hard-working, skilled people who produce our energy
According to the credits, I am the creator, executive producer, and
host of a TV program on the Discovery Channel called Dirty Jobs with
Mike Rowe. In truth, I'm more like a perpetual apprentice.
For seven years, I've been traveling around the country, working
alongside the people who grow our food, provide our energy, tend to our
infrastructure, and manufacture our things.
To date, I've completed nearly 300 different jobs, visited every state,
and worked in just about every industry. A less flattering assessment
might suggest that I've been fired 300 times in less than seven years.
Dirty Jobs is first and foremost an entertainment program. It does
however, have a mission statement, and every episode begins the same
way. "My name is 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 do the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for
the rest of us."
For years, no one paid much attention to this mission. But in 2008, the
recession made Dirty Jobs relevant in ways I never envisioned. As
unemployment became a dominant topic, and my own dirty resume continued
to expand, reporters were suddenly interested in my take on all sorts
of work-related issues. For the most part, I pleaded ignorance and kept
my mouth shut.
But when a writer from The Wall Street Journal asked me to "reconcile
soaring unemployment with an ever-widening skills gap," I felt
compelled to say something. So I referred him to the mission statement
of the show and added, "once upon a time, our country was filled with
people who weren't afraid to get dirty. Times have changed. The
definition of a ‘good job' has changed."
I went on to suggest that the skills gap might not be a "problem," but
rather a symptom of something much more fundamental; a societal
disconnect with work, brought about by the rapid transformation of a
manufacturing-based economy into one dominated by financial services
The reporter wanted to hear more so I kept talking. I talked about the
subtle and not-so-subtle ways we marginalize work in today's culture.
In the media, our portrayals of working people rarely surpass one
dimensional stereotypes and predictable hyperbole.
I suggested a PR Campaign for skilled labor might be in order, and
concluded by saying this Administration's goal of creating three
million shovel ready jobs might have a better chance of succeeding if
our society still respected the people willing to pick up a shovel.
When the article came out, the flood gates opened. On Labor Day of
2008, I launched mikeroweWORKS.com, my own modest PR Campaign for hard
work and skilled labor. Its primary purpose is to challenge the notion
that a career in the trades is some sort of "vocational consolation
prize," handed out to workers unfit for a four-year degree.
The fact is, there are many initiatives out there making a difference.
The problem that so many encounter, though, is a tendency to "preach to
the choir". With respect to issues like the skills gap, we too often
speak only to the people directly involved—the employers,
desperate to hire skilled talent, and the unemployed, woefully
untrained for the task at hand.
To really make a difference, we need to change the perceptions of a
much larger audience and challenge the prevailing definition of a "good
job." Americans need to see these workers for what they
are—the key to civilized life as we know it. And that means a
campaign and a message that reaches everybody.
Toward that end, I'm pleased to help launch a broad-based initiative
sponsored by Discovery Communications that will reach millions and
millions of people. Discovery's goal is to empower both unemployed and
underemployed Americans with access to critical resources that will
assist them in obtaining marketable job skills.
As the host of a TV show about hard work, people often assume I speak
for tradesmen and skilled workers. In reality, I don't. I can only
speak for myself and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved
roads, reliable bridges, heating, air conditioning, and indoor
plumbing. The tradesmen I know don't need a spokesman. It's the rest of
us who need to worry. Because a civilization without skilled labor, is
not a civilization at all.
the Record is an
edited excerpt of Mike Rowe's presentation to the U.S. Senate Committee
on Commerce, Science and Transportation in May 2011.