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Somebody's Gotta Do It

Mike-rowe-works-logo Our country has waged a cold war on The Puritan Work Ethic. Skilled labor is in need of a PR campaign. This is what Mike Rowe, creator and executive producer of Discovery Channel’s Emmy®-nominated series DIRTY JOBS WITH MIKE ROWE says he has discovered working with our blue collar workforce during the last four years filming the show.

Rowe has spent years traveling the country, working as an apprentice on over 200 jobs that most people would go out of their way to avoid. From coal miners to roustabouts, maggot farmers to sheep castrators, Mike has worked in just about every industry and shot in most every state, celebrating those hard-working Americans who make civilized life possible for the rest of us.

In January of 2008, Rowe spoke to an audience of 3,500 Grainger employees to talk about how, despite a crumbling infrastructure and a growing need for skilled labor, trade schools are suffering from a decline in enrollment. Rowe believes that the trades that built our country are marginalized in today’s society. The crux of his argument is that Work is not the Enemy – that it is time to reclaim the nobility, honor, and dignity of working in a skilled trade.

Drawn from his experience hosting “Dirty Jobs”, he talked about the many ways he’s seen our society marginalize skilled labor and disparage blue-collar work. He talked about the dangerous consequences of doing this: namely, a steady decline in the trades, and an infrastructure that seems to be falling down around us. And he suggested that skilled labor is in desperate need of a PR Campaign.

Rowe states that, "For the last thirty years, we’ve been celebrating a different kind of work. We’ve been aspiring to other opportunities. We’ve stopped making things. And we’ve convinced ourselves that “good jobs” are the result of a four year degree. That’s bunk. Not all knowledge comes from college. Skill is back in demand. Steel toed boots are back in fashion. And Work is Not the Enemy."

After he completed his 200th dirty job, he decided to try something new. To change a perception that it is demeaning to perform such work, he partnered with Grainger and launched the website mikeroweworks.com. The website is a place where plumbers, electricians, welders, and mechanics can pick each other’s brains and where one can find information on educational and scholarship opportunities for skilled trades.

Rowe says that the website’s purpose is to “raise awareness that a trade school or community college is not alternative education.” Rowe’s website includes a link to the Association for Career and Technical Education, which has a wealth of information for vendors and students and local resources by region and state.

Bob Vavra, of Plant Engineering Magazine, agrees with Rowe. Vavra wrote in the February issue that despite the loss of 793,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008, everyone seems to be talking about the looming Skills Gap in American manufacturing. He listed several companies and organizations working to attract young people to manufacturing, and how to connect manufacturers with the business, civic and educational leaders who can drive the grass-roots effort needed to address the issue.

Vavra states that “accepting the Skills Gap as a reality for manufacturers isn’t hard. Selling that message to a wary public – especially to students and parents – is more daunting. Yet the message, everyone agreed, needs to start being carried out there.”