Knowledge, skills, and experience are "assets" that you acquire throughout your lifetime. They are as valuable to you as money in the bank or the home you hope to own. In fact, your level of knowledge and skills will likely affect how much financial wealth you will build up through the years.
Virtually any job, no matter what it is, can provide valuable experience and give you an opportunity to show that you are a good employee. But over time you may find you need to earn more to cover your basic living expenses and begin to save and invest. In today's economy, your chances to qualify for a good job, and the paycheck and benefits you gain from it, depend upon the knowledge and skills you have now and build on over time. You can acquire these in school, at the workplace, or in other settings.
But the gains that come from building your knowledge and skills are not just valuable to you. They can also benefit the people who live near you. If you earn more, you are likely to spend more at the businesses in your neighborhood and elsewhere. If you are better informed and get involved in your community, you can help make sure that wise decisions are made that will improve the quality of life for you and your neighbors.
For these reasons and many others, it has long been considered to be in the interest of the community to help people acquire the knowledge and skills that can lead to success. Therefore, private and public resources are combined, and community leaders and public officials work together to provide support for training and education. Over the years, people from all types of backgrounds have benefited from these programs. But others miss out because they do not know about available programs, or do not qualify for programs, or there are too few openings available.
In this section, you will learn about the steps you can take to build your knowledge and skills throughout your lifetime. As you follow each of the steps listed below, you will also find information about programs and policies that can help you and others move along pathways to get ahead.
You have heard many times that it is important to have at least a high school education. There is good reason for this. Most people with less than a high school education earn substantially less than others who have a high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development) certificate. From the chart below, you can see that the typical annual income for someone early in their career, who is working full-time and is a high school graduate (but has not attended college), is already $5,000 more than that of someone who does not have a high school education.
But to really prepare yourself for today's job market, you need more than a high school education. Even many "entry-level" jobs require more than good reading, writing, and math skills. You must be able to pick out important information and use it to solve problems. Also, in many jobs, you work as part of a team with your fellow employees, not alone. So you have to be able to communicate clearly and work together with others on projects. If English is not your native language, you may need to speak, read, and write well in the language of the workplace - English.
|What You Can Expect to Earn in a Year|
|9th to 12th Grade, But No Diploma||
|High School Graduate/GED||
|Some College/No Degree||
|U.S. Census Bureau, September 2002|
|* "Median" means middle point of all incomes in that category. Income shown is for workers 25 to 34 years old in 2001.|
If you don't have a high school education and the other skills you need for today's jobs, it is not too late. In many locations across your state, at different times of day and on weekends you can take classes to earn a GED or learn English or build other valuable workplace skills. These are known as adult basic education (ABE) programs. Visit http://www.literacydirectory.org to find a program in your area. You can also get help in locating an ABE program through your local one-stop career center. In addition to helping you find a job, these centers can link you to training providers and may assist you with paying for the cost of training. To find the one-stop center nearest you, visit http://www.careeronestop.org and enter your zip code.
Clearly, getting high school credentials and basic job skills is important. But the value of education and skills training does not stop there. Each year of formal education beyond high school adds thousands of dollars to your yearly earnings. This can really make a difference over time. On average, between the ages of 25 and 65, people who are just high school graduates will earn a total of $1.2 million (in 1999 dollars). But those who hold a bachelor's degree will earn $2.1 million - plus what they gain if they save and wisely invest some of the extra money they make. (See section on savings and investments to learn how to increase your wealth.)
It is clear that earning a bachelor's or master's degree in many fields will increase your chances of earning more. But even if you are not immediately able to invest the time you need to gain that level of education, you're not out of luck. With the right vocational or technical skills training, you can qualify for a job that still pays good wages and benefits. For more information about the training and qualifications necessary for different jobs, what they pay, and the outlook for job growth, check out the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' "Occupational Outlook Handbook" at http://www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm.
Accessing basic education
Help in finding an ABE or other training program and, perhaps, paying for it, is available from local one-stop career centers. These centers have been set up across the country to help a wide array of people find employment or better jobs. They provide information about job openings, assist with the search for a job, and link people to ABE and other training programs. People who need to update or increase their skills to find employment may be given Individual Training Accounts (ITA)s to pay for qualified training providers. ITAs have a value that ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 and pay for up to six months to two years of training depending on the area and the type of training. Although you may be told that these funds aren't available or there are no openings for the training program, it is important to make it known they are needed. To find out more about ITAs and policies and programs that affect the training that is available to you and others, check out these reports on the web, http://www.workforcealliance.org/who/platform_wia.shtm.
Today, many jobs - including work in a warehouse or
bank or as a truck driver - require some technical training,
especially computer skills. You may be able to start
with basic technical skills training at a community-based
program and continue with more advanced training at
a community or technical college. Courses may be offered
in the evening or on weekends to make it easier to attend.
Your local one-stop center should have a list of skills
training programs offered in your area and information
about how to enroll. For general information about community
and technical colleges near you, visit http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Contnet/NavigatorMenu/AboutCoummunityColleges/
CommunityCollegeFinder1/Community_College_Finder.htm, or call the American Association of Community Colleges at (202) 728-0200.
At your local community or technical college, you can also earn an associate' s degree or credential certification in specialized skills that can give you a leg-up on jobs in high demand fields. A wide range of occupations do not require a four-year college degree, but include jobs expected to be in high demand over the next ten years. For example, in ten years, there will be 160 job openings for Home Health Aides for every 100 job openings that exist today. Below are examples of the anticipated growth in high demand jobs and the median hourly wages they paid in 2000.
|Future High Demand Jobs|
|Occupation||Ten Year Growth||Median* Hourly Wage|
|Home Health Aide||60%||$8.10|
|Cable TV Installer & Repairer||43%||$16.17|
|Bank Customer Service Rep||37%||$11.33|
|Computer Data Entry Clerk||35%||$9.84|
|U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002|
|2002* "Median" means middle point of all wages paid in that field|
While increased education is likely to bring financial rewards over both the short and the long term, the benefits are not measured solely in dollars and cents. The knowledge and skills you gain will help you grow as a person, develop a broader view of the world, and learn new ways of making choices about your personal life and the society about you. They may also lead you to a job that may not pay as well as others, but rewards you in other ways - not the least of which may be feeling good about going to work each day.
Education and training beyond a high school diploma is a wise investment in your future. But tuition and fees can be expensive. The average yearly cost of tuition and fees at a private four-year college is $17,123, with some as high as $30,000. For public four-year colleges, the average yearly expense is $3,754, and for a community college, it is $1,738. (Public college tuition expenses can vary greatly among states.) Saving from your earnings and managing your money wisely can help you cover at least part of the expense. (See the section on savings and investments for more information about special savings plans.)
Opportunities to get the
knowledge and skills to advance
For many people, having computer skills can be an important factor in getting a good job, but not everyone has the same opportunity to learn these skills, either through the public schools or by access to computers in their own homes. For that reason, special programs offer people access to computers and training on how to use common computer programs and connect with the Internet. For example, the Community Technology Centers program provides federal funds to communities that are willing to also use state or local funds or other resources to increase computer access at local libraries or other sites in the community. If you want to learn about how people benefit from this program and other ideas about how everyone can have access to computers and training to use them, check the Benton Foundation's web site at http://www.benton.org/.
You might also be able to get financial aid. Over three out of four students at four-year private colleges and almost two out of three at four-year public schools receive some type of financial assistance. You may be eligible for private scholarships or grants depending upon your background, level of achievement, or chosen field of study. Colleges with high tuition and fees try to make their programs more affordable to promising students by offering financial aid packages that are sometimes very generous. The guidance counselor at your high school or community college can help you learn what financial assistance may be available to you. Or, the librarian at your public library can show you how to look up this information. You can also visit http://www.petersons.com for more information on financial aid for college.
Regardless of what school you want to attend, there are also several government programs that may give the hand-up that you need:
Pell Grant - You may be eligible for this federal grant based on your own or your family's income. Unlike a loan, it does not have to be repaid. Pell Grants are usually given to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's degree. The amount of the grant is determined by your financial need and the cost of your education program. The maximum award in 2000 was $3,125, with an average grant of $1,915.
Perkins Loan - This loan is awarded to undergraduate or graduate students with exceptional financial need. Undergraduates can borrow up to $4,000 per year, and graduate students up to $6,000. Payments on the loan begin 9 months after leaving school and must be repaid over 10 years at 5% interest.
Direct Loan and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) - The federal government makes Direct Loans, and FFELs are loaned through a financial institution. For both, undergraduates can borrow up to $2,625 their first year, $3,500 their second year, and $5,500 during their last two years. It is not necessary for either loan to be based on financial need, but if it is, no interest is charged while you are in school. Otherwise, you must pay interest starting at the time you borrow the money. The interest rate varies with market conditions, but cannot exceed 8.25%.
Other Options - Several other government programs can help you pay your college expenses. Through the Work-Study Program, you may be eligible to get an on- or off-campus part-time job paying at least the minimum wage. Or if your parents still include you as a dependent on their income taxes, they may apply for a federal PLUS Loan for which the interest rate can never exceed 9%. If your parents were able to contribute over the years to what are called 529 8 plans, their accumulated savings can help you pay for your college education.
Accessing financial assistannce
for education and training
Opportunity for training
through the workplace
For more information, visit http://www.studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/publications.jsp or http://www.finaid.org to learn the details about government grants and loans, or ask the guidance counselor at your local high school or community college.
Your education should not stop after you have gained technical or vocational skills training or a college degree. In almost any job, you will need to learn new skills as work changes with the economy and technology. You will likely change jobs several times during your career, moving from one company to another, or even one industry to another. In the future, you may find jobs in newly created professions, while other jobs become obsolete.
The process of keeping your knowledge and skills up-to-date is referred to as lifelong learning. You may have a chance to learn new skills on the job, or you may want to pick up courses at a local community college or work toward a higher college degree. Most states have programs that encourage employers to offer training to their employees so they can keep their skills up-to-date and prepare themselves to take advantage of opportunities to advance in the company. This training may be provided at the work site during regular work hours or after hours in some other setting. Some employers may even pay all or part of your tuition to complete a college degree in the field in which you are working.
Do not pass up an opportunity offered through your job to learn new skills that may be useful throughout your working career. When considering a job change, check whether a prospective employer offers training or a chance for you to get more college credits to advance your knowledge and skills.
You may want to start your own business. If you do, there are many things you will need to know. It is likely that your business will start very small, and take only some of your time while you still hold a regular job. It may be a good way to supplement what you earn, and never become your only source of income. But no matter what the size, to succeed in your business you will need to be good at what you do, know how to market it to get customers, be able to keep proper records of expenses and payments, and plan for weeks and even months ahead.
Several million people in this country run microenterprises, or very small businesses. Although not all of these businesses succeed, about two-thirds survive at least five years if the person who starts the business gets the training and support needed to run it. Low-income people who have enjoyed this kind of success have substantially increased their annual household income.
Whether you start a house-cleaning service, restore antique furniture, or design web sites, you will probably need to learn how to develop, manage, and grow your business. Your local community or technical college may offer credit and non-credit courses to teach you the skills you need. Technical assistance, training, and support may also be available from other community agencies, such as community development corporations (CDC). To locate the CDC near you, check the web site for the National Congress for Community Economic Development under "State Associations" at http://www.ncced.org/associations/index.html. Or visit the web site for the Association for Enterprise Opportunity at http://www.microenterpriseworks.org for information about other resources available in your area. Also, the web site for the Small Business Administration at http://www.sba.gov/starting/ provides information about local training opportunities and helpful start-up tools, checklists, and resources.
Preparation to run a business
Starting a business will probably mean you will have to have money to invest upfront to cover expenses before you receive any payment for your services. The section on saving and investing describes how you can turn your savings into a small business or microenterprise and how you can get help in applying for a loan, if you need one.
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