor belts for industrial applications, work gloves, ropes, and cables.   

Ruth Wakefield (1903 – 1977)

Ruth Wakefield

When we think of inventions, we don’t always think of food, but foods can be an invention, too. Ruth Wakefield was a dietician and lecturer during a time when most women were considered homemakers, so food was always on her mind. After purchasing a tourist lodge in Massachusetts with her husband, which they named the Toll House Inn, Ruth took on the task of creating and preparing recipes and meals for the guests. One such recipe was for a thin, butterscotch, nut cookie that was served with ice cream. Everyone loved it, but Ruth wanted something else. She decided she’d add Baker’s chocolate (unsweetened, no milk or flavoring) to the butterscotch batter, but soon found out she had none. She turned to a Nestle, semisweet candy bar which she broke into pieces with an ice pick expecting that the chocolate would melt into the dough. However, it didn’t, and she now had what we call chocolate chip cookies. Ruth called these new cookies Toll House Crunch Cookies and word spread. NESTLÉ® sales went up and product changes were made, eventually turning bars of chocolate into chips of chocolate. Soon enough, NESTLÉ® approached Wakefield (some say Wakefield approached NESTLÉ®) and a partnership was formed. Wakefield’s recipe would be printed on the back of all chocolate chip packaging, she’d receive a $1 payment for the rights, a lifetime supply of chocolate, and the opportunity to consult with NESTLÉ® on other recipes. Find the NESTLÉ®  Toll House Original Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe here.  

The second full week of February is recognized as National Secondhand Wardrobe Week. The intent of this observance is dedicated to encouraging people to shop secondhand and donate, or sell, old clothing rather than throw it away. The reasons behind this initiative are to support local thrift stores while helping people reduce the estimated 92 MILLION tons of textiles that end up in landfills every year. These are worthy goals by themselves, but I’d like to encourage you to observe this week for a different reason. I’m hoping you’ll clean out your closets for National Secondhand Wardrobe Week 2023 to help support the future of skilled trades.

Why Support the Skilled Trades

The skilled trades have opportunities for everybody in America. Regardless of your skills or experience, we have a professional home just waiting for you somewhere in construction, agriculture, or manufacturing. But these careers can go hand in hand with real barriers to entry. We’re most familiar hearing about these barriers when people talk about the skills gap that exists in our worldwide workforce today. However, things much simpler than skills can often prevent a person from pursuing work in the skilled trades. Most commonly, these areas include tools, boots, or specialty clothing required for employment.

Where to Donate

There are many groups and organizations that will collect donated clothing for specific purposes like cold weather (Salvation Army Coat Drives) or job interviews (Dress for Success). These are fantastic programs that do a lot of good, but they rarely focus on, or benefit, people in and around the trades. A number of programs are operating with a focus on shoes (Soles4Souls) and other footwear, (Samaritan’s Feet) while other organizations will provide new work boots (Charitable Union) to qualified applicants. Unfortunately, none of these options put a true emphasis on used work clothing or footwear aimed at people trying to get into the trades.

How You Can Help

By now you’re saying, “This is all great to know, but how can I help support the trades with my used work boots and clothes?” I’m so glad you asked because I have a solution!

I’d like you to consider the example of Darnel Royal and Work Boot Ministry. Darnel had an opportunity to give away a pair of work boots and went to social media to make it happen. In doing so, he uncovered a huge need and a mission. In about 4 years, Royal and his colleagues have donated 567 pairs of boots to support 567 different trades careers.

You can do the same thing, and you don’t have to be a local social media influencer like Darnel! My challenge to you is simple and can be accomplished in four easy steps.

  • Go through your closet and find any old clothes, boots, gloves, hats, outerwear, or specialty items that are fit for trades work (and still in good enough condition to donate).
  • Do a mental inventory of your network. Who do you know that’s connected to training programs, technical schools, shelters, workforce development centers, relevant employers, etc. (Hint: if the answer is nobody, a quick Google search and a phone call or two will change that quickly!)
  • Schedule a drop off and let them take things from there.
  • Repeat annually.

Pro-tip: If you’re willing to put up a post on social media and handle follow-up / delivery yourself, you can cut these four steps down to three.

Make a Difference In Your Community

Here at FlexTrades, it’s our intention to make a difference every day, in every way that we can. This is reflected in every one of our core values. It’s my sincere hope that this article inspires you to try to make a difference in your own community today while making it a little easier for you to do so too.

Would you like to read about other ways we try to make a difference? Check out our blog page today! Do you have ideas on how we can help? Send them to our Writing Team, and you might be reading about your idea in our next blog article.