Hard Skills for Hard Times (and Good Times, too)


Hard skills are generally referred to as specialized, technical skills. I tend to think of them as the type of skills that matter most during hard times, such as mechanics, farming, welding, construction, etc. If we expand those hard times to include the current events in Ukraine, important hard skills could even include the use of weaponry and small unit/guerrilla tactics. 

After more than a decade in the firearms and training industry, I grew tired of the obsession with the weaponry and fighting and annoyed with the willful ignorance of all of the more widely useful skills one could obtain. That obsession combined with and fueled by social media leads people to be very one dimensional. It’s as if every single problem will be solved by a plate carrier, a gun or a submission choke.

But what happens if the grid is damaged or destroyed and you have to make a broken generator work to have power for important family needs? What will you do when the supply chain is disrupted by government fuckery and global crisis and your vehicle breaks, but parts are not available right down the street anymore? (I mean, it’s damn near there now.

Instead of owning 12 extra AR-15’s, how about a few backup rifles, a generator, a welder, and a good set of tools? Instead of taking 4 shooting classes and your 3rd medical course this year, why not take 2, and then take a welding class, an electrician course, a carpentry framing workshop? 

Hard times don’t always explode upon you as a communist invasion on a Thursday morning. Most often, hard times will slowly creep in and life will just get harder and harder, almost too slowly to even notice at first: $2 gas becomes $3 gas, you adjust and keep going. Housing prices rise a few percentage points, you adjust and keep going. $3 gas becomes $3.50 gas, you adjust and keep going. Lumber, steel and food commodities rise a few percent, you adjust and keep going. Often, the market adjusts and the inflation is nipped off before it becomes unbearable. 

But eventually, they can’t stop it. The pandemics, panics, wars and failed economic policies of corrupt governments and the global corporations that influence them eventually cause too much damage. Then, you are paying $4+ for a gallon of gasoline, housing prices in many places go up by 20%, lumber and steel prices make the construction of anything cost prohibitive for many people. 

This is where we are now

In 2021, since March of 2020, steel went up over 200%, lumber peaked out at a 280% increase, average rents increased over 15% nationwide with some cities seeing increases over 20% in a single year, housing prices followed suit, in 2021 alone fuel prices rose 58.7% over 2020 (according to the federal Energy Information Administration), and global food price index saw increases up to 30%. All of this happened in one 12 month period.

At the same time, Wages and salaries increased 4.5 percent for the 12-month period ending in December 2021 and increased 2.6 percent for the 12-month period ending in December 2020. You’ll notice that is nowhere near the increase needed to keep up with the aggressive inflation of fuel, commodities and housing. Those are some scary numbers. Keep in mind, we haven’t even begun to see the global implications of the Russian/Ukraine crisis (two very large producers of world commodities like oil, wheat and steel).

You can’t shoot that dangerous problem in the face, and no level of jiu jitsu game can ward off the dangers of this type of problem. Explaining it away doesn’t work either. Sure, you can point out the volatility of the housing market, or the fuel market, and that would be true. We have seen spikes and returns like that before in many of these markets. But ALL of them at the same time? No. That is not business as usual. This is that proverbial dead canary. 

To talk about “preparation” in the self defense world is to typically push the ideas of weapons, ammunition, medical training, combat training and maybe resource stockpiling. But what will you do when the enemy is not a violent one, at least not at first. The attrition of a broken supply chain, a devalued dollar and rampant inflation can be a deadly yet silent and formless enemy. A recession can become a depression very easily, and it can happen while you ignore that it is even occurring. When the problem isn’t rogue bands of meth heads raiding your house, but rather is a simple broken control arm on your work truck, and the part can’t be bought anytime soon, or is cost prohibitive for you at the time, it will take a different set of skills to get by. 

This is a set of skills that many of our grandparents and great grandparents had by necessity. Those skills are capabilities in industriousness, frugality, ingenuity, craftsmanship, self-sufficiency, bartering and cooperation. That is a list of skills we have largely lost in this society, our modern American culture is now built upon commercialism, throw-away products supplied by a thriving supply chain, full grocery stores and a total lack for the need to have hard skills to get by on. The problem comes when that culture is shocked by the disruption of that supply chain and the inability to continue to farm out your service needs to others. 

The Way Forward

The best possible solution for us on an individual level is to be as skilled and prepared as possible. Now, follow me here. This isn’t a doom and gloom post fear mongering some Great Depression that will inevitably come. It may happen, it may not. The actions of our global governments and the morality of the global corporations will have a lot to do with which way it goes, so hold your breath according to your own beliefs about the future. 

The things that I am suggesting here actually have very practical purposes and real rewards even in the best case scenario we can imagine. The development of yourself and your skills is never, ever, a bad thing. Learning skills to work with your hands, repair your essential property and equipment or to provide services to others on a small scale will enhance your life in many ways when things are good economically. Having a balance of skills and knowledge outside of what we love most, or what we do professionally, only makes us more capable. 

Another thing I would love to see happen in my lifetime would be a significant increase in layman “schools”, that is, places where independent specialists in a given subject matter offer open enrollment training courses and classes to nonprofessionals to learn. In the same way that we have a wide open market of professionals in the firearms training world that offer open enrollment courses so the average non-law enforcement, non-military civilian can learn some real skills with weapons and defense, we need equivalent offerings in every other hard skill as well. 

There are a growing number of these available now, and we need to see more growth. That happens when the demand for it becomes greater, so get out and learn something! I personally am writing this article at the Las Vegas airport while traveling back home from taking a few specialized TIG welding courses offered by a private company out here (The Fabrication Series). I plan on taking more courses in metal fabrication, metal shaping, welding, engine building and machinist operations for as long as I can afford to do it. I’m even on the lookout for courses in gardening, canning and food preservation, carpentry etc. because I can use all of those skills in good or bad times as well!

The two ways we create this alternative learning economy is to first be a student and add to the demand for professionals to take the time to teach others, and second to offer courses and training to others when you have mastered a skill that others could benefit from. Often the hobbyist, nonprofessional can learn, in just a few days, much of what is needed to teach themselves forward and get started with their own projects at home. In the absence of these private training opportunities, we are forced to attend a school or university with their grossly inflated tuition costs and equally fluffed curriculums. 

For example, if I wanted to learn automotive TIG welding before, I would have had to either find a job with someone willing to teach on the job–near impossible to find–or I would have had to attend a full-blown course at a technical college learning more than I need for my particular goals (not to mention spending time and money that would not have a good ROI if I don’t plan on doing it for a profession. Now, I can hop on a plane and hit up a day or two of training, learn some hard skills and ways to practice them, and head back home to immediately apply that new knowledge. 

No one can predict the future of our world. I seriously emphasize that point, no one can tell us what will happen in the wake of the unprecedented craziness we have experienced in the past two years. And it’s only getting worse so far. Learning how to fix things and keep things running may be a necessary skill in your lifetime. But even if it is not required to survive someday, why not use our ability to become smarter, increase our capabilities and become more self-sufficient? A huge bonus is that while we are doing all of that, we could be creating a learning economy that bypasses the stranglehold inflated schools have held for a hundred years and offers tailored learning opportunities for nonprofessionals to gain desired skills at affordable costs and time investments. 

Because of the apparent inflation and obvious supply chain interruptions, I do suggest procuring any equipment that you have been thinking about getting. So get that tool set, generator or welder you’ve been pondering. It’s only getting more expensive and harder to get at this point. I am literally watching the equipment on my purchase list jump significantly in price while I budget to make the purchases. 

In conclusion I am rambling on to say this: I don’t want to be one-dimensional, and I don’t want to be this reliant on the services and goods of a throw-away society. In the coming months I will share with you my personal journey of how I am implementing plans to change these things in my own life. I hope that I can inspire others to do the same. We need to change our culture. We need to reignite the traditions and industriousness of our past while embracing and using the technology of today. We need to be able to fight, defend and heal one another. We need to be strong and healthy. But we also need to be able to build, repair, create and grow what we need as well. We need balance. This is how you truly develop your power, and ultimately how we collectively take our power back.