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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A few weeks ago, we did a program on the job prospects for this year's college graduates. And by most accounts, 2006 is a terrific year for them. Data vary by region and profession, but many companies are hiring more new college grads and paying them higher salaries.

Unfortunately, the prospects do not look so good for the high school seniors who plan to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate. About a third of high school grads do not go onto college, and a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies predicts many of them will have trouble finding a job this summer. An expanding teenage population flooded the job market, the report says. There's an influx of immigrant labor and increased competition from college grads and unemployed adults.

Today, we'll take a look at this job market for new high school graduates. We'll talk with an economist about who is hiring and what skills are in demand, and with the president of a company who's having a hard time finding skilled employees for his construction company.

Later in the program, a community college course that's a boot camp for would-be animal trainers. But first, the job prospects for today's high school grads. If you graduated high school in the past year or so, call and tell us about your experience with the job search. If you're an employer, what jobs are you looking to fill, and what skills do candidates need?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@NPR.org. And we start in Conklin, New York, where high school senior Joe Ostrowsky joins us. Hi, Joe. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOE OSTROWSKY (Senior, Susquehanna Valley High School): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: I'm good. You're graduating this Saturday?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Yes.

CONAN: From Susquehanna Valley High School there in Conklin. Congratulations.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Thank you.

CONAN: Now, I understand you're not planning to go to college, at least not right away.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Nope.

CONAN: What are you doing?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Well, right now I've got a job at Vector Marketing.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: And I'm a sales rep for a Cutco.

CONAN: Cutco makes knives, right?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Yep, Cutco Knives.

CONAN: And you sell them door-to-door?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: No. I go to people's houses that I know first, and they give me references. After that, they come. They set up an appointment with me.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: (unintelligible)

CONAN: That's kind of door-to-door, but I guess there's a difference between going someplace where you have an appointment and just knocking - a cold knock on the door. But how does that work out in terms of money?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Oh, it works really great. I get paid no matter what. There's a base pay...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: ...which is $16.25. And, of course, if I sell, I get a commission.

CONAN: And is this what you want to do for a career?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Well, I'm looking into it. I just started last week, and I'm loving it so far.

CONAN: Aha. I understand, though, you have another aim - a dream, maybe.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Yes. I want to be a standup comedian.

CONAN: Well, if you're doing salesman work, I think you're collecting material.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Oh, yes, I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You want to be a standup comedian. So do they have an improv club there in - well, you must be around Binghamton, New York, somewhere.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Do they - so is that place you could go and tryout?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: I think there is. I think there's a Giggles Comedy Club somewhere around here, and I'm just going to, like, travel all over and try to find some places to go because I have an open schedule.

CONAN: Aha. Oh, so you can do these appointments whenever the people are home or whenever's convenient.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Exactly. I set my own schedule, so if I don't want to work today, I don't have to. But you get what you put into it, so I work a lot. I work really hard, and it really pays off.

CONAN: Yeah, the ideal is you may not have to, but, of course, you do if you want to get paid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Exactly.

CONAN: What about your friends, the other kids graduating with you on Saturday? Most of them going onto college, or most of them going to be looking for work like you?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Most of them are going to college, actually. There's people going to community colleges. There's people that already have scholarships and...

CONAN: I'm sure that you know, basically, that if you go on to college and graduate with a degree, a four-year college, I think the figures - you end up with an average salary of $51,000-plus, as opposed to if you don't, when your salary's likely to be something around 28.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Well, I don't really - I do believe that, because, yes, that is true, but I'm so passionate about my comedy career and I know I can do it if I just go out there and work hard. And I work hard with this job, I think I can make more than what they say I'm going to make.

CONAN: And is there a plan B?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Well, plan B really is this marketing job. I mean, my plan A is to be a comedian.

CONAN: Right.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: And I also have a - I also took a civil service test for a state job.

CONAN: Ah, that's plan C.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Yeah, plan C. I have backup plans all over, just in case.

CONAN: So have you heard about the results of the civil service exam yet?

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Not yet. It should be coming in very shortly, because it's been 90 - it's about 60 days already, and it takes 90 to 60, 60 to 90 days for them to grade the test. So I'm just waiting for my results.

CONAN: Sixty to 90 days. You're already learning about the civil service.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Yep.

CONAN: Yep. Well, good luck to you, and congratulations, again, on graduating on Saturday.

Mr. OSTROWSKY: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Joe Ostrowsky will graduate from Susquehanna Valley High School, and, as you heard, hopes to be a standup comedian one day. Just remember, you heard him here first. He spoke with us from his home in Conklin, New York.

Joining us now is Andrew Sum, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. He's with us from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston. Nice to have you on the program today.

Excuse me, we're still trying to find Professor Sum. And is he there?

Professor ANDREW SUM (Director, Center for Labor Market Studies, North Eastern University): Yes.

CONAN: Ah, there you are. Okay.

Prof. SUM: Yes.

CONAN: Welcome to the program. Nice to talk to you.

Prof. SUM: Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: And I gather - I don't know if you've been listening - but Joe's situation is not that common amongst today's high school graduates.

Prof. SUM: I would say his current situation is not that common in several respects - not in terms of his ability to get a job, although it's become, in the last few years, somewhat more difficult...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Prof. SUM: ...but in terms of Joe's expected pay. If I understood Joe correctly, he was implying that he had a base pay, I think he said, of $16.50, while I was listening to him.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Prof. SUM: And that rate of pay would be more than double what the average starting wage is for a high school graduate.

CONAN: I think that's per home visit...

Prof. SUM: Ah, okay.

CONAN: ...and, obviously, it may take a while to get to the home and then get to the next one...

Prof. SUM: Okay. Okay.

CONAN: ...so whether that's per hour or not is debatable.

Prof. SUM: Okay, yeah, that's what I wasn't sure of. The other thing is that Joe's job is held - a job like that is held by about one in 10 newly hired high school graduates, based on the last few years' experience of doing sales or customer service rep. But, like I said, I wasn't sure what Joe's hours or rate of pay were.

CONAN: Well, it seemed that he was most interested in the flexibility, and, of course, he makes some money selling Costco Knives, but I think that he can go around and perhaps pursue his other interests as well. In terms of the job market, though, for high school graduates, not so good this year? Post-Broadcast Correction: The correct name of the product is Cutco knives, not Costco Knives.

Prof. SUM: Well, Neal, I would say that the picture is, in some ways, a little mixed. The labor market for new high school graduates in the last five years has been very difficult relative to where young people were at the end of the boom of the 1999, 2000. Job prospects for teenagers and young adults fell far more precipitously than for any other age group in the economy.

In the last year, though, for the first time since 2000, we began to observe an improvement in the ability of teenagers and young high school grads to get jobs, and we expect that this summer will be also a little bit better than what situation - and this fall will be a little bit better than what it was last year. But that'll still put young people at - still fairly far down where they were.

Let me just give you two numbers to put that in perspective, Neal. Last summer, high school graduates who were not in college - young high school graduates who were not in college - worked at about a 57 percent rate, 57 out of every 100 were able to obtain some type of job. And by the time you get to the fall in October, the employment rate for the kids who did not - like Joe said, were not going to go on to college - was running about 62. Sixty-two out of every 100 versus 70 percent, oh, just five years ago.

So in that sense, the labor market has - we kind of like bottomed out in 2003, 2004. We had not seen much movement in 2005. But in the last six months, young workers have been, for the first time, been able to pick up some of the increased share of jobs that the economy's been generating.

So that's why I do not discourage young people. I would say there are more jobs out there today than was true last year. There are more jobs vacant today than was true last year. But you'll also still find that you face a fairly high number of competitors for available work. So it'll still take, you know, a lot of hard work to find the job of your choosing.

CONAN: Well, let's get listeners involved in the conversation. Our number, again: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. If you graduated high school in the past year or so, what has your job search been like? If you're an employer, what kind of employees are you looking for? Are you hiring?

And let's talk with Bodie(ph), Bodie's calling us from Boise, Idaho.

BODIE (Caller): Hi, I'm - my name's Bodie, and I manage a firefighting company out of Boise, Idaho called Patrick Corporation.

CONAN: Uh huh.

BODIE: And we're hiring right now, and we want anyone who's graduated high school, college, who's interested in a new, exciting career in the wild land firefighting industry. And we travel all over the country, pretty much been to all the states fighting fire, except for maybe like the Northeast.

CONAN: So this sounds like one of those companies that fights wildfires.

BODIE: Yeah, we do wildfire, and then we help out with the hurricanes and stuff, too.

CONAN: And how much does it pay?

BODIE: We start out at $7.39 an hour, plus the first 40 hours every week, we give out health benefit of $2.83...

CONAN: And...

BODIE: ...and after 40 hours, it goes off, because we usually work an average of 60 to 120 hours a week.

CONAN: And if you're off in - not in there at home base in Boise, Idaho - but off in Wyoming or Alaska or wherever, presumably, they get paid room and board as well.

BODIE: Yeah, that's correct.

CONAN: Yeah, let me just ask Andrew Sum, is Bodie offering competitive rates there?

Prof. SUM: The salary for Idaho was probably in the ballpark of what the average grad has been getting there. And Bodie said he was located out in a state that has one of the three highest employment rates for young high school graduates in the country.

CONAN: So it might make sense is why he's looking for workers, yeah.

Prof. SUM: Absolutely, Idaho stands right near, right near the top - tied actually with number two with North Dakota last year.

CONAN: And, Bodie, are you finding it difficult, thereby, to get young people who are qualified?

BODIE: Yeah, like I think because of the construction industry, we've been getting less applicants than we normally do.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

BODIE: And, I mean, like first few years that we're here in Boise, we were getting lots and lots, just like overwhelmed - hundreds and hundreds of applicants, 40 to 50 a day. And right now, it's maybe like five to 10 people are coming in and applying. And out of that, like maybe one or two meet our qualifications.

CONAN: So you're thinking about raising your pay, or something else to attract more applicants?

BODIE: We've begun to diversify, like our advertisements. We're starting this kind of - we've just been doing newspaper ads, and now we're going to put up flyers, and maybe something on the Internet, and kind of expand in that way.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. And good luck to you, especially good luck when you're out on the job. That's - it's difficult and dangerous work.

BODIE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bodie calling us from Boise, Idaho. We're going to take a short break and come back and talk more with Andrew Sum, who's a professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. If you'd like to join the conversation about jobs and the job market for new high school graduates, 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. This is graduation season, and many of this year's high school seniors are, or soon will be, out looking for jobs. So if you graduated this year or last year, maybe the year before, how's the job search going for you? If you're an employer, what's the market like? Who are you hiring? What qualifications do you look like? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org.

Our guest is Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Jason, Jason's with us from Athens, Ohio.

JASON (Caller): Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JASON: I guess on this program, I'm going to be like a voice of experience since I graduated in the late '80s from high school, and chose not to go on to college.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

JASON: At that time, I went in the military, got some good training in the military. It wasn't infantry-type training. It was actual electronics training.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

JASON: Did that for five years, and then went into the IT computer field, which I did up until 2004. Most of my training at that time was on-the-job training by people who were willing to give me the training. And I actually had some pretty good jobs. In 2004, I quit my job to be an at-home healthcare giver for my parents.

Since moving to this area and leaving my job, I've been applying for jobs that I could've written the job application for to describe exactly what I have done for the past 12 to 14 years now. And because I have not had a college degree of any sort, they - I've basically been given the cold shoulder, not even getting responses. The responses I do get say we've found somebody who better fits the position.

CONAN: The qualifications, meaning somebody with a sheepskin. I just wonder -we'll go to Andrew Sum to get a bigger picture answer on this - but does anybody count the fact that you're a veteran into the equation?

JASON: Are you talking to me, Neal?

CONAN: Yeah.

JASON: I have not had any feedback at all from the fact that I'm a veteran, or the training that I received in the military - which was a high-level electronics training - for the last 10 years or so has been basically ignored. Now, my experience from the past 14 years has been in the IT field, but these days - it seems like once I got out of the system where...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

JASON: ...it was accepted that my experience was valuable - when I apply for jobs these days and do not have a college degree, I think that the basic feeling is well, we can get somebody directly out of college who has a four-year degree and pay them a lot less. And we know that, you know, they do have that piece of paper on the wall, which I do not have.

CONAN: Yeah, Andrew Sum, Jason's experience - well you'd think IT is a field where experience would matter more than actual - you know, especially after you've been working 10 or 12 years.

Prof. SUM: Neal, I would agree. What Jason's predicament is, is partly that he explains that there has been, you know, unfortunately, a relative surplus of IT workers in the last few years after the boom ended. And employers, until recently, you know, have had more choice over whom they would like to hire for existing positions.

The only thing that I would say is to Jason, is to continue to go out and push your experience and your track record on that, because, overall, most employers still do place a high priority on that. And what you may have to do is adjust your wage somewhat to make yourself more competitive.

But young people who have a lot of experience and a lot of training, on average, do just as well in the labor market as, you know, as young college graduates coming out of school.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Prof. SUM: So I would just suggest that on the job search strategy, again, keep pushing the experience record and keep your wage a little flexible to prove what you know on the job.

CONAN: Or, Jason, I guess the other alternative might be to go back to school.

JASON: Well that's what I'm looking at now. When you're 37, 38 years old and you really need the income, it's a little difficult. But at this point, I'm kind of looking at retraining, getting into something that's more in demand right now, I guess. The demand for IT has went down. It seems like there's been a glut of people coming directly out of college with a computer science degree, and they can get, basically, anybody they want with any degree for a very small salary.

CONAN: Okay, well, Jason, good luck to you.

JASON: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. We wanted to hear from an employer on this, so joining us now is Billy Harper. He's the president of Harper Industries, a nationwide commercial and industrial construction company with over 1,000 employees. He's with us today from his office in Paducah, Kentucky. Very good of you to take the time to speak with us.

Mr. BILLY HARPER (President, Harper Industries): Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.

CONAN: With a company of your size, you must find yourself with quite a few job openings.

Mr. HARPER: We do, and unfortunately, it's hard to fill some of them. And the other side is it's neat that our industry is booming right now, so as we fill them, we have more demand.

CONAN: So you have jobs open right now?

Mr. HARPER: We do. We probably have somewhere between 25 and 50 jobs at this point that we could fill.

CONAN: To do what?

Mr. HARPER: Oh, anywhere from ready mix truck drivers, to construction crews that would be willing to travel, to some support personnel in office estimating project management.

CONAN: And would a high school graduate qualify for one of these jobs?

Mr. HARPER: In some cases, particularly depending on age. If they could get a commercial driver's license that would certainly provide opportunity to start in the - onsite with truck driving and ready mix trucks. Also, there's some openings for construction laborers. And then other positions they could work their way up to.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And at this point, what skills are you looking for? I mean, beyond those actual accomplishments like, you know, a commercial driver's license?

Mr. HARPER: Well, you're always looking for the soft skills: somebody who knows how to show up and work on time and be there every day, be presentable to the public - those sort of things - as well as being able to communicate, and in many cases, have at least basic operational fundamentals of computers and keyboard.

CONAN: So it sounds like the attendance record is something you might look at pretty closely on a transcript.

Mr. HARPER: Absolutely. We probably lose more people over attendance, either tardiness or being late, and drug tests, than any other issue.

CONAN: Really?

Mr. HARPER: Unfortunately, that's true.

CONAN: Huh. So if somebody presents themselves well, show - you know, gives some sign that they're willing to show up on time and have a good work ethic, that's usually pretty good enough for you?

Mr. HARPER: That gives us a definite starting point. And then, obviously, the stronger their skills and the more development they have, then they can move as far as they're willing to go.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And can - is there opportunity to move up the ladder?

Mr. HARPER: Absolutely. We have everywhere from CEOs of our companies to operational people - some people still in the ranks, all of them with high school diplomas, and very capable in their areas.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on this conversation. And let me just do that because I hit the wrong key there. And here is Dawn, Dawn calling us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

DAWN (Caller): Hi, Neal. I love your show. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

DAWN: As an employer, I own an upscale fitness center, and I have - during the summertime, after graduation - probably a dozen or so students or graduates come to my facility looking for work. And most of these young people come to the door not prepared to visit with me regarding a job. They come dressed -girls in shorts and halter tops, guys in jeans and flip-flops and t-shirts. None of them have resumes, and my question is: what is being done in high school to groom and prepare these young people to go out and properly search for a job?

CONAN: Hmm. It's interesting. Billy Harper, it sounds like a variation of the same problem you have with some of your applicants from high school.

DAWN: That's correct.

CONAN: Yeah. Billy Harper, are you still there?

Mr. HARPER: I'm here.

CONAN: Yeah. Does that sound - does Dawn's experience sound familiar to you?

Mr. HARPER: Unfortunately, it is. And, again, the soft skills and just walking in and knowing how to present themselves with a resume and that sort of thing. So, there's definitely some training needed on that part, and how to interview, how to speak, would certainly help a lot of them. Because many of these students have a lot of capability that we just don't see in an interview.

CONAN: Yeah. Andrew Sum, let me ask you Dawn's question, and that is - don't high school's train people to go out and prepare for real world job interviews?

Prof. SUM: Well, Neal, I'm glad that topic came up, because I've involved with school-to-work programs for more than 20 years. There are programs around the country, part of Jobs for America's Graduates Network that works with young high school students to help prepare them for jobs. Every aspect, from resume preparation, interviewing, soft skill development, basic skills development. We have programs in Boston that the Private Industry Council runs that does that.

And I would suggest to both Dawn and to the gentleman from Harper's Construction that - I know there are similar programs like that in Kentucky -that he contact the school-to-career programs that do this type of training very well, the Jobs for Kentucky Graduates program that does that. And there are a number of vocational technical programs that provide a lot of co-op education experience to their students so they're generally prepared with work experience when they graduate.

So there are avenues in which this can be done. But I would agree with both of them in that these programs I'm talking about really need to be expanded to a considerable degree. We only touch a very small subset of all the students that'll be entering the labor market. But there are a number of programs doing this, aiming at exactly those sets of skills and - but there's clearly, as they say, a good deal more work that needs to be done here.

CONAN: And Dawn, I assume that every once in a while, some of these kids actually work out and do okay.

DAWN: That's true, and what's sad is those are the exception. So, I hope, you know, a lot of these kids probably have a lot of potential, but I just feel like they haven't had the guidance.

CONAN: Dawn, thanks very much for the call, and good luck with this year's hiring round. And Billy Harper, as you look ahead, do you see this problem getting better or getting worse?

Mr. HARPER: I think it will get better. Kentucky has just passed some legislation recently where this is going to be injected into the high school curriculum. So, we're starting to move to help these students present themselves to the public in the key scholarships and things that we're doing. So, there are steps being made to move forward. It's just we can no longer just turn our hand in the sand. I think businesses have got to continue communicating with the school system to make sure it gets done.

CONAN: And to make sure that they know what employers actually want in terms of their hires.

Mr. HARPER: Exactly.

CONAN: Billy Harper thanks very much, and good luck to you as well.

Mr. HARPER: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Billy Harper, president of Harper Industries, which is a nationwide commercial and industrial construction company. And he called us today - we called him, actually, at his office in Paducah, Kentucky.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is John. John calling from Phoenix, Arizona.

JOHN (Caller): Hi, yes, this is John Mitchell, actually. I just wanted to say that my company offers something that might be useful to employers. I think we're the only company in the country that does this. We actually recruit for -on behalf of companies hourly workers, high school graduates, and we provide an assessment that measures somebody's soft skills that some of your previous callers were asking for. Things like tenure, drug avoidance, supervisory skills.

We have a 64 question psychological assessment that once they pass, we forward those applications on to prospective employers. And we do a very good job of connecting some, you know, underprivileged kids, as well as, you know, just normal high school kids who don't know how to go out and find some of these positions. And we help employers, because we can do it for several of them and we can kind of more economically recruit those applicants on their behalf.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And there's a commercial character to this or is this a - or do you do this - you know, is this for a profit company?

JOHN: Well, some of - it is a for-profit company. We do donate our technology. We have 22 job boards. We donate our technology to several non-profit organizations to help those kids find jobs. And we also charge employers kind of on a per applicant basis, you know, for those applications.

CONAN: Andrew Sum, that sounds like a kind of an extension to what you were talking about.

Prof. SUM: Yes it is. Some of the work that John was referring to is done by a number of these other programs as well. Although, they don't go into - always into the same degree on the psychological testing, which I know a number of firms themselves are doing. But, Neal, let me just ask John this, as well.

While the issue of soft skills clearly is sighted by many employers as an obstacle to hiring young people, one of the problems we have is that the way you acquire soft skills often is by learning how to work. So when you don't work in high school, it's harder for you to have skills to present to employers.

And one of the major problems we've had, Neal, is that in the last five years, the employment rate among high school students in the country has fallen to an all-time low, since the end of World War II. So, what we've been failing to do is provide more young people in their sophomore, junior, senior year a chance to acquire the jobs, the soft skills, the hard skills. Make it easier for them to transition that labor market. And it would be easier for John as well and his company to match them to existing jobs.

CONAN: Okay.

Prof. SUM: So, we need to do a better job on all three of these fronts, but his assistance and the type of work he's doing is clearly a desirable intermediary approach.

CONAN: John, thank you very much. Good luck.

JOHN: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about high school graduates and the search for work, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's talk with Maria. Maria's calling us from Portland, Oregon.

MARIA (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

MARIA: Hi. Yes. I was calling because being a mother of three children and having sent two of them to college, I know how expensive it is to go to college. And we usually, through conversations, we tend to discourage -especially I concentrate on Hispanic children - on either not keeping the skills of being bilingual or not dreaming to go to college, because it's too expensive. And actually being bilingual is an additional skill that probably they usually don't tend to give credit themselves for.

CONAN: I see. Yeah. They tend to think, of course I can do that.

MARIA: Well, they never think of how important it is. And it usually takes five years of college or more to be good at expressing yourself well in Spanish, and you don't have the culture behind it. And these children have both. And nobody reminds them how important it is and how many employers will take them first just because they're bilingual.

I was born and raised in Mexico, came here when I was 21. And right now I have three jobs, and mainly because I'm bilingual. And one of them is a lesson instructor teaching Spanish non-credit classes. The other one is as an interpreter at a hospital. And my very first one that I got through a big HMO was because I was bilingual. And I've learned too many skills just by working with this many companies, and after you experience that then you can choose what you want to do.

CONAN: Maria, that's a great suggestion. Thanks very much. And I just wonder, Andrew Sum, like her bilingual students and her bilingual children, kids don't all the time give themselves credit for what they actually can do.

Prof. SUM: I think this is partly true, Neal. That young people oftentimes do have more skills than they suggest. And by the way, there is research support for Maria's view that bilingualism does have a separate favorable economic payoff for the people that possess it.

At the same time - particularly given the fact that a larger share of our high school students are Hispanic - the evidence, though, is overwhelming that being strongly grounded in English speaking skills is one of the most overwhelming determinants of the success of Hispanic and other immigrant students. So, I would say a strong base in English first, combined with a strong base in Spanish, gives you an added advantage in the labor market.

CONAN: Maria, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

MARIA: Thank you. Bye bye.

CONAN: Bye bye. And we'd like to thank Andrew Sum for his time today. Good of you to join us in the studio.

Prof. SUM: You're welcome Neal. It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: Andrew Sum, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. And he spoke with us today from the studios of our member station in Boston, Massachusetts, WBUR.

When we come back from a short break: graduates of a different sort: from a boot camp for want-to-be animal trainers. If you have questions about the ways that animals are trained, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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