The Dirt On Work

The Dirt On Work


Mike Rowe and the Skills Gap

All my working life, I’ve heard bosses complain about the difficulty of finding good employees. In the old days of full employment, I figured the problem was mostly because there were more jobs than people to fill them.

But now that the unemployment rate has gone alarmingly high, managers are still bemoaning the lack of qualified help. What’s wrong with this picture?

Mike Rowe believes he knows what’s going on.

The 50-year-old host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs is more than just the talent on a popular TV show. Rowe is emerging as an articulate spokesman for the dignity of good old American manufacturing and skilled labor. The problem, as he sees it, is that there is a cultural bias discouraging young people from pursuing careers that were once considered honorable and worthwhile. Enrollment in trade schools is down, while the opportunity to earn a good living in the trades has never been better. The very skills and trades that are most responsible for the prosperity of this country have acquired a stigma branding them as somehow less honorable than the “white collar” jobs that the educational system in this country seems to try funneling everyone into.

Rowe cites the example of a recent speaking engagement. He was asked to address an FFA convention. The FFA’s instructions to him were to reference the organization by the acronym only—not to use the historical name of Future Farmers of America.

Rowe says, “The FFA is dealing with the fact that there are millions of people in this country who have no idea where their food comes from, and—what’s worse—they don’t care.”

In other words, the term “farmer” has become unfashionable. The same could be said of machinist, steamfitter, electrician, and you name it. The better part of the country considers such work somehow “undignified,” or perhaps, “unfulfilling.” Young people with an aptitude for such work sense the subtle discrimination and decide to look elsewhere for a career.

“I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor,” Rowe says, “—something that addresses the widening Skills Gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.”

To help accomplish that, Rowe has created an organization called the mikeroweWORKS Foundation with the stated purpose of “giving something back, and challenging the prevailing definition of a ‘good job.’”

Rowe is far from a lone voice in the wilderness championing this issue. There are other organizations, such as the Association of Equipment Manufacturer’s website that are working to rehabilitate the image of the working man as well.

I hope these guys succeed in changing the way the public views the kinds of jobs you and I hire people to do. As Mike Rowe says, “The Skills Gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.”

Have a Great Month!

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