EXCLUSIVE: Mike Rowe Exposes The ‘Dirty’ Truth About America’s Skills Gap And Flatlining Workforce

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Townhall.com

Mike Rowe is known for going where no man (or woman for that matter) wants to go, which is how his hit TV show “Dirty Jobs” came about. He has traveled across the United States and explored a wide range of blue collar jobs, from crabbing in Alaska to pig farming in Las Vegas. Part of seeing the various blue collar jobs that exist in our country has made Rowe realize one thing: there’s a serious skills gap. Kids are being taught from a young age that they have to go to college and take out student loans in order to be successful for life.


Here’s the problem: America’s landscape has changed over the years. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s America was built on blue collar jobs. There was a desperate need for people to attend college in order to obtain white collar jobs. There was a shortage of educated individuals. But the public relations campaign used to push people into pursing college degrees had the opposite impact and actually tipped the scale the opposite direction. Instead of having a lack of people in vocations that require a college education, we now see a huge vacancy in so-called “dirty jobs,” the jobs that are absolutely vital to our economy, and quite frankly, our way of life.

We need plumbers, electricians, mechanics and a wide range of manufacturing jobs in order to thrive. There’s job vacancies yet our future generations are being told they need to pursue college or else they’re doomed to fail. While we’re building up every single person to believe college is the only way to be successful, our country has more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion.

“We have lent over $1.5 trillion to kids who can’t pay it back so they can spend four years trying to get jobs that don’t exist,” Rowe said during his address to those attending SHOT Show’s State of the Industry Reception.


America is doing a disservice to itself by assuming everyone needs to be college graduates or everyone needs to work with their hands.

Why can’t both co-exist? Why can’t both be open for discussion and consideration? Why is education looked upon more favorably and “dirty jobs” are just that…dirty?

Let’s be frank here. It’s not because a job is beneath anyone. It’s because people believe they’re better than others if they have an education.

Think about it.

Did you go to college?

When’s the last time you said you were glad you didn’t have to truck in produce across state lines or collect garbage from local cities?

When’s the last time you were glad you could call a plumber or an electrician to fix something when it’s broken?

We’ve become so focused on jobs that we think we should have verses the jobs we think we need that we’ve actually created our own economic nightmare. But that’s where Rowe and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation come in. Back in 2008, the TV star decided to give back to the people who made “Dirty Jobs” such a success.

“It was ‘Dirty Jobs’ in part, and my grandfather, in part but it was mostly, because in 2008, I had done well by ‘Dirty Jobs.’ It was a hit show and people seemed to love it in a couple hundred countries and then the economy tanked, and what happened was the unemployment numbers went higher and higher and higher every week it seemed and the skills gap got wider and wider and wider at the same time,” Rowe told Townhall. “So, on the one hand, more people were out of work than ever before, on the other hand we had 2.3 million decent jobs that were open and no one was trained to do. So, I started the Foundation, initially, to shine a light on the opportunities that actually existed, that were going unloved.”


Over the last decade, Rowe has done speaking engagements, interviews and talks focused solely on the idea that America needs to embrace these so-called “dirty jobs.” His Foundation now has the Work Ethic Scholarship for those who want to pursue a job in the trades industry. The Foundation has given out more than 1,000 scholarships valued at over $5 million and helped facilitate trainings in more than 15 trades.

“I wanted to give back to the industries that allowed ‘Dirty Jobs’ to prosper and my granddad, who didn’t go to college, didn’t even go to high school, but made a wonderful living and took care of his family and mastered half a dozen different trades,” Rowe explained. “Those men and women, they’re invisible today. It’s like the song ‘Mr. Cellophane,’ you just look right through them.”

We, as a society, can change that narrative, if we’re willing to. And it starts with each and every one of us realizing that there is no job too small or important to pursue. The narrative change starts with every individual person comping to this understanding.

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