The Vanishing Respect for Skilled Trades

MikeRowe2One of cable television’s most recognizable characters, Mike Rowe knows a thing or two about jobs, particularly jobs involving skilled trades and manual labor. On his Dirty Jobs program on the Discovery Channel, Rowe learns and then performs hundreds of jobs that require getting down and dirty. If you haven’t seen the show, he opens every episode with this quote: “My name’s Mike Rowe, and this is my job. I explore the country looking for people who aren’t afraid to get dirty — hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Now, get ready to get dirty.”

Last year Rowe spoke to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee about what he sees as a need for change in the way Americans view the workforce. He believes that skilled trades are being relegated to jobs meant only for lower class citizens. He suggests that we are trying to push all citizens to earn four-year degrees, and leaving the skilled trades to, well, no one.

Rowe makes the following plea to the committee on behalf of all skilled workers:

“I believe that we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor…something that addresses the widening skills gap head on and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce. Right now American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions I’m told. And there are 450,000 openings today in trades, transportation, and utilities.”

Rowe gives an account of a U.S. governor who couldn’t move forward on the construction of a new power plant, not due to a lack of funds or support, but rather due to a lack of qualified welders. The host who has apprenticed in most all of the skilled trades ponders a question that is becoming more common over the past few years. “How can high unemployment exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage?”

We shouldn’t really be surprised about this, Rowe says. He notes that the vocational arts in high schools have all but vanished, and says that we’ve elevated “higher education” to such a level that any other form of knowledge has been labeled as something less important, or looked down upon. The vocational arts are now deemed a consolation prize best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree.

Click here to watch Rowe’s testimony and then consider, “What is my attitude toward the skilled trades?”

To read more about the shortage of skilled labor in America, read Deloitte Survey: Qualified Workers, Not Jobs, Are Lacking.”

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