This is a guest article by D. Alan Johnson

As I talk with my friends about today’s job market, one of the biggest questions that pops up is, “Why do some people make so much more money than everybody else?”

A construction worker pouring concrete might work three times harder than an executive, but only earns one tenth the income. The tractor driver gets to work at dawn and plows for twelve hours, yet his monthly take home pay is a fraction of the commission of the man working the telephones selling the farmer’s produce. Why do we have such disparity?

We Americans have a sense of fairness telling us that the harder a person works, the more money they should make. But that is not a correct assumption, nor has it ever been.

The laws of economics remain. The more valuable your service, the more money you earn. Leaner companies are paying regular line employees less in order to remain competitive in a global market. And the global pressure goes right down the line. US workers find themselves in price competition with workers in India, China, and Brazil.

On the other hand, “top talent” is making more than ever. Companies large and small are bidding for the best workers, often offering a bounty to co-workers for leads. Not only are their salaries and benefits generous, their bonuses can be huge, often as much as 50% of their base pay.

To understand this phenomenon, we must understand that the job market is vastly different than the 1970’s model planted in our heads. The new job market seems to have formed three levels. And each level pays much differently. We can categorize today’s employee as:

•    Working with Things,
•    Working with Ideas, or
•    Working with People.

The person working with things will bring in the least amount of money. This includes many of the “normal” jobs such as secretaries, retail workers, mechanics, drivers, construction workers, and pilots. Salary ranges from 18,000 per year up to 75,000 dollars.

Working with ideas pays better. This group includes designers, accountants, engineers, computer programmers, and analysts. Many times these jobs require extensive training and certifications. On the top end of the pay spectrum are engineers specializing in robotics and nuclear powerplants. Some call these Idea folks “knowledge workers.” Their incomes vary from 50,000 to 150,000 dollars.

Of course, there are some idea mongers, such as writers, who earn little. Most of the time, this is because their ideas are not based on a solid economic model. All too often, writers scribble their stories and poems, hoping to be the one in fifty thousand who hits it big enough to make a living.

In order for an Idea worker to make an increased salary, they must have also mastered working with Things. This way, their ideas can be married with the data or materiel and turned into products and services with an economic value.

The top paying tier works with People. Of course, the other two groups work with people, but what I mean is this top tier can and does influence people and moves individuals to action. They know how to build and motivate teams, communicate new ideas, negotiate agreements, and sell products and services. This group is made up of managers, presidents, CEO’s, salespeople, lawyers, and politicians.

There are leaders in this group who make very little money even when they can and do motivate people. Religious leaders and military commanders typically are motivated by a higher calling than money.

This group earns from 60,000 to one million dollars per year.

If you want to get into this top tier, the easiest way is from one of the levels below. First one must have some technical background. Low level salespeople are the exception. But it seems that the majority of jobs in the top level are mixtures of technical skills and people skills.

For example, a petroleum engineer who is able to sell will find a top tier job much faster than a pure salesman. The company can send the engineer/salesman to fix a problem for a customer and use that time with the client to upsell him to a new and improved product worth several hundred thousand dollars.

America is a place unlike any other in history. Here, you can choose which tier in which you want to work. There is nothing stopping the lowest forklift operator from rising to the top tier and making ten times his beginning salary.

Career counselors advise their clients to follow a “career path” of ever increasing experience to get to their top potential. For example, they will counsel a forklift driver to move up by driving bigger forklifts and handling fragile cargo. But few ever speak about moving from one tier to another, as if workers are stuck in a type of caste system.

Our forklift operator can move up to a higher income by become a manager over the warehouse or over other forklift drivers. Or he can become a salesman using his driving experience to sell lots of forklifts to other companies.

You can choose to move up by first learning to work with Things. Working with Things should be your entry level job. After you learn the ropes, then begin thinking of Ideas of how to use those things for good. That will move you into the second tier.

When you start to convince coworkers and clients that your ideas are sound, then you have moved into the third tier where you can make the best money. This career path may take years; it may happen in just a few months. The decision is yours.

Don’t try to get a raise by reminding your boss that you have been a faithful employee for the last seven years. That no longer counts. Instead, have ideas and move clients so that you bring in extra sales to your organization. Then you become worth more, much more, to your company and they will reward you with a new title. And more money.

D. Alan Johnson

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