Silver Tsunami, the Gateway to Registered Apprenticeships with Special Guest Debby Hopkins.

Rose Hildebrand podcast

Rick Sizemore Twitter @Rickwwrc or email,

Anne Hudlow’s email is

Jaclyn Hostetter’s e mail is

Debby Hopkins is the Workforce Officer for the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. Debby’s email is


“… This is the VR Workforce Studio. Inspiration, Education, and Affirmation… at work! The Workforce & Disability Employment Podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center – a division of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. The VR Workforce Studio is Published by our Foundation at And is available on i-Tunes and the You are listening to the VR Workforce Studio.”

[VR Workforce Studio]

Rick: Welcome to another special episode of the VR Workforce Studio podcast. We always appreciate it when you stop by and spend some time with us. As you know, we bring you these stories of Vocational Rehabilitation and disability employment with a big inspiration showcase on the 15th of every month. And, from time to time we have these special episodes… I am Rick Sizemore along with co-host Anne Hudlow – who directs our foundation. Today we answer a really important question about the workforce that comes from… well, one of my morning phone calls with an incredibly important person – my Mom! We talk almost every morning on the way to work. She’s 77 years old; and, is one of the wisest and most insightful people I know. So, yesterday she tells me this story of someone there, in the local community, who works in manufacturing – in fact, she’s a friend of my mom’s in her late sixties – and, she completes a critical step in the process flow at a local manufacturer. And, she’s the only person in the plant who can do this job. She’s got to be out for surgery, and before she goes out for surgery, she has to make enough parts to create a stock pile so the plant can keep running. Does that sound crazy…? Well, you can call it the “Silver Tsunami”; you can call it “aging workforce”; you can call it whatever you want. But, many people are wondering what we’re doing to respond to this dynamic of preparing the workforce to step up to the plate as this aging workforce moves into well-deserved retirement. There’s a line from a song that I just love… It’s something like this: “…you know wherever we’re headed, man we’re here…”

And, on today’s episode we meet Rose Hildebrand – a young woman with a disability who just recently got a taste of just how important manufacturing jobs are to our society. She’ll tell you about how she got interested and what she’s planning to do because of a “Dream It Do It Camp”. We’re so excited to see the manufacturing community embrace these young, energetic workers with disabilities. Because, they are the answer to the challenge of where will the workers of tomorrow come from. On today’s episode Debby Hopkins is with us – she’s the Workforce Officer from the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board – as we look at how registered apprenticeships are also a huge opportunity for individuals with disabilities; and, the answer to that emerging workforce problem. You know we’ve talked about the numbers on this podcast before – almost 60 million people with a disability in this country. And, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only eighteen percent of people with disabilities are working. That’s in contrast to almost sixty-five percent of people without a disability. But, there’s some good news. A recent study out from the monthly update from the “National Trends in Disability Employment” that’s issued by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability; they say we’ve ‘…realized fifteen months of job gains for individuals with disabilities…’. They go on to say ‘as the nation implements the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act…’ – which you hear about us talk about on this podcast a lot – ‘Vocational Rehabilitation services are evolving to better serve people with significant disabilities’. The study goes on to say ‘…by aligning VR with programs for students and young adults with severe disabilities – they’re more options for the transition to competitive, integrated employment’. ‘The labor force participation rate for working-aged people with disabilities increased up 2.8%’. The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that’s working or, actively looking for work. If you consider the total number of people who are working or actively looking for work, those with disabilities are up 2.8%. That’s good news! You can find the link to that study in our Show Notes out at

Rick: Debby Hopkins is the Workforce officer for the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. Works with the American Apprenticeship Initiative, Debbie, welcome to the podcast.

Debby: Thank you, glad to be here.

Rick: Before we jump in to the discussion about apprenticeships; Debby, you know the gateway to a lot of the plants where these apprenticeships are occurring happen through “Dream It. Do It.” Camps and Ann is a huge fan of “Dream It. Do It.”

Ann: So, Debby , we were honored to have three of our students take part in the “Dream It. Do It.” Academy held at the Valley Career and Technical Center, and I’d like you to share a little bit about that if you could, it seems like such a great, great undertaking and everybody just went out of there with such positive vibes and I’d like you to talk a little bit about that if you could.

Debby: Oh, yes we are really excited about that. We have such great partners in the Shenandoah Valley and in all of Virginia. We partner with the Career Pathways with Individuals with Disabilities Grant and hired an individual named Heidi Warner to work on this project coordinating those camps, and she did a wonderful job with that Academy. I was there; I think three or four of the days to observe the students and with the instructor from the Valley Career and Technical Center who was on the project was absolutely perfect and hands on. Once they got through the safety requirements on the equipment – he had them engaged. I went in a talked about apprenticeship and all the different ways to take what they were learning and apply them to a real life world. And there was media in there; Economic Development came on the last day. Rick was there, quite a few people from the Blue Ridge Community College came, and a big crowd of folks came with some of the parents and all of the students to acknowledge that. And when you think of what a kid can do all summer long… And they choose, maybe with a little parental pushing, but they choose to come to this Academy and were all delighted that they did, and they walked away with an awareness of trade skills that I’ll bet a lot of them end up in those trade skills and end up in either apprenticeships or our good middle skill jobs.

Rick: Anne, you are out at that camp, let’s do a quick rehab rewind and meet Rose Hildebrandt.

[rewind sound effect]

Anne: Okay, we are here with Rose Hildebrand, a student who went through the “Dream It. Do It.” Academy this week. Rose, how did you think the week went for the Dream It Do It Camp?
Rose: It was a wonderful experience, it was fun, it was awesome. There were just so many things we learned. I was like “Wow”, my eyes have been opened. Because I’ve learned to notice to take the little things in life, and notice that every tiny thing, that anything you can think of has been used, and created using part of a machine that someone built. You can’t…’s hard to even think of how machinists didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have the rapper on the hot dogs, colored pencils, mechanical pencils, or anything. We probably wouldn’t even have cars or cell phones. That would be scary if you didn’t have the things we have these days. We just don’t realize how lucky we are. I mean, without machinists, where would we be?

Anne: That’s true. That’s very true.

Rose: And you know, if you think about engineers, engineers just make the blueprint, and we are the ones who actually do it. They are the dreamers, and we are the doers.

Anne: Awesome, Rose. That’s so great. Do you have anything to say to close out?

Rose: I do, actually. Even if you don’t believe that you could do it, give yourself a chance because you never know. An opportunity is at your doorstep, people. You should be able to say “You know what, I’m going to give that a try.” And you never know, you’ll probably end up enjoying it, and even if you don’t it’s a good learning experience for you. And it’s wonderful to think of the fact that you could get a better job in the future. It depends on you though.

Anne: Awesome, thank you so much. You should be very proud all of your hard work and we are very proud of you.

Rose: Thank you

Anne: Thank you

[rewind sound effect]

Rick; So, Debby, tell us a little bit about how the Apprenticeship Program is working here in Virginia.

Debby: We were very fortunate with the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board to be able to obtain $4 million from the United States Department of Labor to help expand registered apprenticeship in Virginia, particularly in manufacturing occupations. So, we have as of this moment almost two hundred new apprentices who have started their journey to a journeyman’s credential in all sorts of occupations. We have done very well.  45 different companies so far have worked with us in this initiative.

Rick: On the way to work this morning – I call my mom every morning – and her neighbor is 68 years old. She works at a plant that is probably less than 100 and she is the only person who can perform that specific job in that plant. And she had to go out for eye surgery, and had to work ahead to get enough parts and pieces available to the production process, so that when she was away, they didn’t have to shut the plant down. We’re hearing so much more about that, does that give credence to why there are so many companies that are working on apprenticeship programs?

Debby: Well, you’ve actually hit the nail on the head. A registered apprenticeship is the only thing I have found so far that both our current and past-president’s support. And one of the reasons is because of the skills gap that has been created with these very seasoned trade workers who know their job like the back of their hand, they know how to do it, and they’re all aging. They’re retiring.

Rick: Why would an individual with a disability be excited going through, say for example, our manufacturing technology training program? Why would they be excited about the potential of a registered apprenticeship program leaving the center and moving into the workforce?

Debby: Well, apprenticeship programs not only benefit companies – because they had this custom model that they could build a long term training program for the exact proficiencies that they need – but, they also benefit individuals. One of the biggest, nationally-recognized credentials that you can receive is a journeyman’s guard – it is completion of a registered apprenticeship program. Once someone leaves here, if they join a company who has a registered apprenticeship program and enrolls them in that occupation, they already have so much of the training that can be applied toward that program that they can accelerate through. So a four year program, because of the very targeted carefully prepared and thorough training that you have here in this MTT Program, they’ll be able to be accelerated in that program and could knock off two years, perhaps, in the time it would take them to achieve it. And they may have satisfied much if not all of the related instruction. So from the individual standpoint, when they get that credential, they’ll be so proud; they’ll have it framed, they’ll put it on their wall, they’ll put it-one guy told us that with all of his other value trophies, which happened to be is deer heads. He was a big hunter. But it is, for many people, they will not pursue a college degree, and this will be their equivalent of a two year degree. And it’s recognized, not only throughout the entire United States, but in the world. The rest of the world understands apprenticeship better than we have in the United States. So that credential will take them wherever they want to go.

Rick: We had the opportunity at the Apprenticeship Conference in DC this year, and descriptions of some of the things going on in Germany, they’re really building their workforce through these apprenticeship programs, and it seems like we’re moving in that direction.

Debby: I believe we have to move in that direction when we prepared this grant; the numbers at that time for Germany as a comparison. They had 16 times more apprentices than we do in the United States – It’s part of their culture. It’s valued. Someone who’s in an apprenticeship program is considered revered in their culture. It’s a tremendous choice as equal to just about any other profession. We’ve a long way to go here. And because of the recognition that we need to have those trades be elevated in our work force, be elevated in our society; be elevated with parents, so that they understand how valuable these trades are. That’s part of the reason why the money is coming in to support the Initiatives like our Apprenticeship Grant to try to encourage companies, education institutions, individuals on down into even grade-school, to start thinking about and valuing those trades.

Anne: So, Debby, you said parents and students. What types of things are you doing at the schools at this point to make them aware?

Debby: Well, there are other initiatives that are connected to the Career and Technical teachers in the high schools and on down to the middle schools. I met very recently on two occasions with Dr. Staples, who is the superintendent of all the schools in Virginia. And they have a new profile of a Virginia graduate that recognizes the importance of hands-on life-ready, work-ready, college-ready, apprenticeship-ready, military-ready graduates. So the practical nature of what is needed in our society is starting to be incorporated for a lot of different initiatives into the high schools. And it’s absolutely essential. We cannot continue to have students pile up a ton of debt and graduate from high school and not have a practical way to plug in. It is a waste of resources, and we don’t have resources to waste in this economy.

Ann: Amen. Amen. And I’ll tell you, I really give you a huge amount of credit for being in the middle schools now, because it has to start earlier; and I think it’s great. I think that you all are just, it’s like you said, ‘hitting the nail on the head’; really, really getting to where it needs to start and getting the kids to noticing it before… they have to make that decision.

Debby: And the more they can be aware. So, educators and companies need to go down further than they ever thought into the education system to make sure that they are showing the awareness of what they can achieve, what they can earn, how proud they can make their families if they go into these. You asked me about individuals with disabilities and why they, in particular, would be interested. Part of the initiative that we have received this $4 million for is to help create pre-apprenticeship programs targeting on populations who have been under-represented, and as we know, people with disabilities have been under-represented in workforce in general. They’ve also been under-represented in apprenticeship, so we’re looking very closely, very hard to establish a pre-apprenticeship program here with Wilson Workforce Center for the MTT Program. So that will be an absolutely targeted, 100% targeted program that will align with registered apprenticeship programs throughout Virginia. So that the individuals who come through here and future other individuals with disabilities will be able to be more aware of these programs, more aware of where they can go, and be set on a path to that great career ladder from the very beginning.

Rick: And what’s so unique about your position with the Local Workforce Board here in the Shenandoah Valley; is with this grant, you have state wide reach to talk with employers throughout the state about the apprenticeship programs. Who are some of the folks that you are working with who are offering these registered apprenticeship programs?

Debby: Well, we have quite a few companies in the local area, like Hershey, is one, White Wave is another. In other parts of the state, we just finished putting together programs with Eastman Chemical in Martinsville. And, they have put dozens of people, now they have registered 3 apprenticeship programs, and they put dozens of their people in there and aligned it with their career path. So these companies are looking at registered apprenticeship programs as a way to help them align their compensation schemes, their promotion schemes, to target people for advancement, and really put people on a path of leadership. One good example in the hospital setting is the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia Health Care System started an apprenticeship program, I think 30 or 40 years ago. And, virtually all of those folks are still there, and every one of the people who started there 20 years ago are all in management now. It’s a proven track record. We were extremely excited to hear that one of the graduates has been hired by Eastman, and will be working with Eastman as another supportive way to try to help encourage them to put him into one of their registered apprenticeship programs as much as possible. And my bet is that with his training, he’ll be able to accelerate through that.

Rick: Well, Debby, it’s been an honor having you on the podcast today, and we celebrate the work of our local workforce board and the workforce boards across the state. I want to give a shout out to our friend Marty Holiday down at the Roger Workforce Development Board; they have a new podcast produced by our friend Doug Foresta; that’s called the “WORK TALK” Podcast. Another workforce podcast here in Virginia that we hope to partner with. If you would like to check them out, check the show notes, and we’ll put a link in their podcast up in the show notes. So best of luck to Marty Holiday and the Mount Rogers Workforce Development Board on the launch of WORK TALK podcast with producer Doug Foresta.

Ann: Debby, we’ve really appreciated you being here today, all of your great work is just an inspiration.

Debby: Thank You. I am delighted. I feel like all things aligned, you know, with you and your life and this is a great time to be in the workforce it’s a great time to be with Apprenticeship with all of our strong partners who are so passionate about careers for individuals with disabilities. We’re making things happen.

Rick: Thank you, Debbie. This has been an exciting episode, Anne.

Ann: Yes it has. Honored to be here.

Rick: Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.

Ann: And I’m Ann Hudlow.

Rick: With the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.

Support for the Foundation’s production and distribution of the VR Workforce Studio comes from CVS Health, Dominion Energy, the Virginia Manufacture’s Association, the Jesse Ball-DuPont Fund, and AmeriCare Plus.

Rick: Hey don’t forget to join us for the big inspiration showcase. On our next episode, we meet Chris Hall – a young man who overcomes a life-time of challenge and difficulty to obtain stackable credentials as he ready’s himself for a future of competitive, integrated employment. We’ll meet Chris and hear his story on the next episode of the VR Workforce Studio.

Chris: “…mechanics and spatial reasoning, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, electricity, mechanical controls, chemistry, and things along those lines. The ‘MS’ signifies you have competent understanding of that and shows that to employers…”

Anne: I think he’s done his homework Rick.

Chris: “…And then the MT-1 shows that you have an understanding of lean, six-sigma, SPC, business acumen, math for quality, the business side of things…”

Rick: Hey we finish out with a couple of bloopers. We’ll see you next time… Oh you had a workforce report for breakfast.

Work Talk Podcast with Marty Holiday