25 January 2012

Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs

A reader (Thanks JZ!) sends in links to Mike Rowe's Ted talk (at the bottom of this post) and Congressional testimony from last year (above). He is a champion of skilled labor and a great spokesman for parts of the workforce that are often marginalized as less worthy than college graduates.

Here is an excerpt:
I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. 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. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it's getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They're retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.

Alabama's not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn't a lack of funds. It wasn't a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In general, we're surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn't be. We've pretty much guaranteed it.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We've elevated the importance of "higher education" to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled "alternative." Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as "vocational consolation prizes," best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of "shovel ready" jobs for a society that doesn't encourage people to pick up a shovel.
Here is an entertaining Ted talk by  Rowe (skip to 15:30 for the bottom line).


  1. .

    Obama must have been listening. His bold action on the XL pipeline will help ensure that the shortage of skilled workers is not worsened.


  2. Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as "vocational consolation prizes,"

    The only consolation prize the US Educational Systems currently offers to 'touch learners' is prison.

    I personally know some incredibly talented tradesmen(all 40 plus) that can't read a simple restaurant menu. They can read a blueprint and build whatever is on the blueprint. Their wives do the 'book stuff' for them.

  3. This doesn't make sense. If there are really 200,000 vacant positions that companies need to hire, then why aren't they doing what's necessary to hire them? If they can't find the right skills, then they need to offer training to people to teach them those skills. If they still don't get enough acceptable applicants, then work with local unemployment agencies to get them. This is basic stuff here which makes me think there's more to this story.

  4. So why aren't wages increasing as a result of unsatisfied demand? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, welders average hourly wage is $17.96. Accountants average hourly wage is $33.15. How can Mom and Dad promote that? Better compensation would help at least as much as better PR.

  5. Trade jobs aren't what they once were. For example, machining used to be a highly skilled trade where they read technical drawings and made parts by hand. Now milling machines are computer programmed and read CAD-CAM files directly. It emphasizes computer savvy more and skill and experience less.