"Dirty Jobs" Star Mike Rowe On Good, Clean Hard Work
Insight Though he’s best known for showcasing the grossest gigs out there, Mike Rowe, host and executive producer of “Dirty Jobs” is an advocate for the trades industry—and closing the skills gap.
Mike, so many of us know you from “Dirty Jobs”—tell us how you got to where you are in terms of being an advocate for industry and trades!
I guess my appreciation for the trades began when I was a kid. I had one of those grandfathers who lived next door and could build or fi x pretty much anything. To me, the guy was a magician, and his talent was legendary in the commu- nity. I wanted very much to follow in his footsteps. Sadly, I didn’t get the gene, which is why my fondness for skilled labour is limited to an appreciation, and not so much a literal pursuit. “Dirty Jobs” was meant to be a tribute to guys like my granddad, people who take the time to learn a skill and master a trade. People who wake up clean and come home dirty.
Tell us about ”mikeroweWORKS” and your foundation.What message are they spreading?
Fundamentally, “mikeroweWORKS” is a PR campaign for hard work and skilled labour. As much as I’d like to take credit for implementing a long-term plan, I’m afraid my actual strategy was a lot less deliberate.
As “Dirty Jobs” became more and more successful, I began to look for ways to call attention to some of the challenges facing many of the industries we often feature on the show. The “skills gap” was something I kept hearing about, but didn’t really understand until I started talking with some CEO’s at some very big companies who were struggling to fill certain skilled labour positions.
"“Dirty Jobs” was meant to be a tribute to guys like my granddad, people who take the time to learn a skill and master a trade. People who wake up clean and come home dirty."
Given the rising unemployment rate, I thought this corresponding labour shortage was a fascinating phenomenon. With the help of “Dirty Jobs” fans, I launched an online trade resource center—a place where kids and pa- rents might investigate some of these careers. My hope for mikeroweWORKS is that it might, in a modest way, help close the skills gap. As for the mrW Foundation, that’s concerned mostly with scholarships and tool stipends for kids who are willing to learn a skill and master a trade.
Why do you think the skills gap exists today?
Why has our relationship with hard work changed? That’s probably a bit beyond my pay grade. But I guess if I were to impersonate a social anthropologist, I’d probably say we’ve changed the meaning of a “good job”. On a broad social level, we’ve redefined success into something that no longer looks like work. We’ve positioned skilled labour as a kind of vocational consolation prize—an “alternative” to a four-year degree.
I suspect the skills gap is really just a reflection of what we value, and another sad consequence of pushing a college over all other forms of knowledge, training, and education. The skills gap isn’t all that mysterious. It’s inevitable. Trades, and specifically forestry, possess amazing career possibilities for young people.
What would you say to anyone considering this type of career?
I’d say go for it. Things have changed quickly for a lot of people—in fact, en- tire industries have vanished in the last few decades. Yours has not. Forestry has certainly evolved, but it’s not going any- where. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but I personally find comfort in the fact that some industries are probably here to stay. We still need wood, and I bet we always will. Forestry, when practiced properly, is an incredibly sustainable industry and safety standards are increasing every year.
Do you think it’s time for people to change their opinions about the industry?
I do. But no one ever changes their opinion just because it’s time to do so. They have to want to. And the key to persuading people to think differently about Forestry is to reconnect them to the industry in a personal way. Anyone who lives in a wooden home and uses wooden furniture is a part of Forestry. Any- one who likes to relax by the fi re and read a book has benefited from your industry. Anyone who uses toilet paper owes the lumberjack a debt of gratitude. It’s not enough to promote your industry by talking about the many available opportunities—you need show the rest of us where we’d be without you. People need to get their head around the idea that a failure to reinvigorate the skilled trades, including Forestry, is not just a threat to those working in the industry—it’s a threat to those who benefit from your efforts. It’s not the workers in danger of tumbling into the skills gap—it’s the rest of us.
For more information on and online resources for the trades industry, visit www.mikeroweworks.com.