Empowering America's Tradesmen with Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe, TV Host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, tackles his dirtiest job of all – closing the skilled labor gap and getting America back to work

There appears to be a surplus of jobs waiting to be filled – from auto mechanics to welders – and not enough people trained to fill them. Yet our unemployment rate continues to hover around 9 percent and America's jobless are getting increasingly frustrated and scared. Meet what has become known as “the skills gap” – the space between the plethora of challenging, rewarding, high paying careers in skilled labor waiting to be filled, and a lack of trained professionals ready to fill them.

Dirty Jobs is not really a show about dirt. It’s a show about people, and over the years I’ve learned a lot from people that wake up clean and go home dirty. I have learned for instance, that a single fire ant can bite you multiple times, especially in places where a man does not wish to be bitten. I’ve learned that widths are more hazardous than heights, and that short cuts lead to long delays. I’ve also learned that a good plumber is now more expensive than a good shrink, and a lot harder to find. 

This whole Skills Gap thing is real, and it’s getting bigger every day. In Alabama, half the skilled workforce is north of fifty, and retiring fast. For every four workers that leave, only one enters to replace them. And according to a 60 Minutes story last month, there are now three million skilled jobs that American companies simply cannot fill. Three million. What’s up with that?

Finding Solutions
I’m not qualified to offer a solution. I'm just a TV Host. On cable. But I can tell you that my biggest revelation on Dirty Jobs was seeing firsthand the degree to which our country has become disconnected from skilled labor. Again and again, in all 50 states, I've heard the same thing from hundreds of workers. They all talk of a "disconnect" between the work they do, and the society that benefits from it. I think maybe they’re on to something.

Consider what we reward in our culture today. American Idol is still the number one show on television. The Four Hour Work Week is still a national bestseller. Vocational training classes have evaporated from our high schools, and careers that don’t require a 4-year degree are now considered “alternative." We have actively discouraged an entire generation of students from working with their hands, and turned a whole category of viable careers into “vocational consolation prizes.” I hate to sound like a scold, but really, is it any wonder that our kids aren’t lining up to learn a useful skill?

Closing the Gap
The Skills Gap is not a mystery; it’s a reflection of what we value. And if we're serious about closing the gap, we need to reconnect with that part of our workforce. We need to reinvigorate the trades. We need to confront the stigmas and stereotypes associated with skilled labor, and let go of this absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only viable way to acquire useful knowledge.

Twelve million unemployed Americans is a scary thing. But three million available jobs that can’t be filled…well, that’s really scary. Because that means we’re not dealing with a lack of opportunity. We’re dealing with a lack of desire.

Skilled labor needs a PR campaign. A big one. Because closing The Skills Gap is not about creating jobs. The jobs are already there.  It's about our preserving our infrastructure, expanding our manufacturing base, enhancing our ability to compete globally, and bolstering our national security. If you share my addiction to paved roads, affordable energy, cheap food, and indoor plumbing, you should also share my concern.

Because this whole Skills Gap thing is real. And the first step is a doozy.

-Mike Rowe

Article and photo courtesy of Employing America by MediaPlanet. To see more, visit http://sites.conversionplanet.com/employing-america/qa-with-mike-rowe

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