Television host Mike Rowe has slowly become one of the nation’s leading advocates for skilled labor thanks to his belief in trade-focused curriculums. His hit show Dirty Jobs is back in production, which gives him a good reason to hit the press trail and once again campaign for blue-collar labor in the United States.
In an interview transcribed by trucking publication FleetOwner, Rowe said the primary reason the country faces labor shortages is that society still promotes four-year degrees as the gold standard for all young people seeking education. He cited the 11.5 million estimated open jobs for trade labor like diesel techs, truckers, welders, plumbers, and electricians as proof positive that the country needs to reconsider its approach to education.
The trade labor advocacy often leads to a stigma that Rowe is “anti-education,” but he says a bachelor’s degree is not for everyone.
“People think I’m somehow anti-education because I talk negatively about the cost of college. I’m not,” Rowe explained. “To be as clear as possible, you are screwed without an education. But the idea that the best education for the most people is a four-year degree [is incorrect]. That ship has sailed. It’s just not true.”
Cost, time, and limited job opportunities all factor into his decision to advocate for trade over four-year degrees, he said.
“And it wouldn’t make any sense even if it were,” he continued. “How can the best thing for the most people be the most expensive thing?”
Mike Rowe said the problems really began when high schools eliminated trade curriculums, like shop class
“In 1978, when I was in high school, we had a wood shop, we had a metal shop, we had auto shop, and we had welding clinics. We had all this stuff,” Rowe recalled. “By the time I finished [high school], it was all gone.”
Rowe thinks that trade schools became stigmatized by the “work smart, not hard” sentiment falsely propagated by many large modern tech firms. The stigma, though, began with modest university posters distributed to high schools back in the 1970s.
Rowe pointed out that a poster in his guidance counselor’s office told the whole story. In it, a smug diploma-holding young man in graduation robes on a clean university campus sat opposite a “slouching, soot-covered Neanderthal holding a monkey wrench” like a club. The poster read “Work Smart NOT Hard.”
“Most good advice that turns into conventional wisdom eventually collapses under its own weight,” Rowe said in a separate interview. “Hard work is never the enemy. Hard work is not a bad thing. If you can work in a way that’s more efficient and more effective, that’s a good thing. But not at the expense of working hard.
“What we want today in our workforce and for our neighbors, are people who work smart and hard.”