Since the series aired back in 2005, I remember looking forward to new episodes of Dirty Jobs, hosted by Mike Rowe. For eight seasons, Rowe and his crew traveled the country looking for people who weren’t afraid to get dirty.
Each week, I tuned in to find out what kind of crazy, often disgustingly dirty job Rowe would be performing. (My favorites usually included something that had to do with sewers or trash—the real nasty stuff.) Rowe always jumped right in, engaging in rhetoric and banter with the person whose job he was going to learn. The show shed light on the men and women who earned honest livings performing jobs that allow the rest of us to enjoy cleaner lives.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Mike Rowe’s keynote presentation at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas. As a huge fan of his work, I was excited to hear what Rowe had to say about the current state of the skilled labor market. He surprised the room with his take on the impact of AI. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak on the topic, I highly recommend seizing it. He also spoke of his desire to bring to light the good jobs that are available to those who want to work and don’t mind getting a little dirty—jobs that don’t necessarily require a college education and are out there just waiting for someone to come and fill them. In this day and age, the skills gap is a very real thing and can be attributed in some part to the way our society looks at work.
Rowe spoke on the fact that—for too long—society, high school counselors, and really “smart” people have promoted professional white collar jobs over blue collar jobs. School districts have done away with shop and automotive technology classes—a tremendous disservice to well-rounded education, in my opinion.
Rowe referenced a poster that hung in the office of his high school career counselor that read, “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” The poster showed a smiling person in business attire, standing next to an exhausted looking person in a dirty uniform holding a wrench. What the poster failed to capture is the tangible ROI of a college education, which is even more in question today as education costs skyrocket. Shoot, how many of us knew what profession we wanted to pursue when we were 18 years old? And how many more of us are not even in the career that we thought we wanted to pursue at 18 years old?
Today, student loan debt has reached one-and-a-half trillion dollars, with many students unable to repay their debts. Worse yet, many of those students—after spending four to five years in college and racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt—are unable to find careers in their fields of study due to market oversaturation. Meanwhile, more than six-and-a-half million blue collar/skilled labor jobs continue to go unfilled. Pipe fitters, HVAC techs, welders, plumbers, and carpenters are all positions in high demand, with not enough workers to fill them. Many of these jobs offer six figure incomes—you just have to be willing to learn the trade and get a little dirty!
In my day-to-day work as Director of Business Solutions, I see and feel this skilled labor gap. As a total talent management (TTM) provider, our clients depend on us for the talent they need to meet their objectives and the growth requirements of today’s Fortune Global 2000 companies. Our human capital solutions ensure that a workforce that is available and qualified to run a production line, build infrastructure, or deliver power to your home.
The work of skilled labor is noble work. It is the backbone of our country and gave way to the middle class. Thank you, Mike, for reminding us of the importance and nobility of getting dirty.
For those interested, Mike Rowe has a foundation called mikeroweWORKS. They provide scholarships for good people who want to make an honest living.