This is an online resource for the book
The Teenager's Guide to the Real World
by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. The online resources
are offered as a free supplement to the book. They help you access the
huge library of material for teenager's available on the Web. For more
information on the book please click here.
Improving Your Job Skills as a Teenager
As a teenager you have probably noticed that your "worth" in the "job market"
is not very high. For example, when you go searching for a job you probably find that
most of them pay minimum wage. Have you ever wondered why you make minimum wage?
Have you ever wondered why other people make $20 an hour, or $50 an hour, or more?
What is it that determines your value in the job market, and how can you increase
your value? These are extremely important questions. Once you answer
them you are in position to do something about changing your own value.
Your value in the marketplace is controlled primarily by
what you know. A very simple and surprisingly accurate way
to understand why this is the case involves the basic rule of supply and demand.
Right now, as a teenager, you have not acquired the knowledge that allows
you to earn more than minimum wage. That means that most of the jobs
you are offered are "low on the totem pole." Either they are "entry
level" positions, or they are "unskilled" positions like sweeping
floors, unloading boxes, flipping burgers and so on.
Most of these jobs pay minimum wage because it doesn't take long to train somebody
to do the job.
In the case of minimum wage workers, the supply of workers outstrips the demand. As an
employee you have no leverage because you can be replaced in an instant.
If you want to make more money, then you have to learn a skill. As a general
rule, the longer it takes you to learn a skill the more valuable the skill is.
This occurs because the length
of time needed to obtain a skill tends to limit the supply of people who possess the
skill. You have to keep an eye on
the demand side as well, however. If you spend ten years becoming the most knowledgeable
expert in the world on some topic, that knowledge will have no value (in terms of
money, anyway) unless you find someone who needs the knowledge you possess. Preferably
you will learn a skill that puts you in a place where there is a large demand and a
small supply. That is a place where you can make a lot of money for what you do.
If you keep the laws of supply and demand in mind, a lot of things begin to make
more sense. For example:
From these examples you can draw a simple conclusion: If you want to make more money,
you need to start learning a valuable (high demand) skill. The earlier you start, the
- Why do doctors and lawyers make a lot of money (a good lawyer bills between
$100 and $200 per hour. Famous lawyers bill much more)? Because it takes 6
to 10 years to take the classes and pass the tests required to become a doctor
or a lawyer. Therefore the supply is low relative to the demand for doctors and
- Why does a commercial pilot make so much money (for example, pilots
with American Airlines average $120,000 per year (1997))? Because it takes 10 years to accumulate
the hours and pass all the tests necessary to fly a commercial airliner. Therefore
the supply is low relative to the demand. If all of a sudden 10,000 new pilots were
to appear on the market then wages would go down, but that won't happen because it is
very hard to become a pilot.
- Why does a person who is reliable and does a job well generally rise in a company
and earn more than someone who is slack? Because reliable, trustworthy employees
are rare compared to slack people.
- Why does a mechanic with 20 years of experience earn more than a new mechanic?
Because a person with 20 years of experience has seen a lot more problems and is
therefore better at diagnosing and fixing things than a new mechanic.
It really is important to start early. Have you ever seen an adult do something
and been amazed by it? For example, have you ever seen a star athlete do things on the field
that amaze you? Have you ever seen your parents handle a sticky situation in a
way that amazes you? Have you ever seen a master craftsman build something beautiful
and asked, "How in the world does he/she do that?" People who are able to
do amazing things get to the point of amazement by practicing. Every day that
you practice a skill you learn something new, and it is what you learn that
makes you valuable. That applies to computer programming, car repair, public speaking,
basketball, and everything else.
Let's imagine that you are trying to learn a new skill. It doesn't really matter
what the skill is. The first day on the job you know nothing, and as a result you
are hopelessly bad. But on that first day you
learn one or two things about the skill. The second day on the job you
are a tiny bit better and you learn a couple more things. The third day you
are a tiny bit better and you learn a couple more things...
And so on. Adults can do "amazing things" because they have spent thousands of days doing
whatever it is they do. In their brains they hold thousands of experiences that they draw
on to handle today's situations. The sooner you start adding information to your
brain's storehouse, the more valuable you can become.
Let's say that you are a normal teenager. Let's say that you would like to start learning
a skill that is valuable. Let's say that you have access to the web. If you like computers,
then you are in luck. It is possible for anyone to learn
a wide variety of computer skills on the web.
What I would like to show you in this article is several of the different (and
you can learn, on your own, in the field of computing. I will also show you
where you can go on the web to get started teaching yourself.
Will your efforts help you earn more money? Yes.
Even as a teenager you can significantly
improve your earning power by learning computer skills.
One of the great things about the computer field is that it has a number of sub-areas that
appeal to many different types of people. The list below describes five different
areas. It also shows you where you can go on the web to learn more about them.
You can apply the techniques above to any subject area, from commercial fishing to
basket weaving. Pick an area of interest to you, read about it, and practice.
Be patient. Over time you will become an expert. For example, let's say you like
photography. Search on the web and you will find links like
this general page,
this instructional page
page on forensic photography (which is a
career option you probably never considered before),
highly technical page. You can build a basic skill like photography and
then specialize in many different ways, many of which have career opportunities. If
you start as a teenager you are that much further ahead of everyone else.
- Application user - An application user is someone who is good
at using a software application on the computer. If you are an expert
at using a certain program and that program is widely used in business,
then you have a valuable skill. Applications that you can learn about
include word processing (if you like words and typing), spreadsheets (if
you like math or money), graphics (if you are artistic), drafting (if you
are an engineer), and so on. If you are a beginner and would like to
learn Microsoft Word, then try this
introductory article as a starting point.
Once you have the basics down, start learning advanced features: tables, cross referencing,
indexes, master documents, headers and footers. The on-line help file contains
an amazing collection of material. You can also find books at the local
bookstore or library that will give you a comprehensive tour of the product's
many capabilities. Pick any application that appeals to you, search for
information about it on the web, READ THE USER'S MANUAL, and become an expert at using it.
- Programmer - When most people think about jobs in the computer area they
think of programming. Programming has a number of specialties. Specialty
areas include things like financial programming, user interface programming,
multimedia programming, web programming, game programming and so on. First you
have to learn a programming language, and then you can specialize. Here are four
of the most common languages in use today.
With any of these languages, a good place to search for tools
and information is Yahoo. Use the keyword search and dive in.
All of these languages also have newsgroups that you can participate in. If this is your
first time programming, understand that, A) computer languages look complex the first
time you see them, and B) therefore, they seem confusing, but C) if you stare at
them patiently they eventually begin to make sense. Do not expect to figure it
all out in 5 minutes. Give it time.
- BASIC - BASIC is an introductory programming language. It is easy for the first-time
user to learn BASIC, and there are also readily available tools for running
BASIC programs. For example, Microsoft Word understands BASIC, and you can write programs
inside any copy of Word that do amazing things. Here is a good introductory
article. (You will also need to download the Adobe Acrobat reader from Adobe). The tutorial
assumes that you own a copy of Visual BASIC 4.0. If not, you can purchase one, or you can
see if your school has a copy in one of its computer labs.
- C++ - Many mission-critical corporate programs use a language called C++. To learn
C++ you generally start with C and then move forward. There are lots of C and C++
tutorials on the web. See, for example, these.
Use a search engine to find others.
You will discover quickly that you need a C or C++ compiler to run your code.
If you are going to invest in a compiler, get the Microsoft Visual C++ compiler because it
is the industry standard. It is currently at version 5.0, but any older version
will work just as well for a beginner. You may be able to ask
around and find an old copy. Another option is to get a free compiler
like the one discussed here.
- MFC - MFC is a class library that helps you to create programs in Windows. You
need to learn C++ first, then MFC. MFC is pretty complex, so it takes awhile
to learn it. However, a good MFC programmer in 1997 can earn between $40,000 and $100,000
per year, so this is not a bad thing to shoot for. There are several MFC tutorials in the
on-line training center at this site.
- Java - Java is a fast-rising language used primarily to build web applications.
There are numerous tutorials on the web. A good starting point can be found
on-line training center at this site.
- Internet and network specialist - A network specialist helps a company
connect its computers together with local area networks, and connect its computers
with the rest of the world using wide area networks. To be a network
specialist you need to learn about things like
FTP and so on.
Start reading and searching for other information. As with programming you
will not get it all in 5 minutes. Be patient and keep absorbing.
- Database specialist - All corporations store the vast majority of their data
in SQL databases. Specialists
in database engines like Oracle can make up to
$80,000 per year (1997). You can learn quite a bit about databases by starting with
a desktop database program like Microsoft Access.
- Web designer - The World Wide Web is very big in corporate America today, and
good web designers get paid very well. Start by understanding the web itself.
Then learn about Web publishing (parts
HTML (1 or 2).
There are tons of links in this area on Yahoo. A good place to
start is with your own page. See the article on creating your
- Trainer - If you become an expert in any of the areas above, then you can train
other people. There are innumerable training opportunities in any major city. Look
in the yellow pages under "computer training" and call some of the larger training
companies to learn more about opportunities.
Want to know more about which areas are paying well? Open your Sunday paper and look at the
help wanted ads. See what types of skills people are looking for and how much they are
paying. Then pursue skills that have high demand, pay well and match your personality.
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