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No job? Make your own. Here are 7 ways to get help.

One alternative to looking for a job is to make your own. Here are seven nonprofits who offer tools, training, and ideas to get workers started.

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6. Factory at Your Fingertips

What would you make if you could run a factory from your laptop? It’s a real option, at least if you live near a Fab Lab. Developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fab Labs are a suite of industrial fabrication tools controlled by a personal computer.

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The first Fab Lab outside MIT, at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, has allowed entrepreneurs to start microbusinesses producing everything from knitting tools to circuit boards. Fab Labs currently support small businesses in scattered sites around the United States and even more so in the developing world.

Some of these products may find their way back to the United States. A wireless network that helped Afghan farmers keep track of their sheep was repurposed in Kenya as a way to provide Internet access. Now people in Detroit are talking about adopting the system to provide low-cost wireless service. – C.S.

7. Organizing Freelancers

Offering your services on a temporary basis is one way to find work at a time when employers are reluctant to create permanent jobs. Contract workers make up 30 percent of the American workforce, and their numbers are increasing. The Freelancers Union offers “solidarity, benefits, community, and a political voice” to these consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, and contingent employees. The 156,000-member organization is not actually a union in that it offers no collective bargaining. But it advocates for the rights of independent workers, and provides support in the form of group benefits such as 401K plans, health insurance (in certain states), disability insurance, and member discounts.

Increasingly, universities and colleges employ part-time, contingent, and adjunct instructors, who are sometimes paid less than the cleaning staff, and work without benefits or job security. The American Federation of Teachers is a trade union that now includes workers throughout education, health care, and public service, as well as adjunct professors. The American Association of University Professors and the New Faculty Majority are not unions but do fight for adjunct rights.

The United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) of America describes itself as an member-run, independent union. UE has a growing membership that includes a range of occupations and represents approximately 35,000 workers in more than 140 autonomous locals around the country.

Whether these and other newer professional unions grow to have the political and economic clout of the Teamsters or SEIU remains to be seen. But in the age of social networking there are new avenues for organizing from the ground up. Larry Buhl

This article originally appeared in YES! Magazine.

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