Michael Berry interview with Gene Kelly
on WTRH Radio 740AM HOUSTON Texas

Michael: My guest is Gene W. Kelly, author of “The College Myth“ Gene, thanks for being with us, sir.

Happy to be here. Michael, it's obvious to me that you are, like me, a life-long learner. I love learning, as well. It's really important. But as you said, if the purpose of going to college these days in this economy is to get a great job, then colleges are just an expensive failure right now. So, let's talk about that if you want.

Michael: Let's do. Do you have... obviously on an anecdotal basis, I can go story by story, but do you have the data to back that up? I mean, if I say everybody's parents told them you've got to go to college to get a good job?

Gene: Well, Michael, let's kind of look back a number of years and see where this did go awry. A lot of things, in my view, go awry when the federal government jumps in with both feet with a big solution. Well, their solution, as you may recall, is No Child Left Behind. Everybody's going to college—we're going to make it so. And so what they did was they kept beating this drum, and moving everybody in one direction only—one size fits all, one doesn't fit all. It didn't fit me. The one size fits all. So, we were all supposed to be knowledge workers. Everybody was going to work in a cubicle. America was going to be powerful because we'd be the knowledge workers of the world. A little problem, though. A little thing called the internet came along. And now, all those knowledge worker jobs can be exported to several hundred... I mean, several billion very hungry people who are willing to work for just pennies on the dollar. So, they pulled the rug right out from under us. And meanwhile, anybody in the trades, anybody that had real skills were shunned. As you said, there was a social pressure to, "Oh my God. You didn't go to college? You must be less of a person."

And yet, if you look at the bottom line—their incomes—you know... I'm the millionaire next door, and I know there are lots of other ones that have built businesses and don't have those college degrees. There's plenty of opportunities in this country, but again everybody's being pushed in one direction, and not only being pushed one direction, but they're being given a whole big bag of debt to drag around with them for the rest of their life. Most people aren't fortunate enough to get those scholarships or work hard enough for those scholarships, and they end up getting debt. And, this is really, Michael, just like the housing bubble. Why do we have a housing bubble? Basically, the federal government decided everybody deserved to have a home. So what did they do? They push the banks to loan a lot of money out. If you had a pulse, you could buy a house. If you could buy a house, then there was lots and lots of buyers out i the marketplace bidding up the prices of houses. What happens? We finally have a bubble—boom! It burst! And that's where we're at right now with the college bubble. We have students being offered loans when they're of such an age they can't on their really decide whether this is good for them or not. They get a big loan, and all that money keeps coming in, and colleges have raised their prices over 2000% over the last 20 some years. So, we are now building this bubble, yet all this debt's in the hands of people that can't pay it back because they're not getting the skills from college to go get the kind of jobs we need today. And if you want, we can talk about where the jobs are at and the opportunities in this country.

Michael: Let's do. Gene W. Kelly is the author of The College Myth. I was meeting with some friends—they're sponsors of the show and they're friends. They own SMI Machine Tools—they're in the CNC machine tools business. We were talking about their salesmen, and I said—I think they had 5 salesmen that hit the road every day—and I said, "What is the least paid among them?" And they said none of our guys makes less than $150,000 a year. And I said, "OK. How many of them have college degrees?" "Not one." What! I said, "What is their background?" They said, "We hire machinists, because machinists operate the machines that we sell—the CNC machinery—so we want guys... we don't want used car salesmen. We don't want a guy that can just convince you to buy something. We want somebody that can operate the machine; that understands it." I said, "You mean machinists? Man this must be a huge pay raise for these guys. They must've been making $30,000 a year." They said, "No. A good machinist with no college degree but some technical skill makes $100,000 a year these days." "You're kidding!" They go, "No! That's the industry. That's what's going on."

So let's talk about what those jobs are, Gene. I need to hold through a break, so if you can hold with me. Our guest is Gene W. Kelly, author of The College Myth, and I know a number of you out there have perpetuated the myth—you believed in it, you've bought into it. But I'm telling you, if you're driving on Beltway 8, or when you're driving through Pasadena, or Galena Park, or Deer Park, Texas City, League City, or Santa Fe—where Ramone's from—and you see those industrial parks over there and the names on the businesses out front? They don't have a fancy logo. They're not like Abercrombie & Fitch or the other department stores. They have SNC or MNR or SMI or BNF, whatever it is—that's where the money is being made today by guys that didn't go to college. OK, Gene. So college is not for everybody. How are we to know who college is not for?

Gene: Well, you know, I think that a good starting point would be to read the book, The College Myth. And I want to get the conversations started in the families, around the kitchen table, before students pack up their bags and go off to college and start accumulating debt that they're dragging behind them for most of their life. In fact, we know right now, because of all the student debt and the fact that they don't have the job skills that they need in the marketplace, that they're delaying purchases such as cars, homes, getting married, starting families—and this is going to be a major drag on the economy. So, I have the book The College Myth, and it's available on Amazon. But, I believe in this so passionately, Michael, that I'm giving it away on the website free—thecollegemyth.com. So if they want to go there, get the book, start the conversation in the family. But it doesn't stop... the education doesn't stop there. I really want to help people to get the skills they need in today's economy. We have just a vacuum in the area of job skills, as you were talking about, especially trade skills.

Michael: Well, let's talk about that, Gene—Gene Kelly is the author of The College Myth—because the day before the election, last Monday, I read a story out of Houston here. It was talking about a need for welders today and how much they were making, and it was about these companies. They're just in industrial parks and standalone buildings and warehouse districts—they don't need security, they never did. But recruiters are coming up and approaching welders on the site with offers to pay them a lot more money, and they're walking off the job sites. San Jacinto Community College here is offering welding classes from 10pm to 2am because their welding classes during the day are full up, and so people who have a dead-end day job are then going in the middle of the night for welding classes so they can get a job that pays a lot of money.

I was talking to a guy yesterday who's a former marine—who was supposed to be in Afghanistan but he got stuck in Gitmo guarding these Gumby-suit guys—and he's making over $100,000 a year and he said, "Look, I have no college degree." In the oil patch, working for National Oil well Varco. Loves what he does. And then I said, "Are you doing pretty well, Rhett?" And he said, "I'm doing alright. I don't know what 'pretty well' is." I say, "You making six figures?" Then he goes, "Yeah, I'm making a lot more than six figures." I said, "You're doing extremely well!" And he didn't even realize it because everybody around him is doing that well. And, again, no college degree. But let's talk about some of the fields that people should be looking at that they can get into relatively quickly. Few barriers to entry, and there's a huge upside.

Gene: Well, with the Silver Tsunami—all the people that had these skills retiring, all the Baby Boomers retiring—you're absolutely correct. There's opportunity just everywhere. In fact, I was just up in Idaho, and the lifetime earnings—this was from the Idaho Department of Labor—of an electrician is greater than that of an MBA. So, they're making like $94,000 in change a year as an electrician. Now, what are some of the trades? Well, as you said, machining. As you said, electrical, carpentry, masonry even, locksmithing, and so on. Any of the trade skills. Now, we have to rebuild the entire infrastructure of our country. I saw an article about the bridges in Ohio, where it's going to provide 15 years of jobs—good paying jobs—just to work on those bridges. The whole country needs rebuilding. We have this huge on-shoring… or the manufacturers would like to onshore all the manufacturing again. Why? Greener; cheaper, because they don't have to ship everything across the ocean; the tax credits; and so on and so on. But they can't find the people that they need. Now, I saw a study where there are over 310,000 jobs in the trades available right now that are going unfilled. And so, if they want to learn these trade skills, they need to find a way to do it, and to do it fast. Jump on the opportunity. Now, I'm the CEO of the Accelerated Technical Training Institute. And we teach job skills—trade skills—through a distance learning program, where they can really understand what they need to accomplish, instead of these little bits and pieces the way it was taught in the 19th-century is the way trade skills everywhere else is taught today.

Michael: So y'all teach technical training at the Institute.

Gene: Absolutely.

Michael: Is it slow, dragged-out technical training, or is it accelerated?

Gene: This is fast, Michael. This is fast. If you are of normal capability—you don't have to be a rocket scientist for this—you can watch videos online and offline that will teach you the skills you need to know. Because what has to happen is you have to be able to put the vision in your mind of what success looks like, and then you teach your hands to do it, for example, welding. I was a welding instructor, and the problem with welding, for example, is I can't reach around and hold your hands and help you weld. You won't get the tactile skills. You won't get the feeling. You can't look over my shoulder effectively and see me welding, and really understand what I'm doing. But we're using video instruction, and you see the entire molten puddle filling your mortar, and you're seeing the movement of the gas tip and the filler rod, everything coming together, all of a sudden you go, "Oh! I've got it." We do that through all the trades, and we do it continuously. You talk about a guy going at 2:30 in the morning to school. Well, bless him for having the gumption to do that and trying to be successful. But, you only in those typical 19th-century methods of teaching, where it takes you 4 years to learn something, you're only getting a little piece of information each day—it may not even be correctly.

Michael: No, you are absolutely right. That is an antiquated way to educate based on a liberal arts education of preparing a Renaissance man to go out into the world. In today's world—and I think this is what you've hit on—many people do not need, it's not preparing them properly, the idea of sitting in a classroom and learning to think. Learning to read the great writers of Western Civilization. And somewhere along the way, in order to bring in more people, it morphed into "We'll teach you some job skills!" But it's not technical school. Technical school is where most people need to be to find a job period. That's the point. Thank you for being my guest: Gene W. Kelly, author of The College Myth. You can find it on Amazon or download a free e-book from his website TheCollegeMyth.com. Think about it folks—someone in your life can probably learn from that good advice.

Gene: Thank you. I was glad to be here.