Culture

Mike Rowe Wants To Help Close The Skills Gap And Make America Work Again


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Mike Rowe is a real guy. I don’t mean that he’s rough and tumble, like the kind of guy you’d find in a dungarees ad. Though he is and he’s had that job — among many others thanks to his time as the host of Dirty Jobs. When I say the host of The Way I Heard It podcast is a real guy, I mean he’s authentic. He’s also passionate about hard work, hard workers, and connecting the two.

Recently, we spoke to Rowe about that effort and the perception around those jobs, the skills gap, the value of vocational training as an alternative to college, and mikeroweWORKS — a nonprofit that began in 2008 as a response to “calls from The Wall Street Journal [and] Congress” to discuss the kinds of dirty jobs he was often associated with. We also touched on what Donald Trump (and all politicians, really) could be doing better when they talk about jobs and the American dream.

To be sure, Rowe has some strong opinions, but unlike a lot of the rhetoric coming out of Washington, he eschews reassuring promises of a simple or quick fix to instead focus on the success stories and the promise that this is going to take awhile. Again, Mike Rowe keeps it real.

What can you tell me about mikeroweWORKS and, specifically, Project Jumpstart and what you’re working toward?

mikeroweWORKS started as a publicity initiative for the opportunity that actually existed [nearly six million available jobs] and it morphed into a scholarship program. Work ethic scholarships. We’ve done about three, three and a half million dollars so far. Project Jumpstart is the perfect example of what happens when the government doesn’t get involved to solve a problem. But the private sector is left with no choice but to do it themselves. The construction industry in Maryland just couldn’t find qualified workers. So they went into the inner cities to start recruiting for a pre-apprenticeship program. And then they went to prison to look for non-violent offenders who were getting out, and who were willing to learn a skill that was actually in demand. Their stick rate over the last ten years is more than 75% which is absolutely unparalleled.

What do you think it is about these jobs that kind of keeps people at a distance from them?

I wish I had a snappy answer.

Yeah, it definitely begs for a long answer, I know.

Yeah, but it’s a fair question. What you’re really saying is, “Why aren’t people going for these jobs?” So, my buddies on the left would say they’re not going for these jobs because the opportunities really aren’t that great and the bosses are greedy and if they just raised the wages or made it more palatable the skills gap would go away.

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