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Table of Contents
Online Resources
Chapter Excerpts
About the Author
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Million dollars
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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:

  • 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 lawyers.
  • 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.
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 better.

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 valuable) specialties 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.

Computing Specialties

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.
  • 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.
    • 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 in the on-line training center at this site.
    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.
  • 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 the Internet, Internet vocabulary, LANs, communications, Email, 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 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) and 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 own page.
  • 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.
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, or like this instructional page or this page on forensic photography (which is a career option you probably never considered before), or this 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.

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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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent