GENE W. KELLY interview with Sharkie Zartman –
PEP TALK on Healthy Life Radio

Sharkie: Welcome back to Pep Talk. Next up is Gene W. Kelly, an educational thought leader, entrepreneur, speaker, Napa Valley winery owner, and the author of The College Myth. And he is on a mission shake up and fundamentally change how trade job skills are taught today. So welcome, Gene.

Gene: Well, thank you for having me on the show, Sharkie.

Sharkie: Well, I'm excited to talk to you because I think you know I'm a college professor right?

Gene: Correct.

Sharkie:  You know, there are some things that when I was taking a look at your information that I totally agree. But there are some things that I want to kind of, you know, dialogue with you about. But first of all, why did you write The College Myth?

Gene: Well, part of it was my life story because I was very successful without a college education, per say. I learned trade skills and was able to leverage that into a multi-million dollar net worth. But that's only part of the story. I'm really passionate about helping people find success in America. And the problem with the college system as it is now, is everyone's being forced to college—one-size fits all. It’s almost like you're a failure if you don't go to college. And what's happening is there's a massive amount of debt being accumulated by students because it's so easy to sign for that debt. But that debt is hanging over their heads for years.

I just read an article in the Associated Press that seniors are still struggling with debt that they picked up twenty and thirty and forty years ago! So that debt is one of my main objections to college. And the message is this: if the purpose of going to college is to get the skills, get a good job in this current economy, then many of the colleges are failing at that. I'm not against higher education. I believe that everybody ought to be a life-long learner. You should continue to learn—go to school wherever you can; take courses; read books. But if the promise is "I'm going to give you a $100,000 of my child's future money in the form of a debt" and you're going to give him or her the skills to get a great job, that equation is not working out. They're not delivering. So, one of the things that I propose is, not only do I talk about all these different ways and conversations that the parents and students should have before they go to college—if they go to college—so they go with eyes open. But I also map out for them a lot of alternatives for people that aren't wanting to go to college or don't feel that that's right for them at this time. And, that is a great deal of my message. The details are in the book The College Myth, but you know, I'm so passionate about this that I'm giving away that book, Sharkie, online, on the website So that's one of the things that help people. You know, but... it's the debt that is a real threat to our society because parents are going into debt and deferring retirement. Kids are going into debt, and they're going to be dragging that ball-and-chain around, not getting married; not getting houses; not having kids. And, all of that affects our economy. And, yet, right under our nose are hundreds of thousands of jobs going unfulfilled—good-paying jobs in the trades—and I really recommend that people look at the trade skills, and so that's why I put together another report at so they can check that out too.

Sharkie: OK, perfect. Let's talk about why there's so much more college debt now than ten-twenty years ago, and why there are so fewer job opportunities. It used to be that if you graduated with a degree, with a college degree, it was almost assured that you're going to get a job right out of college. And, as you know, we're not seeing that anymore. So, you know, I understand the disparity in people going to college not being able to get a job, not being able to get a job, and then having all this debt. So, why did this happen?

Gene: Well, there's two major points I want to make. Number one: just like the housing bubble, when they said, "Gee, everyone needs to have a house, therefore we're going to make cheap easy debt available" they did the same—and we know what happened there—the same thing has happened with college. Everybody was supposed to be a knowledge worker, so let's make debt available and cheap and easy for students to get. Well, what happens when there's a lot of money available? Prices go up. College has increased in price over 2000% over the last twenty to thirty years. And so, that's where this big bubble has come from—easy access to debt has led to increases in prices. Second big problem, the reason there is an opportunity, is that everyone was supposed to be an information worker in America. We shuffled off our manufacturing overseas; downplayed the trades; and we said, "Everyone should be a knowledge worker." And, that worked for a little while, but what happened was the internet! And all those knowledge worker jobs are easily shipped overseas for pennies on the dollar, and so those jobs have gone away—they're not as available. Yet, here you have, you know, plumbers that make very very good money; Electricians that make great money. I saw once a report out of Idaho that they make more money lifetime than someone with a Masters, and just under somebody that has a PhD or a professional certificate. So these are good jobs, and you're not going to be outsourcing your plumbing to India anytime soon, if you know what I mean.

Sharkie: Exactly. [laughing] Yes, I can see that. You know I wanted to share with you. It looks... you know, I told you I am at a community college, which is a 2-year college. One of the things that I think is—that we do that is important is a lot of these kids really don't know what they want to do yet. And so, they're getting their lower... you know, lower division units and trying out things. And because, you know, community colleges are much less expensive than the UCs or the state schools, and so a lot of people find themselves there. And also, we have a new thing that's coming in 2015—some of our community colleges are going to have 4-year programs that are trade programs. Are you aware of that?

Gene: I am, and that's fantastic. However, most of the trades are still taught the same way they were in the 19th-century, and my company The Accelerated Technical Training Institute developed a new system on how to teach trade skills at one quarter the time. So it's much faster, and that's what the is all about.

Sharkie: OK. Alright. You said that colleges are for some people and not others. How do you know whether college is for you or not, or for your kids or not?

Gene: Well, I think there's not one size fits all, and I think in the past that's been the assumption—everybody should go to college. And the first thing they should do is sit down and have that conversation with the family—what benefit can I get from this; where will I go with this; how will I take it; and can we afford it? Have an honest conversation in the family. Can we afford it? Because they may have to work their way through school.

Sharkie: Right.

Gene: Like many people have had to do in the past. You know, I'm all in favor of junior colleges, particularly as a way to find out what you'd like to do. It's too expensive to just go off to a four-year high-dollar university to just "grow up", especially if they're accumulating debt. It's just not the right thing to do. And I'd really like to continue to talk about this if we can.

Sharkie: We're back with more Pep Talk. I'm Sharkie Zartman here with Gene Kelly. And he is the author of The College Myth. Now, Gene, we've been talking about, you know, college might not be for everybody, but I'm sure there's some people who really benefit from a four-year education. But, I told you in the break about my nephew who told his dad he didn't want to go to college. His dad was, you know, kind of disappointed because his son was very bright. Instead, his son went into computer programming, not at a school, and eventually developed a company and just sold it for 12 million dollars.

Gene: [laughing] Now, I love stories like that.

Sharkie: Do you love stories like that? [laughing]

Gene: That's the entrepreneurial adventure. That's what really is one of the biggest opportunities in America. And I do actually talk about it in my book, The College Myth. And the rest of the title The College Myth is the college myth why you shouldn't go to college if you want to be successful—an alternative path to success. And that's the point... is college is a way for some people to find the skills that they need. It's also a very expensive way. So they look into the trades, and not everybody wants to sit and live in a cubicle their whole life. It's like prison for some people. So, you know, the trades—plumbing, electrical, locksmithing, carpentry, masonry, you know, and so on... we teach all of those trades on an accelerated basis, quickly, using a lot of distance education. So, if they look at, you know—I don't just... I'm not just pointing out the problem. I'm also trying to bring a solution to the table. And there's hundreds of thousands of jobs available in the trades right now—these are good-paying jobs—and beyond that, with our lower energy cost that has been discovered all through the Midwest, companies are actually trying to on-shore manufacture. They want to bring the manufacturing back, because it's one: saves all of that energy of shipping across the ocean. Two: it's greener. And three: there's incentives for jobs here. Four: they have better quality workers that speak the same language! What they need are people with job skills—real job skills, real trade skills. So go to, and you'll see a lot of the different opportunities that are available in the trades. They'll learn about them. And then is where they can download a free copy of the book, because I want families to start this conversation. I want individual students to read the book before you go to school; even if you go to college, you'll benefit from it. And, as far as, you know, the opportunities in America today—yes, there's opportunities for people that have certain educations.

There's opportunities for people in the trades. And there's still opportunities to be the entrepreneur that have an idea and build a multi-million dollar company. I did, and I still have a couple—I have more than one company. So there are opportunities out there. And some people will benefit from a liberal arts-type education. I think that's good if you can afford it, and that really should be your mindset anyway in addition to getting job skills first and getting the jobs and experiences by having that broad knowledge—that's part of what helps you see opportunities. So, I want to encourage everybody—study, read, take classes, so on. Just don't get in debt doing it. Get a good job. And, by the way, and if I can give one major tip to people—there's only three things when an employer really wants when they're interviewing you. They want to know—what do you know, meaning applicable knowledge. Number two, they want to know: what have you done, meaning applicable experience. And, number three, most important: what can you do for me? And if somebody's looking for a job, they need to be able to answer those three questions. They're in the book.

Sharkie: OK, very good. Do you mind if I ask you where you got your training? You said you have two companies. Where did you get your training to be a CEO of your company.

Gene: Wow. Well, it's been thirty years, and I like to say that I'm a twenty-year overnight success. There's a lot of learning that goes on in life, and people need to understand that right now. Stop looking for a magic pill or a magic bullet, and start studying and learning and investing in themselves. I believe in investing in myself. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars ongoing in my education. I did originally go to a trade school at a junior college, and I only graduated with a certificate in the trade there. But from that I built up a manufacturing company, and then I went on to develop a different—taking the same company in a different direction. Again, and studying! I invest in courses. I've invested in myself, and I encourage your listeners to do the same.

Sharkie: OK. How did you become a Napa Valley winery owner? [laughing] I love that!

Gene: Well, you know that's a... you would make a large fortune in something like that to start with. I mean, it's... of all fortunes, start with a large one. So, I won't say it's a hobby—it's an expensive hobby. But it's something, again, I got an interest in, along with my other companies... and I now have my own vineyard and my own label—Kelly Family Vineyards at, if anybody's interested. And it's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work, and that's the way success comes from—working smart. And working hard, too.

Sharkie: Right. Well, you know, you talk about distance learning, and everybody's doing that these days, and colleges are doing it, you know. But why is this a good way to train technical trade skill workers? Don't they have to do hands-on?

Gene: You know, that is a great question, and I love it because we can illustrate it so well at the What it is, is if I can provide for you—the old method is looking over an instructor's shoulder in a big class and trying to figure this out, and getting little bits and pieces of information along the way, because you take a class on Tuesday and another on Thursday, and then the next week, and so on. You kind of have to try and piece all those together. Well, with video—we use video—we can show you closeups you can never see from the front row of a classroom. You go at your own speed. You can review anytime you need to. One idea clearly and seamlessly flows into the next, and once I can teach you success looks like, what you're actually attempting to do, and you get that in your mind—you can visualize it—now you can teach your hands the tactile skills. Beyond that, we do have at-home study tasks that they do with their hands, and we are developing an express campus that'll be at various places around the country for people to come in for a very quick review at multiple repetitions of the trade skills themselves. So, the trades are an awesome opportunity, especially if you like working in different environments; building things; being outside occasionally, and so on.

Sharkie: Alright, great. Thank you so much for joining us today, Gene. I, you know—a great conversation because, you know, I see where you're coming from. I also see that my students are benefiting from my classes, so I think it's good for people to realize that it's not for everybody, but it's still important for some. So where can we find The College Myth?

Gene: Well, The College Myth can either be purchased—the book—on Amazon. Or, for limited time, they can go to and download a free copy. Or, if they want information on trade skills, go to

Sharkie: OK, thanks again, Gene! Great job!

Gene: Thank you!

Sharkie: OK, you have a good day.

Gene: Bye bye.