Though arguments persist about the true state of the economy and who deserves credit and/or blame, Mike Rowe is focused on an issue that is too often ignored: the skills gap and the existence of 6.6 million good jobs that have gone unclaimed. Rowe is tireless in his efforts to chip away at that total, overseeing a foundation that works to put up scholarships that train people for the so-called “Dirty Jobs” that he’s long been synonymous with thanks to his time hosting the Discovery Channel show of the same name.
We spoke with Rowe recently about the value of those jobs, his efforts to raise money for job training, his weariness about getting too political, and the nature of what that means in 2018, and whether the world could use fresh episodes of Dirty Jobs.
So you’re working with Wolverine boots right now — what are they doing to help you guys out at mikeroweWORKS?
Well, Wolverine has been a great partner now for the last few years. They’ve donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to our foundation. They’re one of a couple dozen companies that I’ve partnered with over the years, but they’re… It’s just a perfect match. Their concerns for the skills gap and their concerns for a skilled labor force line up pretty much identically with the reasons that we’ve talked about… the reasons why I started mikeroweWORKS. We’ve just been working together for a while as friends and partners on a foundation side. That’s really what the relationship has been about. This year, they’ve allocated 150 pairs of my actual boots (the 1,000 Milers Rowe has worn for a decade), the exact boots that I’m wearing, and allowed us to sell them and keep all of the money (available from August 28 through September 4). So it’s a great way to pick up a quick $55,000-60,000 for the Work Ethic Scholarship Program.
You hear President Trump’s description of how the economy is going. He’s very plainly said, “It’s going great!” and it’s the “best it’s ever been!” Does language like that hurt with something like the skills gap, because people don’t necessarily realize that there are these issues underneath that rosy picture?
It’s tricky, because to say the economy is going great is a very macro thing to say. I think he’s right in general terms, but that’s cold comfort to a lot of people for whom the economy is not going great. Look, the reason I avoid politics is that everything you say as a politician has to, by definition, be a generalization. You can only talk about the value of education in a very broad way. You can’t really talk about what’s best for the individual. You have to talk about what’s best for the most people. I think maybe the smarter way to answer your question if you don’t mind me free-associating: It’s just to talk about the fact that the skills gap, like everything else, has become politicized. Because the skills gap, fundamentally, is proof that opportunity exists. Today, unfortunately, if I go out into the world, whether it’s with Anderson Cooper or with Tucker Carlson and talk about the existence of opportunity, half of the country hears that as something else. They hear it as a challenge. Right?
The reason the skills gap gets politicized is because opportunity has become politicized. People have to try and figure out what that really means to them. For instance, if I tell you that there are 6 million jobs today that can’t be filled, typically my friends on the right will say, “Well, that’s because people are fundamentally lazy.” My friends on the left will say, “Well, that’s because employers are fundamentally greedy.” The whole thing breaks down on partisan lines. Happily, I’ve been able to avoid all that by keeping the foundation more or less within my control and making sure we focus only on individuals and not groups. That’s where things get bogged down, political, and ugly.