Guest Host: Steve Roberts

This May photo from the Department of Labor shows, from left, a student at the Trades Learning Center at Bath Iron Works (BIW) describing his work to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

This May photo from the Department of Labor shows, from left, a student at the Trades Learning Center at Bath Iron Works (BIW) describing his work to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

A new push for apprenticeship programs is being embraced by politicians from all sides, from Republicans Marco Rubio and Scott Walker to Democrat Hillary Clinton, who recently proposed tax credits for companies who hire apprentices. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is also pushing the government’s plan to provide $100 million in apprenticeship grants this fall. We look at the renewed call for apprenticeship programs, and how some say they address a shortage of skilled workers and the financial burden on young people today.


  • Thomas Perez Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Aparna Mathur Resident scholar in economic policy studies, the American Enterprise Institute
  • Robert Lerman Professor of economics, American University; fellow, Urban Institute; founder, American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship
  • Brad Neese Director, Apprenticeship Carolina
  • Christopher Stone Apprentice to be a field engineer, Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, North Carolina

From The Blog: Apprenticeship Myths, Busted

5 Myths About Apprenticeships (And How To Tell What's Right For You) - The Diane Rehm Show

While apprenticeship programs aren't right for every company, many businesses, and possible apprentices, that would benefit from them are scared off by what they perceive as insurmountable challenges. We separate fact from fiction.

From The Blog: New To Apprenticeships? Start Here

Your Guide To Apprenticeships - The Diane Rehm Show

Apprenticeships are starting to gain traction in the U.S. But when, and how, do they work best? Before Tuesday's show on new programs for apprentices, Robert I. Lerman, of the Urban Institute, gave us some questions to consider.


  • 11:06:54

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of the George Washington University sitting in today for Diane Rehm while she's away on vacation. The appeal of apprenticeships, paid work to learn skills that could lead to employment, easy to understand, especially at a time when student loan debt is crippling for many. A growing number of experts and politicians are calling for an expansion of apprenticeship programs, saying they address a shortage of skilled workers and the financial burden on young people today.

  • 11:07:17

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSBut some remain unconvinced about a model that remains largely untested in the U.S. Here to discuss this issue, Robert Lerman of American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship, Aparna Mathur of the American Enterprise Institute. Joining us by phone from Columbia, South Carolina, Brad Neese who runs Apprenticeship Carolina. And here in the studio, we're welcoming U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez. Welcome to you all. Thank you for being here.

  • 11:07:45

    MS. APARNA MATHURThank you for having us.

  • 11:07:46

    ROBERTSMr. Secretary, let me start with you.

  • 11:07:48


  • 11:07:48

    ROBERTSThis word, apprenticeship, it's a familiar word and yet a lot of people don't know what it really means. What does it mean?

  • 11:07:56

    PEREZApprenticeship is the earn while you learn model. When people are asked that in the United States, I think they mostly think of it in the skilled trades. Apprenticeship has application across every sector. When you go to Europe, you'd see somebody in the IT sector who's come up as an apprentice. The CEO of Zurich Insurance Company, a Fortune 500 company, he started out as an apprentice. Apprenticeship has application everywhere.

  • 11:08:21

    PEREZAnd it's a ticket to the middle class. There are multiple pathways in this country to the middle class and apprenticeship is a pathway that, frankly, we have devalued...

  • 11:08:31


  • 11:08:31

    PEREZ...over years as a nation. Well, I think there was this interest in everyone needed to have a four-year college degree. When I talk to parents nowadays and I tell them apprenticeship is a pathway to the middle class, one of the most frequent things I hear, Steve, is no, no, no, no. My kid's going to college. And I say to them, apprenticeship is the other college, except without the debt. What is it about debt that you're so interested in accumulating.

  • 11:09:01

    PEREZAnd so we have a marketing challenge. We have an economic opportunity is what we really have because the wind is at our back economically. We have 5.4 million job openings right now. We've got sector after sector that's bullish about the future here in America and this apprenticeship model is a way to grow the middle class across America in logistics, in healthcare, in IT, in cyber security, in the skilled trades. That's what we can do.

  • 11:09:35

    ROBERTSBut what is it about America? I mean, in Europe, and you've traveled extensively, I know. I've read some of your dispatches from Germany and Denmark, other places which have vibrant apprenticeship traditions. The United States has never quite had the same and as you say quite vividly, you're having some trouble getting people to accept this notion. What are the inhibitions here? What are the obstacles?

  • 11:09:58

    PEREZWell, in Germany, it's not hard to figure out why you have a youth unemployment rate roughly half of the United States because you are a teenager and you have multiple pathways, an apprenticeship pathway, a higher ed pathway and both pathways enjoy equal stature. In the United States, all too frequently, when you said the word apprenticeship, people would say shop or -- and they meant that in a pejorative way, even though many shop classes really should have enjoyed far more stature than they had.

  • 11:10:28

    ROBERTSIt's almost like it's a second class track.

  • 11:10:30

    PEREZIt's a second class track. And the thing about it, and in the marketing I do with parents and school superintendents and counselors, it's important to understand that this is not an either/or track. This notion that you either go to college or you get an apprenticeship, that is a -- that's just false. Apprenticeship is the other college. And what we have done, among other things at the Department of Labor is we've worked with community colleges to establish what we call the Registered Apprenticeship Community College Consortium.

  • 11:11:00

    PEREZSo you complete that IBEW apprenticeship and you can take that to a community college and articulate it and you're two-thirds of the way to your college degree.

  • 11:11:08

    ROBERTSNow, your department, Department of Labor, putting its money where its mouth is, $100 million, what's the strategy behind this? What are going to do with that money and how do you hope it will help leverage apprenticeship programs?

  • 11:11:25

    PEREZSure. And we have a $100 million grant proposal that's on the street now. We hope to award it sometime late summer, early fall and the design is to help catalyze best practices in apprenticeship across an array of sectors, including, but not limited to, the skilled trades, but including IT, including cyber security, including healthcare, including logistics. And our purpose is also to make sure that we expand the apprenticeship footprint into every community.

  • 11:11:51

    PEREZWhen we announced it, I was in Philadelphia with Mayor Nutter. They have a remarkable apprenticeship program in the IT sector, taking the facility that many teenagers and young adults have with gadgets and translating it into a middle class career in IT. And there's a half a million IT jobs open right now.

  • 11:12:08

    ROBERTSNow, Aparna Mathur, you were nodding as you were listening to the Secretary. And one of the things that struck me in reading this is that we understand that there are a certain number of manufacturing jobs that are going to be off-shored. Textiles are going -- steel are going to be made in other countries. But it seems to me that one of the important variables here is you're trying to train people for jobs that can't be off-shored, that if you have an air conditioning technician come to your house, you can't have someone in Bangladesh do that.

  • 11:12:37

    MATHURAbsolutely. And I think that's one of the reasons why we're pushing -- I think I agree with this whole push for paid apprenticeships because we have -- over the course of the recession and the long run, we have seen a decline in what are called middle-skill jobs, which are exactly the jobs that you're talking about, you know, repair jobs, people working in trucking and, you know, car repair. And those kinds of things are not going to be off-shored, but we still find that there's been a decline in these jobs and we have employers who say, you know, we want to hire workers.

  • 11:13:08

    MATHURWe're looking for exactly the workers who have the skills to do these jobs and we're not finding them. According to MacKenzie Report, you know, 47 percent of employers said that we are looking for people with the right skills who can come onto our -- come into our businesses and have the skills that we need and we don't find them. And so I think if we train these workers to do exactly the jobs -- and we're not talking about jobs that can be off-shored, as you said, the jobs that can -- that are very much here and that people still need to fill.

  • 11:13:37

    ROBERTSBob Lerman -- excuse me. Bob Lerman, if this makes so much sense, why has there been so much trouble in getting people to accept it.

  • 11:13:45

    MR. ROBERT LERMANWell, I think that people will accept it. I think the problem is insuring that employers create slots. Wherever you have a good apprenticeship program, you have an oversubscription of applicants. So the problem, I don't think, as much convincing parents as convincing employers, having a marketing strategy to do it and to provide some kinds of subsidies. Let me say something about manufacturing. Employment in manufacturing in Germany and in Switzerland, two rich countries with high wages, is very high relative to the U.S.

  • 11:14:25

    MR. ROBERT LERMANAnd as Brad Neese will tell you, in South Carolina, there are a lot of manufacturing companies coming there and one of the things that the German companies here, who invest here, say, they would invest a lot more if we dealt with our middle skills problem. So I don't -- I wouldn't want to say that manufacturing, especially advanced manufacturing, is outside the realm of expansion of apprenticeship.

  • 11:14:55

    ROBERTSBrad Neese, you've had a very successful program there in South Carolina and as Bob Lerman mentioned, one of the key variables here is you had a number of countries, including from Germany and other European countries, locate in South Carolina and sort of bring this tradition and renew it as an idea. Talk about your experience there in South Carolina.

  • 11:15:15

    MR. BRAD NEESEYeah. I mean, it's been an interesting ride here in South Carolina and so we sort of benchmark ourselves back to 2007 and back then, we only had 90 companies in our entire state that had apprenticeship programs. And so, you know, fast forward all the way to today, 2015, and we've had a 733 percent increase in employer participation. We now have over 750 companies that have registered apprenticeship programs in our state now. And so, you know, to Dr. Lerman's point, I mean, our thought going forward in building our apprenticeship system in our state was without companies, you don’t have apprentices.

  • 11:15:56

    MR. BRAD NEESEAnd so we tackled that idea first. We need to get employer participation and we need to ramp that up as quickly as possible. And to the Secretary's point, you know, we grew this arguably during one of the worst recessionary periods in our country's history. If we had only relied on those traditional trades, construction and craft, which have a rich history in apprenticeship, we would've been a failed initiative back in 2009. We started sort of diversifying our portfolio from the very beginning and we have apprenticeship programs that are very vibrant in healthcare, hospitality and tourism, IT.

  • 11:16:34

    MR. BRAD NEESEAnd so -- and certainly, advanced manufacturing, to be perfectly honest with you, has really sort of been our bread and butter with the growth of our apprenticeship programs. And a lot of that has definitely been on the back of, you know, our German companies and certainly our Swiss companies that we work with here in the states.

  • 11:16:53

    ROBERTSAnd Secretary Perez, what's the lesson of South Carolina that other states can learn from?

  • 11:16:58

    PEREZWell, actually, there's a bill right now in the Senate that Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina have co-sponsored. South Carolina has a tax credit for those who invest in apprenticeship. And Bob's point, we have to get more employers in the game and a lot of employers say, well, what's my return on investment? And other employers who are doing it say, you can't afford not to do it. But what they've done in South Carolina is a tax credit.

  • 11:17:26

    PEREZAnd one of the most prolific users of that tax credit is CVS. They're taking people who are on TANIF or other forms of public assistance and using that tax credit, they have created pharmacy tech apprenticeship programs. And I've spoken to pharmacy techs not only in South Carolina, but elsewhere, who have used this apprenticeship model and now they want to become pharmacists. They're punching their ticket to the middle class. That's what apprenticeship is about and that investment that the state of South Carolina made -- and Brad's really doing a great job -- has really catalyzed some real progress.

  • 11:17:59

    ROBERTSThat's Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez who's with me also. Bob Lerman, Aparna Mathur of American Enterprise Institute and Brad Neese from South Carolina. We'll be right back.

  • 11:20:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Our subject this hour, the whole issue of apprenticeships and how this can contribute to the economic growth, the educational growth of the country. I have four experts with me, starting with Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. Welcome. We're delighted to have you on the...

  • 11:20:19

    PEREZOh, it's a pleasure to be with you and your listeners.

  • 11:20:21

    ROBERTSAnd Aparna Mathur is with me. She's a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Robert Lerman is a professor of economics at A.U., also a fellow at the Urban Institute. And by phone from Columbia, S.C., Brad Neese. He runs Apprenticeship Carolina. You can join our conversation, 1-800-433-8850, We have a couple lines open so, please, if you have comments or questions for the secretary and our other experts, please join our conversation.

  • 11:20:49

    ROBERTSAnd Mr. Secretary, this program of $100 million, in addition to providing tax incentives, you were saying that it's also important to sort of broaden the concept of apprenticeship. That it previously had been aimed at white men and this is a pretty narrow segment of the workforce. Talk about your strategy there.

  • 11:21:11

    PEREZSure. We have -- I was at -- in Philadelphia, as I mentioned, with Mayor Nutter when we announced this. The IT apprenticeship program that they've put in place there has made apprenticeship accessible to kids who are in the Philadelphia Public School system and coming out. We have a number of initiatives that are targeted at getting women into apprenticeship, including the skilled trades. I was at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard with Senator Collins awhile back. I met a modern-day Rosie the Riveter, who has punched her ticket to the middle class in a welding career.

  • 11:21:39

    PEREZAnd so a big part of this grant proposal, you have to figure out, if you want to be successful, what strategies are you using to make sure that apprenticeship opportunities are broadly available to a wide swath of your community? Because we get these opportunities available in the Philadelphias and in cities across this country, that's how we build middle-class jobs in those cities.

  • 11:22:02

    ROBERTSNow, Aparna Mathur, Secretary Perez was talking about one of the variables here is convincing parents that this was a good option for their children.

  • 11:22:13


  • 11:22:13

    ROBERTSAnd we have sort of this stereotype, I guess, in America of what defines success.

  • 11:22:20

    MATHURSuccess, yes.

  • 11:22:20

    ROBERTSTo some extent, this is a marketing issue. It's an education issue. Talk about that dimension and what needs to happen to make this concept more widely acceptable.

  • 11:22:32

    MATHURRight. I mean, I agree with Secretary Perez. I think we've always had this notion that college completion is the way to go and, you know, that's the pathway to success. And I think we need to, you know, educate parents that there is this alternative that exists. Now, I think one of the answers these parents have is that you're making these decisions relatively early in life. You know, in a lot of European countries, you're making them at the age of 12 or 13.

  • 11:22:56

    MATHURAnd for a lot of American parents, I think, making those decisions that early in life, sending their children down a certain path where they don't know what the outcomes are likely to be, they don't know how much acceptance there is of apprenticeships in the U.S. today -- especially given that we don't see that many apprenticeship programs or good quality apprenticeship programs, maybe, around the country. So I think it more involves, you know, a two-pronged effort. One is to get many more employers to offer these kind of programs and to tie up with secondary schools, to tie up with colleges, so that parents are more aware of the options facing them.

  • 11:23:32

    MATHURAnd I think that will lead to a change in the way parents think about the opportunities for their children and think of it as a feasible and viable alternative.

  • 11:23:40

    ROBERTSAnd then, Bob Lerman, the American tradition is so much one of mobility and upward mobility. And as Aparna was talking, the European tradition is somewhat different than this notion of, at 12 or 13, delineating a course is a more acceptable -- it's a cultural question, too, as well as an economic one, isn't it?

  • 11:24:04

    LERMANWell, yes. But not every country that has a robust system starts people at those young ages.

  • 11:24:11


  • 11:24:11

    LERMANAnd, in fact, even in Germany, the time when you really begin apprenticeship itself isn't till something like 17 -- 16, 17, 18. I want to go back to your point about convincing parents. My view is we have to convince policymakers. Right now, if we look at the amount that we spend on higher education programs for careers, we spend far more through the college system than we allow through the apprenticeship system. I applaud the Obama administration for the $100 million grant program. But compared to what we spend promoting community college attendants that have career programs but not often linked with employers, it's a pittance. So we have to convince policymakers that this is a major, major initiative.

  • 11:25:07

    LERMANI think convincing parents will be easy, as their friends' kids go into an apprenticeship and love it and take pride, when a company has an apprenticeship program and then their neighbor company sees what's going on. That will spread. That's the way we have to make it work. But we need to have some similarity of funding for learning an occupation through an apprenticeship approach, which does have academic programs, and learning it through a purely academic method.

  • 11:25:44

    ROBERTSNow, Brad Neese, given your experience there on the ground in South Carolina, what are some of your lessons about how you get parents to accept this, how you get companies to participate. And the third prong of this, of course, is -- are often community colleges, who are a very important element of this process in many cases. What are some of your lessons that could be applied to other states?

  • 11:26:07

    NEESEYeah, sure. And this sort of goes back to a point that the secretary was making. I think part of our success, certainly, is the tax credit. I think that that's been huge for our success. But really, when we talk about the success and what's happened in South Carolina is the idea of really, sort of a concierge service of helping companies go through the process of creating apprenticeship programs and then ultimately, hopefully, even registering them with the Department of Labor. And we do that with expertise and guidance and professionalism, and we do it free of charge for these companies. So that's a big deal.

  • 11:26:43

    NEESEYou know, what we do with our consultants is we help companies overcome any barriers that they have with developing apprenticeship programs. We talk to them about alternative funding sources. We talk to them about tax credits. We talk to them about all of the options that they have and things that are out there that can help their program be robust. You know, in terms of convincing parents and, you know, guidance counselors and those sorts of things, for us, it just becomes a conversation about economics. You know, Department of Labor statistics will tell you that an apprentice who's completed an apprenticeship program averages $55,000 per year. That's a pretty good income.

  • 11:27:27

    NEESEYou know, they make on average over $300,000 more than someone who hasn't completed an apprenticeship program. So for us, it's simple economics. And to be able to say, "Hey, yeah, okay, money's not going to buy you happiness but it'll buy you a boat." If you complete an apprenticeship program, it's probably going to buy you a nicer boat. So, and a lot of this, a lot of times, it's going to be done debt free.

  • 11:27:50

    ROBERTSDo you have a, Secretary Perez, a clearing house where these kinds of best practices -- because this is sort of federalism at its best, right, where each state figures out a different way? South Carolina is a little different because it does have this influx of foreign, European companies. But still, there are lessons here for other states, too.

  • 11:28:06

    PEREZAbsolutely. And we have an Office of Apprenticeship. We've worked very closely with Brad, who's been a leader. And what we're doing -- we have totally transformed how we do business, from the model of -- we were like the quality control specialists. We made sure that an apprenticeship was a registered apprenticeship, which meant that it met certain important quality metrics. We're still doing that. We are now a public-private partner. Through our investments, like the $100 million grant program -- through the development of what we call a leader program, which we frankly stole from the U.K., we have literally now hundreds of businesses that have signed up to be our ambassadors.

  • 11:28:45

    PEREZBecause the best way for us to get businesses to sign up is to get other businesses to evangelize. And so when we go out into communities, like South Carolina with Brad and other partners, and somebody says, "How can I afford to do this?" a business owner. I'll have another business owner there who will answer the question, "How can you afford not to?" And this -- the most frequent conversation I have, Steve, with employers now is, "I'm bullish about the future. I want to grow my business. My biggest barrier is, I need to make sure I have that skilled workforce." Apprenticeship provides that skilled workforce. And now the key is, scale and sustainability. And it involves investment at a federal level, state level, partnership at scale.

  • 11:29:29

    ROBERTSNow, I want to bring into the conversation -- we have, by phone, Christopher Stone. He's an apprentice for Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, N.C. Chris, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:29:40

    MR. CHRISTOPHER STONEHi. Thank you very much.

  • 11:29:42

    ROBERTSGive us your perspective. What drew you to -- we've been talking from a, sort of a blue-sky point of view. Give us your own personal experience of why you chose this route and what it's been like for you.

  • 11:29:55

    STONEWell, a big reason I chose the apprenticeship was I had always done very well in my classes. However, I never really had a true idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do something very hands-on and mechanically and technically strenuous. And when I found out about this program, it seemed perfect to me because, as you were mentioning previously, there's no college debt. So if things went horribly wrong for some reason, I turned out not liking it, there was no debt on my part. And it turned out to be a perfect fit for me because of what I'm in to.

  • 11:30:29

    ROBERTSAnd what's your experience been like? Give our listeners a sense of what your day is like, what your last few weeks have been like. What do you do?

  • 11:30:37

    STONEWell, actually, I'm finally getting started in the department I'm going to be going into when I finish my apprenticeship. I wake up about 5:30 in the morning, you know, just like everyone else, get dressed, get ready and head off to work. Except now I'm being trained on specifically, I'm going to be a field service engineer working on distillation and washing equipment for the printing industry. And, you know, I go in and I get to work with people that have been doing it for many years, who have very good experience with these machines and how to handle the customers. And so I get to start my morning off -- I'm actually in the process of doing a rebuild on one unit that we're going to be giving to another customer.

  • 11:31:11

    STONESo I get the hands-on experience of actually working on these machines. I'm re-plumbing it, replacing motors and pumps, and checking certain classifications to make sure it matches what we told the customer they're going to get. And then I have the opportunity to actually go into the office environment, communicate with customers, learn the proper way to interact with them, and really get to dial-in for when I'm on my own, how to talk to them properly.

  • 11:31:34

    ROBERTSAnd what do you get pain an hour?

  • 11:31:37

    STONERight now I'm approximately $13 an hour.

  • 11:31:40


  • 11:31:41

    STONEWhich, for someone my age, I'm only 20 years old and I'm just now going through, you know, all my college education, that's really great for what I know.

  • 11:31:51

    ROBERTSAnd we talked a lot about -- Secretary Perez, who's with us here, mentioned how sometimes when he runs into parents and others who are dubious about this. Did you have to convince your parents how it was -- what's their attitude been toward this decision you've made?

  • 11:32:10

    STONEWell, I guess, a very common phrase is "if it's too good to be true, it must be." And that seems to be the very common attitude toward this. It's like, this just seems, you know, too good. Who's going to pay for your college, give you a paycheck, and then expect nothing in return guaranteed? And, you know, my parents were just -- luckily for me, they were so shocked, they didn't question it. They were just like, you know, "What do you mean?" It's like, "They want to pay for my college. They want to give me a job." So they didn't have the opportunity to question me too much. But it's definitely more of a "It's too good to be true" kind of thing, to where you really have to make them believe it.

  • 11:32:45

    ROBERTSAnd what are, yes.

  • 11:32:47

    PEREZIf I were in a courtroom right now, I would say, "I rest my case, your honor."

  • 11:32:52

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Chris, another factor here is, you know, this is a cultural question. The kids you grew up with, what are they doing? Did they think this was a good idea? Would you recommend it to other people? Talk about that.

  • 11:33:12

    STONEWell, the first thing I want to address is, as far as recommending it, definitely. Although apprenticeships are making a comeback, I would love to have more people find out about them. Because there are a lot of people in the same situation I am. You know, I'm not very well off. I have to work for a living. And to be honest, I wouldn't want to have it any other way. But I'd like to see other people in the same situation have the opportunity I'm having. As far as other people my age, a lot of people I know who are -- they're currently going to college, which, you know, is perfectly fine. If that's the route you want to go, there's no doubting on it that college is great as well.

  • 11:33:46

    STONEIt's just the fact that they're going to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because of it and no guaranteed job afterwards. I have the exact opposite. I have no debt and a guaranteed job.

  • 11:33:56

    ROBERTSI'm going to give you a chance now, young man, to speak to the Secretary of Labor, who's here. And if you had -- if you had something to say to him about how these programs work, maybe something that could be done better, what would you tell the secretary? He's right here. Now's your chance.

  • 11:34:16

    STONEWell, as far as doing anything better, I don't know any dirty details, behind-the-scenes stuff. Everything I've seen has been awesome. All I can beg is that you keep pushing for it, you keep trying to get it -- more companies involved and just keep doing what you're doing. Because I feel there are so many great young guys out here and young women out here, just like me, who have the skill-set and who want to learn. They just don't have the opportunity or don't know about the opportunity.

  • 11:34:42

    PEREZI want to take him on the road, Steve. And, you know, Chris, your story is the story of -- that I hear across America. I spoke to a young person in San Francisco who said, "I have the golden ticket. I have the golden ticket," the reference to Willy Wonka. Because they were punching their ticket for life to the middle class. And what Chris said a couple times in his statement here is that he's getting his education as well. And, again, sometimes folks think that it's an either-or thing. Apprenticeship is the other college, except without the debt. And the challenge here, moving forward, is we need to scale this. And we need more people like Chris, who are out there, marketing this in communities across this country because we're building a movement.

  • 11:35:27

    PEREZWe have an Eisenhower moment here, Steve. Eisenhower brought us the Interstate Highway. And now we're building the skill superhighway. And that's what -- and we're doing it in a bipartisan way. And what we need are onramps and off ramps for people. And we need to fortify this apprenticeship onramp for the skill superhighway. And as we do that, we will help businesses to create that virtual cycle and we will help more people. Because the destination is the middle class on this highway.

  • 11:35:54

    ROBERTSNow, Brad Neese, you're there in South Carolina, right next door to Chris in North Carolina. As you listen to him, what are some lessons you're learning from Chris' experience?

  • 11:36:05

    NEESEWell, the first thing I'm thinking is, you know, Chris, Charlotte isn't that far from Columbia. You should come on down and work, but, you know, I think, to the secretary's point, I think it's a lesson that we're hearing over and over, is that I think we've sort of jumped the gun in making the statement that kids aren't interested or that people aren't interested in these opportunities. They are interested. It's our job to make sure that folks that are as talented and as smart as Chris know about the opportunities and that we're talking to people like their guidance counselors, the career specialists at the technical colleges or community colleges and giving them the information that they can make, you know, good quality recommendations to folks that are looking for these types of opportunities.

  • 11:36:54

    ROBERTSThat's a good point. Chris, how did you find out about the program?

  • 11:36:57

    STONEWell, the way I found out about it is my current apprenticeship coordinator, his name is Bob Romanelli. Prior to him, there was a gentleman named John Friguglietti. Italian names have to run in the business. And I -- my best friend throughout high school and even to this day, his brother went through the same program doing the exact same thing I want to do, service work. And so I knew just enough about the program to where, when a giant guy walked in with an amazing mustache -- he had a giant handlebar mustache -- he had my attention. And I was able to be one of the few kids, because nowadays it's real hard to keep...

  • 11:37:33

    ROBERTSChris, we're going to have to leave it there. But, Chris Stone, thanks so much for being with us. I'll be back with my guests in just a minute. So you stay tuned.

  • 11:40:02

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. Our subject this hour, apprenticeships and their spreading popularity across the country. And joining me this morning, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who has to leave, but I want to give you, Mr. Secretary, a final word here on what should listeners take away from this conversation.

  • 11:40:20

    PEREZThere was no partisanship about this conversation at all. Apprenticeship done right is a red, white and blue issue. I see success in South Carolina. I see success in Connecticut. I see success in Iowa. I see success in Massachusetts. I was at the National Governors Association summer meeting last weekend. We had a robust discussion about this. We're building a movement, Steve, and that's -- it's a skills movement, and the skills superhighway needs space for apprenticeship. And that's why we need to make sure we engage employers, and if there's an employer listening today, call us.

  • 11:40:55

    PEREZThat's why we need to engage policymakers, as Bob correctly said, and we need to engage young people who have remarkable interest. As we build this partnership, we can indeed take it to scale. We're seeing progress, but we've got a lot more work to do.

  • 11:41:09

    ROBERTSMr. Secretary, thanks for being with us on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 11:41:10

    ROBERTSAlways a pleasure, as always.

  • 11:41:13

    ROBERTSI have some emails, and let me read them and have the rest of my panel respond. Here's an email from Kay, and Aparna, you can take this one. Sure, college isn't right for everyone, but there's more to college than vocational training. It's an extension of education and enculturation. Why doesn't the administration focus on making college, including vocational college, less expensive by making apprenticeship part of the curriculum?

  • 11:41:39

    ROBERTSAs we've been saying, this not an either-or question.

  • 11:41:41

    MATHURAbsolutely, and I think what we're missing in this debate is that what we really want people to get is a lot of hands-on work experience. And, you know, we've had this focus on getting certain career majors that might give you skills, on getting, you know, skill-specific abilities in college, through community college. But what we find is that with paid apprenticeships, I think the returns are a lot higher.

  • 11:42:07

    MATHURSo you're learning not just academic skills, but you're actually learning the skills that you need on the job. And so there are studies that compare a two-year community college, you know, occupation-specific degree to the returns from paid apprenticeships and finds that the returns are nearly six times higher for paid apprenticeships. So I think, you know, we -- I agree that, you know, people who want to go to college, absolutely that's, you know, if that works for you, do it. But apprenticeships are equally -- an equally good opportunity, an equally good learning experience and will, you know, get you to the -- to your workplace debt-free and with the amazing experience that you need.

  • 11:42:45

    ROBERTSNow Bob Lerman, Jay emails us. I'm in my 60s with two college degrees, which never did me much good, and I can't find work. Are there apprenticeships available for me? If so, what fields would be best to try? Got any answer for him?

  • 11:42:59

    LERMANNo, but no, look, apprenticeships are operating in England at -- for older workers, as well. I think, you know, this is a key problem, which is yeah, people would like to get apprenticeships, and in fact in some apprenticeships like the apprenticeship school in Newport News, Virginia, you have huge numbers of applicants for very small numbers of openings. So the big thing is to try to increase the number of slots.

  • 11:43:33

    LERMANAnd one of the things that Brad said, I think, that needs to be emphasized is the need to have a kind of retail marketing approach, where you work with firms. Firms, even -- although this program covers a big reach, a lot of firms still don't know what apprenticeship really is and how it's going to help their business.

  • 11:43:54

    ROBERTSAnd Brad Neese, let me read you this email from Margaret. I am concerned that the college prep track that seems to be standard now in North Carolina high schools discourages young people and results in many dropping out from school and often from a lifetime of legal independence and contribution to society. I'd like to see us capture the interest of young people, even before high school age, with work that they find interesting and rewarding and help them develop skills and find jobs.

  • 11:44:23

    ROBERTSAs a small business owner, I need the services of these skilled trades for many services, IT, construction, office management, machining, the list goes on. How do you sell this to young people?

  • 11:44:38

    NEESEWell, you know, again, I think the first thing to do is to go back to the sale piece, to the company. But one of the things, and to her point, you know, what we're seeing more and more is companies that are interested in affecting their own pipeline earlier and earlier and earlier. And that means doing what we're calling youth apprenticeship programs. And that's really become one of the fastest growing products, if you will, that we have in our state right now.

  • 11:45:03

    NEESETwo years ago, we had two companies that were doing youth apprenticeship programs. That's apprenticeship programs with 16- and 17-year-olds. Two years, two companies, today we have 80, and so, you know, I couldn't agree more. We need to start looking at the opportunity to give kids relevant work experience, relevant education and keep them interested. And a way to do that is put them on a track where they're earning and learning at the same time in a vocation or an occupation where they've actually shown interest.

  • 11:45:35

    ROBERTSLet's -- let me turn to some of our callers here. Dan in St. Louis, Missouri, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Dan.

  • 11:45:41

    DANGood morning, thank you. Another enjoyable and enlightening panel.

  • 11:45:46

    ROBERTSWe're happy to have you. What's on your mind this morning?

  • 11:45:48

    DANWell, to contrast with Chris' terrific story, I graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 1985 with a BFA, bachelor of fine arts, in photography and museum studies. And I had a choice to make, whether to go to grad school to pursue a career in conservation and restoration of art work, fine art works, and I chose the apprenticeship route, and I've thanked my lucky stars every day for the mentoring that I pursued and who I worked with.

  • 11:46:26

    DANAnd I'm still working in the field, and it's just been wonderful. Recently I examined masterpiece murals in the capitol dome in Jefferson City with a team, and when you find the niche, and you love the work, it just goes on and on.

  • 11:46:44

    ROBERTSStay on the line, Dan. Aparna, this is an interesting dimension we haven't talked a lot about, which is the mentorship piece of apprenticeships.

  • 11:46:52


  • 11:46:52

    ROBERTSNot just learning a skill, there's a lot more that goes on. And that's really the great European tradition, isn't it, of a master passing on not just the skills...

  • 11:47:01


  • 11:47:01

    ROBERTSBut a whole approach to work.

  • 11:47:05

    MATHURExactly, and you can think of it as learning. I mean, we tend to think of it as just, you know, learning a specific skill to do a job, but I think you're getting this wholesome experience, where you're working with a person who's already highly trained, highly skilled, an expert. And if you can do it in the field of work that you really enjoy, I mean, it can be -- you know, it can be such an amazing experience.

  • 11:47:27

    MATHURSo I do -- you know, I'm glad that you found the niche that you wanted to explore and that you're working, and these apprenticeship programs are like that. You know, we -- you get not just the training to do the job, you get sort of an approach to life and an approach to sort of meeting your financial needs, planning for your retirement, everything.

  • 11:47:51

    ROBERTSDan, are you a mentor yourself now?

  • 11:47:52

    DANWhenever I can. When I have large projects, I take on extra people, and I love that experience. I do outreach, speaking with community groups. And there's one other thing, which I was inspired by what I just heard, is that I'm not putting any negative spin on grad programs, but to compare the two, one is in the real world working, where you're learning your hands-on skill and also customer relations and practical things like running a business, and that -- let's say the contrast of the grad program might be a bit of a vacuum, let's say, and a difference to that.

  • 11:48:29

    ROBERTSDan, thank you very much for your call this morning. We appreciate it. Bob Lerman, let me read another email here, which is a different point of view and important to reflect. Apprenticeship, writes our listener, is not the other college without the debt. College requires that students take courses outside of their area of interest or major. I will be graduating from UNF, I assume that's University of North Florida, on Friday with a bachelor's degree of history at the age of 31, minoring in anthropology, and yet because of class requirements and the university's encouragement to expand our knowledge base, I know much more than I would have learned outside of a college course about economics, political science, public health, et cetera.

  • 11:49:11

    ROBERTSI find it poignant that the secretary of labor, and not of education, is making the assertion that apprenticeship is the same as high education. Respond to that. We got several emails along the same line.

  • 11:49:26

    LERMANWell, I teach at American University, economics. I love when people like to learn economics. And I think that we have to recognize, however, that sameness is not equality, that people have different approaches, and some people -- one of the great things about apprenticeship is that it teaches a lot of young people how to learn.

  • 11:49:49

    LERMANAnd when they complete that apprenticeship, they gain confidence in their ability to learn. And many of them do, then, go on to four-year degrees, academic approaches. And today there's so many ways of learning history, economics and other fields, in addition to the pure college framework.

  • 11:50:09

    ROBERTSAnd Bob, I, too, am a college professor at George Washington, and I understand what you're saying, that four-year colleges, particularly for an 18-year-old, is not always the right thing. People not only differently, they learn at different paces. There are different levels of maturity. We're not drawing an either-or distinction here.

  • 11:50:27


  • 11:50:27

    ROBERTSThat part of what you're saying is that apprenticeships can lead and mature people to the point where they can take full advantage of higher education, which they might not be able to do at 18.

  • 11:50:41

    LERMANRight, and I think there is a difference. We shouldn't try to channel everybody through the same route, and even this gentleman, he's completing at age 31. So he did some other things between high school and where he is today, finishing college. The other -- I just want to add on the mentoring point, in academic institutions, such as community colleges or high schools, there's often one counselor for maybe 500 young people. In apprenticeships, there's one mentor for every two or three.

  • 11:51:17

    LERMANSo you have that personal approach that you don't get in a pure, school-based setting.

  • 11:51:24

    ROBERTSGood point. Joel in Durham, North Carolina, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Joel.

  • 11:51:28

    JOELYes, good morning, hi. I just wanted to -- I'm 72 years old. I went through an apprenticeship in the early '60s in the IBW, it was a union apprenticeship. And this is a great, a great opportunity that you guys are talking about here, and I've had a great, a great life. I have a retirement. I had my own business, electrical contracting business. And it was a stepping stone. The young apprenticeship that I went through just set me up for a great life, and I have no regrets about any of it.

  • 11:52:07

    JOELBut I'm concerned now, in North Carolina, the apprenticeships are mostly with the large companies, like the Watsons and the Brian Durhams and the large companies. And all the small companies, probably thousands of them, how are the apprenticeships -- are you working, too, with the small contractors to get their people into apprenticeships? And that's my question, and I guess...

  • 11:52:37

    ROBERTSThank you, Joel, and I'll turn to Brad Neese there in South Carolina, who has hands-on experience with this. How would you answer Joel, Brad?

  • 11:52:43

    NEESEYeah, absolutely. You know, one of my favorite stories that I tell about apprenticeship and helping companies, there's a small, one-person shop in rural South Carolina that was a pest control company, and this guy wanted to hire an apprentice to not only teach him how to do pest control but to also learn the business and sort of pass along his legacy to that company.

  • 11:53:07

    NEESESo, you know, among the 750 business that we have, sure, yeah, we have CVS, we have Michelin, we have a lot of large companies, but there's a lot of small- to medium-sized companies that really make up the bulk of what these companies are. And so again, you know, a lot of this is just looking at the companies' needs, looking at going in and being specific to what their needs are and not taking things off the shelf and connecting them to resources that are going to help make this -- you know, make economic sense to actually develop an apprenticeship program.

  • 11:53:41

    NEESEA lot of times that means pulling groups of small business together to make sure that the economics of education sort of fit.

  • 11:53:50

    ROBERTSGood point. I'm Steve Roberts. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And by the way, a lot of people want to know more about this subject. Brad Neese, who just spoke from South Carolina, has written a blog post for us at our website, "Five Myths about Apprenticeships and How to Tell What's Right For You." You can find that. And Bob Lerman, who's with me here from AU, has also written a post for us, "Your Guide to Apprenticeships." So anybody who's listening today who wants to learn more about how -- whether for their own education, whether they've got a nephew or someone, or a niece, who is interested in this, we'll try to help you steer through this.

  • 11:54:21

    ROBERTSAnd Jerry in Kalamazoo, Michigan, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:54:25

    JERRYGood morning.

  • 11:54:25

    ROBERTSGood morning, Jerry.

  • 11:54:28

    JERRYI just wanted to point out that this is not a plug-and-play deal. You are working under a journeyman. Everything you study, you have to perform on the job under his tutelage. This is -- this is strictly work-oriented. By the time you're done, those hours on the job have to be logged and registered with the Department of Labor before you're going to get your card.

  • 11:54:54

    ROBERTSOkay, Jerry. Aparna, do you have a reaction?

  • 11:54:56

    MATHURYeah, absolutely. You know, these are structured programs, and you're getting the specific skills that you need for the job, but you're also learning academic skills, and you're basically -- you know, I think the good thing with apprenticeships is that they give workers the confidence that they need to perform the job, to, you know, move on with life. If at that time you decide that, okay, now I have the skill and the training that I need to maybe start off my own business, yes, absolutely, you would do that.

  • 11:55:22

    ROBERTSBut he's also talking about discipline and accountability, right?

  • 11:55:24

    MATHURRight, yeah.

  • 11:55:26

    ROBERTSAnd that being in a -- particularly for these younger people, this is one of the key lessons here. It's not just a skill.

  • 11:55:30


  • 11:55:31

    ROBERTSIt's how to be a productive...

  • 11:55:34


  • 11:55:34

    ROBERTSWorker, right?

  • 11:55:35

    MATHURYeah, absolutely, and I think the earlier we get that training, because a lot of our success in life I think comes from our behaviors and our attitudes at an early age. And I think when younger workers get into these kind of programs, the -- you know, one of the skills that they learn is to be disciplined, to report on time for the job and to, you know, be productive and to show that you can achieve your goals.

  • 11:55:56

    ROBERTSNow Brad Neese, we've got just a few seconds. If an employer is listening to us this morning, what would you tell her or him about the value of apprenticeships?

  • 11:56:08

    NEESEWell, you know, the value is what you put into it, to be perfectly honest with you. I think what I would say again is to first start with looking at what your needs are with a company and structuring an apprenticeship program based around what your needs are. You know, I think we talk a lot less about some of the things that Jerry mentioned, which to me is a little bit of an antiquated view of apprenticeship. We talk a lot more about competency and taking a person from where they are today into a really high, productive level, person in some period of time.

  • 11:56:46

    NEESESo, you know, every company has a need. It's -- every company is competing for talent. Apprenticeship is not going to be a fit for every single company, but it certainly has a fit for a vast majority.

  • 11:57:01

    ROBERTSAnd quickly, Bob Lerman, if you were talking to a student or a young person, what would you say about apprenticeships?

  • 11:57:07

    LERMANWell, apprenticeship will give you a sense of pride. It'll give you a sense of accomplishment. It'll give you a sense of how to work in a workplace setting with adults, and it will give you the discipline that you need. The apprenticeship masters not only follow what they're doing in the workplace, but they follow what they're doing in their coursework.

  • 11:57:30

    ROBERTSRobert Lerman, professor of economics at AU, also a fellow at Urban Institute. Also with me, Aparna Mathur from the American Enterprise Institute, Brad Neese, he runs Apprenticeship Carolina. We were also delighted to have with us Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Christopher Stone, who is an apprentice for Max Detweiler Corporation in North Carolina. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Thanks for spending an hour of your morning with us.

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