September 6 2012
President Obama is fond of saying that everybody deserves a college education, even though more and more people are questioning whether a college degree is all it’s cracked up to be.
Mike Rowe, an entrepreneur and star of a reality TV show called Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, would probably say, sure, go to college, if you want to. But Rowe also extols the virtue of skilled labor, something an older America honored.
Rowe has written an open letter to Mitt Romney in which he talks about how our view of skilled labor has undergone a sea change. Since Rowe’s letter to Romney is one of the most stirring things I’ve seen lately, I am going to quote at some length:
[Whenever I was interviewed about the jobs portrayed on Dirty Jobs], I shared my theory that most of these “problems” [unemployment, outsourcing, etc.] were in fact symptoms of something more fundamental – a change in the way Americans viewed hard work and skilled labor. That’s the essence of what I’ve heard from the hundreds of men and women I’ve worked with on Dirty Jobs.
Pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers…they all tell me the same thing over and over, again and again – our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce. We are no longer impressed with cheap electricity, paved roads, and indoor plumbing. We take our infrastructure for granted, and the people who build it.
Today, we can see the consequences of this disconnect in any number of areas, but none is more obvious than the growing skills gap. Even as unemployment remains sky high, a whole category of vital occupations has fallen out of favor, and companies struggle to find workers with the necessary skills. The causes seem clear. We have embraced a ridiculously narrow view of education.
Any kind of training or study that does not come with a four-year degree is now deemed “alternative.” Many viable careers once aspired to are now seen as “vocational consolation prizes,” and many of the jobs this current administration has tried to “create” over the last four years are the same jobs that parents and teachers actively discourage kids from pursuing. (I always thought there something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.) …
Certainly, we need more jobs, and you were clear about that in Tampa. But the Skills Gap proves that we need something else too. We need people who see opportunity where opportunity exists. We need enthusiasm for careers that have been overlooked and underappreciated by society at large. We need to have a really big national conversation about what we value in the workforce, and if I can be of help to you in that regard, I am at your service – assuming of course, you find yourself in a new address early next year.