Mike Rowe Speaks on Shortage of Skilled Laborers: ‘The Math Ain’t Good’

by TK Sanders

TV personality Mike Rowe has slowly become one of the nation’s most visible advocates for skilled laborers and trade workers. Thanks to his long-running show Dirty Jobs, Rowe has seen the blue-collar, working-class community up close and personal. And he says the one thing he’s learned is that too many young folks are missing out on great careers as skilled laborers in favor of university degrees that they can’t use practically.

More specifically, the big issue is that four out of five of these [11.5 million] open trade jobs do not require a college degree; but the educational system still promotes four-year colleges and universities as the gold standard.

“You’ve got $1.7 trillion in student loans on the books. And parents and guidance counselors still tell a whole generation of kids that they’re screwed without a four-year degree,” Rowe lamented in an interview with FleetOwner. “We’re lending money we don’t have to kids who are never going to be able to pay it back to train them for jobs that don’t exist anymore. Meanwhile, in your industry, 80,000 positions are sitting there wide open.”

According to Rowe and other trade experts, the shortage will eventually come to a head in the form of severe shortages. In other words, it’s a math problem more than anything else.

“Sometimes things have to go splat before they improve,” Rowe offered. “I don’t know what splat really looks like in this case, but I do know that the math ain’t good.”

Mike Rowe says that without skilled laborers, entire economies will grind to a halt

To make matters worse, the “silver tsunami” of retiring boomers continues to crest; and not nearly enough young workers are there to make up the difference.

“What worries me the most is the simple fact that most of the people in that industry right now are over 55,” he said. “And they’re retiring faster than ever, and there’s nobody in the pipeline. If there were an alarm to ring, a bell to clang, this would be the time to do it.”

As an example, Rowe said that if new workers don’t know how to climb into a cement mixer and jackhammer away old dried concrete, then the entire industry could crawl to a stop.

“It’s a powerful thing to ponder when you think about those guys not showing up for work one night and suddenly, all the concrete trucks in the country don’t have any room in the drums,” he said. “Every construction project stops, road construction stops, office construction. All of it stops.”

Rowe believes that one of the primary downfalls of the working class began when American high schools eliminated shop classes from their curriculum in the 1970s.

“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.”