Mike Rowe sees opportunities in skilled trade education
Many employers are saying that they are having a tough time finding qualified skilled workers to fill job openings. One reason for this is the millennial generation’s lack of interest in vocational jobs. Mike Rowe, the world famous hands-on evangelist for for dirty jobs, is putting his time and money into investing in America’s future skilled workers with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation.
Mike Rowe started his foundation to help inspire and educate America’s next generation skilled workers. So far he has given over $5 million to over 1,000 scholarship recipients to pursue education at trades schools, apprenticeship programs, or community colleges. Mike is focused on putting the spotlight on the value from learning a skilled trade.
PBS News Hour’s Paul Solman interviewed Mike Rowe about the continued skills gap in the American job market. The problem is well-known; there is a shortage of skilled trades people who are talented in the classic trades. This would be the technicians who repair vehicles, perform electrical work, work in high-tech manufacturing, and even the Health Sciences and Culinary Arts. According to Mike Rowe, this stigma has now been called into question, as the pandemic has shed light on who is considered “essential personnel”.
Seattle plumbing contractor Vinny Sposari, owner of Mr Rooter Plumbing of Seattle, said “Working outside in the cold rain and crawling under houses — those are the things we as plumbers do. Kids these days they don’t want to put in the effort to get there.”
“The push for one form of education, in my view, really was the beginning of a long list of stigmas, stereotypes, myths, and mis-perceptions that to this day dissuade millions of kids from pursuing a legitimate opportunity to make six figures in the trades,” said Mike. “In the eyes of many parents and the eyes of many counselors, the trade school was the thing you did if you were not cut out for university”
Many of the high school students interviewed on the program noted that they believed there is a stigma attached to going to a trades school. Many said that trades school was not even presented as an option.
“If you look at the way colleges have been able to raise their tuitions, and if you look at the speed at which the skills gap has widened, and if you look at the number of kids out there — well educated, but hopelessly in debt, (from college tuition), and not trained for a good multitude of jobs that actually exist.
“There are entire categories of work that are shrouded in mystery. If we do not demystify them and de-stigmatize them we are going to be waiting for plumbers and electricians for a long, long time,” said Mike.
The wage gap was real, and it could start to close in coming decades
The Federation of American Scientists published a report on inflation adjusted wages by education level for the years 1979 to 2019. It shows that only those with a bachelor’s degree or higher enjoyed wage gains over the 40 year term. Workers without a bachelor’s degree actually saw their inflation adjusted incomes drop. This trend has impacted many vocational workers and their families. It has become tougher to provide for one’s family as inflation adjusted wages have dropped over time.
Falling inflation adjusted wages is likely the core reason why the millennial generation has looked away from vocational jobs — the wage trend has been down. Given the projected skilled worker shortage with retiring baby boomers, it could mean that wages will rise in the future because employers will have a smaller pool of qualified workers to hire. Hopefully rising wages will re-stimulate interest from the millennial generation in vocational jobs.