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Starting a Career at the Bottom

High paying careers for high school dropouts - $40,000 to $70,000(2002 dollars)

A high percentage of well-paid blue-collar workers started their career at the bottom, they did not serve a formal apprenticeship. As teenagers, they were education rejects and did not know what their natural talent was. They searched for jobs in environments that appealed to them. Then suddenly, by accident, they were offered opportunity that was in harmony with their natural talent. Being motivated, they learned a professional skill fast and advanced.

Our society says no one should start at the bottom of the ladder. Get an education and start a few rungs up. This is fine for people with the resources to acquire the skill that puts them in the lead, but there will always be people needed at the bottom, there will always be people willing to fill those slots and there will always be people without the resources to start at a higher level. Society seems to think, anyone who starts at the bottom will stay there. There is no reason to stay at the starting position. With aggressive attitudes, individuals can move up, but they need to know how.

In the blue-collar world, a high percent of skilled craftsmen do not go through a formal apprentice program, they start as helpers or machine operators. At job interviews, interviewers are not interested in years attended school, they are interested in work ethics, level of ambition and the ability to follow instructions. In other words, they are looking for positive self-esteem. This type of person will adapt easily to the company's needs.

Once on the job, unskilled have opportunity to work with skilled craftsmen and gain experience. Opportunity for advancement is based on the desire to learn, which is based on knowing how to learn. There are always tasks between unskilled and skilled. The aggressive worker can fill that void and, in time, become a qualified craftsman.

How to Stare at the Bottom

There are always companies, usually small, that pay rock bottom wages. They always have openings because of employee turnover. This is starting opportunity for unskilled teenagers without a high school education. An aggressive teenager can learn a lot in a company like this. The work environment is not regimented and leadership will assign advanced skilled jobs to anyone who they feel can handle it. One need not wait on assignment, knowing what needs to be done and taking on advance skilled jobs without permission can lead to fast advancement if done right OR... Get fired if done wrong. The point is, THERE IS OPPORTUNITY.

When the learning curve starts to flatten, do not seek or ask for a raise, find another job. As a rule, low wage companies do not base pay on employee quality or efficiency, they will let skilled employees go and hire new before increasing wages. At the next level, there are companies that pay average wages to those who have some experience.

In the blue-collar world, job-hopping is the way to advance until one is employed by a high wage company. Low wage companies are training grounds for high wage companies. High wage companies hire quality and experience, requirements that can be acquired by job-hopping from the bottom.

You say you heard that job-hopping is bad for your résumé. That is true in the white-collar world, not the blue-collar.

Points to consider about the blue-collar world

Case Studies

Wal-Mart stores managers, in the early years, were high school dropouts. Sam Walton was not concerned about education levels, in fact, college educated people did not look for jobs in small towns where he first established his stores. Needing talented employees, he judged a success personality by:

  1. Love for the retail business
  2. Natural talent
  3. Positive self-esteem
  4. Creative, intuitive
  5. Risk taker

By giving employees responsibility, Mr. Walton had opportunity to discover winning personalities and promote the best. These qualifications do not show up on employment application forms, in fact, applicants may not know they have them.

When Mr. Walton realized their distribution system needed to be computerized, he selected natural talented programmers from his workforce. As a result, he found quality and they developed a program that slashed distribution cost drastically.

(Made in America by Sam Walton, page 54.)

When K-Mart realized they were being left in the dust, they developed their own computer distribution program. The problem was, leadership was by command-and-control, they could not identify natural talent, and applicants were evaluated by number of years spent in classrooms. This environment did not produce the type of programmers needed to be competitive. In the early years, their computer program increased problems rather than solve problems. Their distribution system never reached the efficiency of Wal-Mart. As I write this, K-Mart is closing stores while Wal-Mart is opening new stores.

Today, there are a growing number of highly profitable companies that resist college educated people. Social prejudice is one of the factors. In some types of businesses, social prejudice is highly destructive. Publix Supermarkets and South West Airlines are two companies that recognize this fact. Again, natural talent determines selection and advancement, which is recognized in worker responsibility environments.

Positive self-esteem comes from knowing that we can do something others can't do.

A love to learn comes from wanting to know more about the world we live in.

Starting a career at the bottom may seem disorganized. For blue-collar types that are in conflict with classroom environments, this is their only option. Once a dropout leaves the education system, they receive no support, yet, this is the type that make efficient construction workers, welders, machinist, and machine operators. These are the type of skills that are in short supply.

The person who does not advance has no desire to learn and/or never learned how to learn. This is true for people who stay at the bottom, but it is also true for people who start a few rungs up and do not advance. After developing a skill, they quit the learning process and years later, they are still at the starting gate.

Self-fulfilling prophecy prevents many people from advancing. All through their teenage years, they let other people tell them what their limits were and they believed it. Self-fulfilling prophecy did the rest.

Society should recognize the fact that some people have no ambition. They are willing to stand at a machine and do nothing but fill a hopper all day and all year. It is a fact of life that some businesses need low ambition employees and there are people wanting this type of work. This option should be considered when working with rebellious teenagers or trying to make teenagers into something, they are not.

Professions that do not require a degree

Profession Median Annual Earnings
Air traffic controller $87,930
Nuclear power reactor operator 60,180
Elevator installer/repairer 51,630
Real estate broker 51,380
Commercial pilot (non-airline) 47,410
Electrical power line installer/repairer 47,210
Locomotive engineer 46,540
Telecom equipment installer/repairer 46,390
Brick mason 41,590
Police officer 40,970
Electrician 40,770
Flight attendant 40,600
The above list is a small sample of professions available.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2001 estimates

Most of these professions are achieved through advancement within an organization.

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