I remember back in the old days when your ability to get and keep a job depended upon how strong your back was. Most jobs back then consisted of physical labor. But today most physical work is done by machines. That's not to say that there aren't jobs that involve physical labor, but nowadays even when they hire for those jobs, they're going to hire the individual with the higher education.
Some people think getting and keeping a job involves making someone in the company like them. Unfortunately, today's companies view employees the same as they view tools and equipment. If the company can buy a fancy shop vacuum cleaner that will do the job much better than their old broom, they'll buy that vacuum cleaner and toss the old broom in the trash. If the company can hire a worker who has a wide range of skills and knowledge, they'll hire that worker and kick the old employee to the curb.
It follows my theory that I call "You Incorporated". You shouldn't be thinking of yourself as an employee of a specific company, but you as your own company working within a company. Having limited skills and knowledge to offer your employer and the marketplace is like being a company with a very limited product and services to offer. But if you have a wide range of skills and knowledge, you have greater value to the company and greater market value in your company's industry.
Some people hate school. If you're one of those people who hate school, how do you feel about being a low paid employee who gets no respect and is unemployed more often than not? There are always tradeoffs in life. You can choose to lay back, accept low pay, kiss butt, and get no respect. Or you can put in the extra time and effort required to get more skills and knowledge.
In the old days you could just do your eight hours at work and go home and kick back. But today's labor market is just too competitive. You have to put in extra time advancing your skills and knowledge and increasing the value of "You Incorporated".
Where to Learn
The best way to gain more skills and knowledge is to sign up for evening courses at your local community college or university. It would be better if you were working on courses directed at earning a higher degree, but this usually requires competing the requirements in a specific amount of time. Just taking one evening course at a time might not get you there. But just getting course work on your resume, even without a degree, still ads substantially to your market value.
Another option to gain more skills and knowledge is to attend a trade school. This also involves taking courses at night after work, but trade schools usually arrange things so that's all that's required to get your certificate or diploma. There's a wide range of trade schools. Unfortunately, there are many trade schools that require only that you make it to the pay window in order to graduate.
A certificate or diploma from one of these trade schools gets no respect and has little or no market value. There are also a few trade schools that actually teach you valuable skills and a certificate or diploma from one of these schools is valued by business and industry. So it's up to you to research any trade school you would like to attend to make sure they have a high rating.
If you're one of those people who really hates school, you should gain more skills and knowledge by reading books. If you also really hate reading books, then you have little choice but to accept low pay, kissing butt, and getting no respect - that is - in the rare circumstances when you actually have a job. I'm sorry, but some sacrifices have to be made to survive in today's world.
Learning on your own from books requires discipline. You have to set aside a time and place when you will be studying your book without interruption. The best books to learn from contain exercises, quizzes, or self-tests. You might be surprised how little time it requires to learn to from books. After all you don't need to commute to a school and you don't need to sit through the non-productive time involved with any school. If you can set aside time at work to study your books, that would be great. Especially if you make sure you get seen at work studying your books.
What to learn
You might think that learning industry specific skills and knowledge is the most important, and it is important, but in my opinion it's not the most important. The most important thing you can learn to improve your success at work (and outside of work) and to be of greater value to your company is writing and communications. That's because people and your superiors judge you by how you talk and write. If you talk like someone from the slums, people will assume you're not too bright. If you can't spell simple words and you don't know a pronoun from a conjunction and you can't write a simple understandable sentence, then people will assume you're not too bright.
The next most important thing to learn, in my opinion, is mathematics. That's because mathematics is the language of science and industry. Mathematics is used to calculate profit margin, return on investment, and a whole bunch of other very important business information. And what if your boss is working on an odd job and he asks you to order the material required to construct a structure with several triangular components? I'm not saying you need to know how to perform calculus integrals and derivatives, but you would be surprised how often algebra and geometry come in handy.
Another important thing to learn is business and economics. You'll be more successful at work if you understand why the company does certain things. To the uninformed it might look like the company's executives are just a bunch of screw ups that don't know what they're doing. But if you understand marketing, distribution, competitive analysis, and other principles of business, you'll understand why they do what they do. And you might even be able to hold an intelligent conversation with your manager.
Another important thing to learn is computers. Today, not only is most physical work done by machines, but most mental work is done by computers. Being computer illiterate is the same as being functionally illiterate. If you're so scared of computers that you can't even use a word processor, then your chances of getting kicked to the curb with that old broom are very good. A spreadsheet is another important computer application used in business. And if you know how to create a database and use a database application, that really increases you market value.
Sometimes I wish it was like the old days when you could just do physical labor and at the end of the work day go home and lay back until the next day. But today, if all you can do is physical labor, you're in competition with machines. And it's a competition that you can't win because machines don't take breaks and they don't take vacations. And in every job you're in competition with every other worker on the planet, so unfortunately you can't just do your job and at the end of the work day go home and lay back. You need to use your own time to be continuously increasing your skills and knowledge.