How To Gain Valuable Skills, Even in A Low-Paying Job

My father taught me that every situation, bad or good, is a learning opportunity. This was from a man who had a ninth-grade education and lived his entire life on a farm in rural North Carolina. While not an educated man, he was a wise one.

Many folks these days are underemployed, idling in jobs they feel are taking them nowhere. To a certain extent, they’re right. But any job also has the potential to prepare you for greater and grander employment.

Today’s junior programmer or field technician could be tomorrow’s CTO. Every project coordinator and associate project manager is just a few steps away from that open Senior Project Manager position.

No matter how insignificant your job may seem, you can make the most of any employment situation until you can find that dream job — or at least that dreamier job.

Food Service

I was surprised to learn that food service employees are some of the lowest paid in North America. Sure the brace-faced, teenaged dishwashers and busboys at most fast-food and casual restaurant chains are primarily unskilled, but even more experienced fast-food cooks, hosts, hostesses, and food preparers are still at the wrong end of the pay scale.

So where’s the bright side of this abysmal occupational hazard? It’s logistics.

Put in your years in food service, but don’t just bide your time filling Happy Meal orders correctly. While in the trenches, look for ways to make things work more efficiently.

Logistics is essentially managing the flow of goods and services between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet the requirements of customers. Not an easy task. This can make or break any food service company, whether a corner diner or a multi-billion dollar franchised restaurant.

There has to be room for improvement and greater efficiency somewhere among all the steps leading up to delivering a meal. Whether it’s in transportation, preparation, inventory and warehousing, packaging, or delivery, if you’ve been in the food service any time at all, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a better way to do one of the potentially hundreds of processes involved in getting a tasty meal to a satisfied customer.

If you can make a difference there, you can make a difference in the bottom line. That’s going to get you the right kind of attention from your superiors.

But I’ll warn you that even food service managers have to work long hours most nights and weekends to obtain that higher standard of living. While logistics can have a huge impact within food service, if you have a knack for it, you will have a positive impact on any industry in which you choose to work. If you’re not happy where you are, consider taking your excellent logistic stills to a different industry — even better if doing so makes more of an impact on your own bottom line.

Movie, Amusement, and Recreation Attendants and Ticket Takers

I didn’t expect seasonal workers and “carnies” to be pulling in the big bucks. Part-time or seasonal work isn’t ever going to make you wealthy, even if it’s supplementing income from your real job. But career counter attendants and ticket takers probably foresee little advancement in their jobs. I’ll chalk that up to different strokes for different folks.

So where’s the silver lining in this seemingly nowhere industry? It’s management.

No matter what industry you’re in, just because your job is low level and seems to have little value doesn’t mean advancement is impossible. After all, somebody has to supervise all those millions of ushers, ticket takers, popcorn vendors, and cashiers at movie theaters and amusement centers across the continent. Why not you?

The real value in gaining management skills is that you can use them throughout your career. Believe me when I say that supervising teenaged movie ticket takers unfortunately may not be a whole lot different than supervising certain adults, no matter the industry. Good luck with that.


Growing up on a farm, I had many chores and jobs throughout the years I did not enjoy. Okay, I hated them. Did I mention I am not a farmer today? Farm work and other jobs outside are some of the most difficult and the lowest paid.

One thing I have to admit about farm work is that it is character building. Still, there are better ways to earn a living. During my four careers since leaving the North Carolina farm I grew up on, I have at times had to work as hard as I did on that farm.

The worst of those times had to be the weekend I and the rest of the IT staff of the metro newspaper we worked for had to install hundreds of iMacs in a 5-story building with limited elevator access by Monday morning. Ugh. I wasn’t outside in the middle of a tobacco field, but the work was no easier. Luckily, thanks to the time I’d spent outside in the middle of a tobacco field, I was prepared for it.

Any occupation is going to have times when you have to buckle down and perform tasks that require that extra effort. When that time comes, I hope you’re prepared for it. My dad would be so proud of you.

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