Mike Rowe Testifying Before Senate Committee

"The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work."
Mike Rowe

Working is part of our genetic make-up in the United States. One of my personal goals producing for this program is to present the many forms of grittier intelligence that exist in the world — reminding myself and our audiences of the intellectual integrity and the nose-to-the-grindstone beauty of people in this land I call home.

The value of work and how we work and how we become civic beings is embedded in this concept of everyday living. I ask myself, "Why did so many people love the story about the oldest living man from Montana who just recently died?" I don't think that it was just about longevity, but that he was a railroad man who had practical advice and obvious wisdom. He distilled the complexity of life into practical advice that I believe he formed by working the lines and the farms. I think all of us long to know more about people like that, the quiescent majority.

Reading the following testimony from Mike Rowe, the creator and host of Dirty Jobs, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has reignited my urgency to find more of these voices in the months to come. Here’s his speech in its entirety; it’s well worth the time:

“Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of this committee, my name is Mike Rowe, and I want to thank you all very much for the opportunity to testify before you today.

I’m here today because of my grandfather.

His name was Carl Knobel, and he made his living in Baltimore as a master electrician. He was also a plumber, a mechanic, a mason, and a carpenter. Everyone knew him as a jack-of-all-trades. I knew him as a magician.

For most of his life, my grandfather woke up clean and came home dirty. In between, he accomplished things that were nothing short of miraculous. Some days he might re-shingle a roof. Or rebuild a motor. Or maybe run electricity out to our barn. He helped build the church I went to as a kid, and the farmhouse my brothers and I grew up in. He could fix or build anything, but to my knowledge he never once read the directions. He just knew how stuff worked.

I remember one Saturday morning when I was 12. I flushed the toilet in the same way I always had. The toilet however, responded in a way that was completely out of character. There was a rumbling sound, followed by a distant gurgle. Then, everything that had gone down reappeared in a rather violent and spectacular fashion.

Naturally, my grandfather was called in to investigate, and within the hour I was invited to join he and my dad in the front yard with picks and shovels.

By lunch, the lawn was littered with fragments of old pipe and mounds of dirt. There was welding and pipe-fitting, blisters and laughter, and maybe some questionable language. By sunset we were completely filthy. But a new pipe was installed, the dirt was back in the hole, and our toilet was back on its best behavior. It was one of my favorite days ever.

Thirty years later in San Francisco when my toilet blew up again. This time, I didn’t participate in the repair process. I just called my landlord, left a check on the kitchen counter, and went to work. When I got home, the mess was cleaned up and the problem was solved. As for the actual plumber who did the work, I never even met him.

It occurred to me that I had become disconnected from a lot of things that used to fascinate me. I no longer thought about where my food came from, or how my electricity worked, or who fixed my pipes, or who made my clothes. There was no reason to. I had become less interested in how things got made, and more interested in how things got bought.

At this point my grandfather was well into his 80s, and after a long visit with him one weekend, I decided to do a TV show in his honor. Today, Dirty Jobs is still on the air, and I am here before this committee, hoping to say something useful. So, here it is.

I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.

Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber — if you can find one — is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

I came here today because guys like my grandfather are no less important to civilized life than they were 50 years ago. Maybe they’re in short supply because we don’t acknowledge them they way we used to. We leave our check on the kitchen counter, and hope the work gets done. That needs to change.

My written testimony includes the details of several initiatives designed to close the skills gap, all of which I’ve had the privilege to participate in. Go Build Alabama, I Make America, and my own modest efforts through Dirty Jobs and mikeroweWORKS. I’m especially proud to announce “Discover Your Skills,” a broad-based initiative from Discovery Communications that I believe can change perceptions in a meaningful way.

I encourage you to support these efforts, because closing the skills gap doesn’t just benefit future tradesmen and the companies desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me, and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.

The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.”

If you have suggestions for voices that could fill this gap in our coverage, please drop me a line in the comments or by sending an email to tgilliss@onbeing.org.

Share Your Reflection



I think I shall send this to Governor Malloy(CT) whom wishes to shut down the technical schools in Connecticut.

As encouragment or "stop wait a minute!"  Does all the power go to the top or can't burocrats be voted OUT.

 We all can't be doctors,lawyers, models, and sports moguls.It's great to have goals but  once again we seek the flash while shooting for the cheapest way to get the rest done. There is integrity  and honor in a job well done. And we all have the same job -from the doctor to the janitor- it's a job that needs to be done. We are in the maintenance era of our country, we have achieved so much and now need to honor the work of those achievements -by our families who came before us - and maintain the beauty of who we are. Recognize all around you who participate in our world as a very necessary and integral part of your world, our world -the world.

We can't all be doctors, lawyers, models, and sports moguls. Nor should we WANT to. That is the problem. Remember the old idea of the dignity of labor? We should impress on our children that there are innumerable ways to make a living that help make the world work.

Before I moved back to Iowa I had a little condo in a very high scale building on the lake in Chicago. The beautiful building was 35 years old, and the unit was a mess when I bought it.  I slowly fixed it up and in the process learned that the building had a hidden maze of "fixes" made up of scavaged parts by 4 old men who literally kept the whole thing going.  They were all in their last year before retirement.  I sold the unit with the realization that this is probably true of most everything.  It was definitely time to return home to Iowa where people still know how to get things done. 

Tom Paxton's early song "I'm the man that built the bridges" could be Mike's suggested national program's theme song.  Studs Turkel's "Working" should be weaved into its script.
Thanks, Trent, for posting Rowe's testimony and words.

I think this needs to be shared with Michigan's legislators, board of education, and governor, whose Michigan Merit Curriculum <http: 0,1607,7-140-38924---,00.html="" mde="" www.michigan.gov=""> has had the unintended consequence of reducing enrollments in Career and Tech Ed. classes and programs in high schools, and has led to the narrowing of our conceptualization of what it means to be well-prepared for a sustainable career in Michigan, one of the states hardest hit by the economic downturn. 

I'm also sharing this with one of my favorite CTE teachers in Michigan, Mr. Rogers, whose instructional videos are featured at <http: novidesign="" user="" www.youtube.com=""> and whose blog is at <http: misterrogersrants.blogspot.com="">

As a special educator, and as a learning disabilities consultant, I am a big fan of career and technical education, and am one of the first to say that CTE saves lives.

Kathleen Kosobud

I work in public schools and I see so many decent kids develop poor attitudes and give up on academics, leading to the behavior problems that drives talented teachers out of the profession. These kids are not unintelligent, just smart in other ways. But they are forced into academics that are more tedious, and much more irrelevant, than when I went to the very same school not that long ago. Soon my state will require Algebra 2 to graduate. Really? I was in the honor society and I found Algebra 2 difficult. I haven't used it since, nor do I remember how to do it. Rethink work. Redefine smart. Broaden the definition of education.

 I think it would be really interesting to talk to people like the "Car Talk Guys" and other very well educated people who decide to not be "knowledge workers," but rather people who actually create with their hands.   My husband makes handcrafted furniture in the middle of the city with minimal use of power tools.  People then ask why his truly functional art costs more than what they'd pay at Ikea.  It's sad that our culture has lost respect for the wisdom and craft of artisans.

I disagree that the Magliozzi brothers aren't "knowledge workers." Sure, they run a garage, but you know them as the Car Talk Guys - i.e., for their radio show.

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.....When they can purchase things made in china and are cheap, they lose interest in the well made hand made works of art that will last forever. I am an artist as well. I feel your pain and I am learning ever so quickly what it means to be a "STARVING ARTIST"..!!!!

This discussion is one of paramount importance today--we have stratified into the "knowledge worker" class and a class of low-paid, low skilled service workers, with relatively little work for those skilled in machine operations, the making and  repairing of our material artifacts, or any brain/hand engaging work for those whose gifts are in the making of complex material artifacts.  We have outsourced our needs for these things to other country and the social ecology of our culture is the worse for it.  

Matthew Crawford, a professional philosopher and professional motorcycle mechanic has written the best analysis of this in "Shop class as soulcraft"  I highly recommend it if you are interested in the spiritual/philosophical underpinnings of how the mind and the physical products of the mind (a chair, a boat, a Triumph motorcycle) are a complex interplay of great intellectual challenge and merit.  

I taught jr. high English for only 4 years, but I learned that intelligence could not be equated with essay-writing and aceing the test. I observed young'uns whose intelligence flowed straight from brain to fingertips, few words required. And I was saddened by how the system ignored, even squelched the natural curiosity of such students.  That curiosity is, in fact, the very bedrock of an educable mind, and a sure sign of intelligence.  Such students are often very impatient with our teach-to-the-bottom educational system.

When we bought our neighborhood hardware store, it was those "handy" kids we sought to hire, for their fascination with how things work is a huge asset and guarantor or their success in helping customers solve practical problems. Worst of all is to be a handy kid in a wealthy home where any college is affordable, and no other option considered. Such kids end up drinking their way through college and maybe even several more years of life before allowing themselves the dignity of pursuing their natural interests in carpentry, mechanics, electronics, farming, design....  We practice such educational snobbery and elitism that kids feel there's no reason to apply themselves in high school if they don't see college in their future.  Little do they realize how they will need all the verbal and mathematical skills they can master just to protect themselves and their assets as they navigate this global life..It's late... I ramble. You hit a flashpoint! We as a nation cannot afford to continue with our shallow and simplistic thinking about public education.

I was listening to a radio show the other day about how young adults going to college are leaving with tons of debt, but no jobs. One of the speakers expressed the same attitude as the above article that as a nation we need to find value in work again. Everyone wants to go to college because that has been the mantra from all parts of society for a long time. Statistics tell us that the more education you have the more money you'll get and nobody wants less, yet this new statistic tells us that less than half actually find work in their field of study. One young lady on the show was said to have $400,000 in debt and not yet finished with her veterinarian degree (Yikes!). I believe that the problem of a devalued appreciation of the working class comes from multiply sources, but I think all roads that lead to this devaluation leads to this group of people who champion "centralized world markets." From their philosophy has come the idea of let your money work for you, instead of you actually working, of corning the market to become the new "Too big to fail" corporation, of profits over community, and the list goes on. This idea can not be fully expressed here, due to the amount space allowed, but the idea of man living simply, working within his ability and living a life based upon G-d, family, and community has been usurped by those who have replaced it with professionalism, corporations, intelligentsia, and entertainment. 

Great points! I think we need to change the conversation from "college graduates make more money" to a more realistic metric of earning to debt ratio averaged over all college, trade school and high school graduates.

We have been blinded by the "college syndrome" : i.e.: in order to succeed you need a college education!  All of this hype is a load of bull----, promulgated by the money pits known as colleges and/or universities.  Rather than having qualified plumbers, electricians, chefs and the like, the educators would like us to accept BA/BS, MA, or PhD candidates to sell us the coffee at McD, or the 2x4 at Lowe's.  Talk about overqualified?  Then when we need a carpenter or plumber, one is not around since the politicians cut funding for the alternate or technical studies programs throughout the U.S. but kept the funding open for the major (sports) colleges/universities.  Toilet backing up?  Roof collapsing?  Shock from wall switch?  Call a college/university "hot line" and they will tell you when the next sports extravaganza is, or Sorority/Fraternity bash, but no help in living the good life.    

For most of his life my husband "woke up clean and came home dirty". He worked in 'manufacturing'...56 hours a week...
it was the 'overtime' hours that allowed us to save money for retirement. We've been married for almost 48 years.
He retired at the age of 68. He is the love of my life, the smartest man I know.
Thank you for the opportunity to pay tribute, here, to a real 'working man'. He is one of the unsung heroes you speak of.

Way to go lady! There seems to be fewer and fewer women these days that value and praise their husbands. It must be an offshoot of women's lib or something. "...You can't say anything respectful to a man that's too demeaning!" "...You are woman, hear you roar!"

I did both kinds of work. I was an aircraft mechanic and I did plumbing and electrician work for an involuntary slum lord, but jobs that value these experiences are scarce and there are hundreds of times as many mechanics applying for them as there are openings everywhere I see. I also supported myself as a professional student and now have a PhD. I do adjunct faculty work which is as difficult as mechanical work. The pay for all but the very few who get tenured is typically less than 20K while the football coach gets several hundred times that pay. What we have is a loss of values when the authority of skilled or educated people is treated like trash in the economy with a culture that values the unearned stardom of a pop singers who never did the years of hard work it takes to become a real musician.

I have been an instructor for Industrial Arts at the secondary education level, retired, taught at and still am at the college level in machining and quality control, have placed students with employers for internship programs and provided training to employers in several areas of employment needs. Mike Rowe is dead on. The greatest area of change is technolgy and the need for advanced training is required in order to stay competitive.

Thank you. Bless you. Why is it, what seems so obvious to those of us in the real world, is a complete mystery to politicians? Everyone is disconnected, including the "leaders".
I teach science and daily wish we had our voc ed back in the school. How are electricity and plumbing, not part of a technology and engineering curriculum? Because the College Board profits massively when every student is "going to college." Follow the money and let public schools get back to teaching skills needed by the community.
A science teacher.

Mike Rowe is so right. We have tricked ourselves into believing that these trades jobs aren't prestigious. Who wants to "leave home clean and come home dirty" when you can push paper or be a "white collar" worker? Well, we need those too, but when your toilet backs up are you going to call a bureaucrat?

I highly recommend this book that hits on a lot of the same themes: Shopclass as Soulcraft. http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Soulcraft-Inquiry-Value/dp/0143117467

This speech is surprising, I really enjoyed to read it, thank you. I read comments and it's true, some kids give up, but it's just because they are in the wrong way, it can be useless to tell that, but you know, everybody need to find their own way, to be aware and productive. Some kids have to reach their bachelor-degree of High School and after choose a way that they like in University, but they don't have to give up before that.

Very Very creative and appreciable article. I really felt proud in reading your article and about the growth. I heard Mike Row and was speechless because he puts an magnanimous effect on the listeners. Work must be valued as work is god. Each and every work should be valued because there is no big and small in it. For every work you get paid. In any business intelligence should be respected and welcomed but not ignoring the work.

Agreed about the vocational pieces of high schools.
Our local high school has a vocational program but it's not what it should be.
It's perceived precisely as this gentlemen points out: a place to resign yourself when all else fails. A place to go when you don't know what to do with yourself.

Instead, it should be this glorious land of learning the crafts offered.

How do we change that?

I don't know but I'm frustrated enough, locally, to consider this long and hard.

Thank you.

Well said! A coincidence that I just re posted one of my favorite programs from On Being "The meaning of intelligence," which makes the same argument. I am a teacher and young people need to know there is hope in a time of high student loan debts and little hope of finding a job after a four year degree.

I have been saying this for years now. How many more unemployed college graduates are we going to produce who are in debt in ways that heretofore were unknown at such an age. Meanwhile, when my 10 year old vehicle decides to hiccup, I'm in dire straights because I can't work without it. The solution to many of our everyday life challenges reside with plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics; skilled craftsmen who make each of our lives better in very significant ways. Vocational education is a very wise investment and can provide a very comfortable life with very little indebtedness for the education received.
In the span of my long adulthood, I have been an RN and I am currently the CEO of two companies. Sutherland Welles Ltd. manufactures a high quality Polymerized Tung Oil finish, right in the little state of Vermont, but the other company, Phoenix Finishing Inc, is a hands-on company that takes unfinished wood and creates beautiful finished pieces.On any given day in my life, the job I love most is the one where I use my hands to create and I get very dirty.

I just returned from shooting 2 episodes with DIY/HGTV for Daryl Hall's Restoration Over-Haul and each and every episodes features some craftsman, working with his/her hands to create this lovely home. Carpenters,furniture makers, electricians, plumbers, landscapers,roofers, stone masons,trash haulers, and even wood finishers like me.All of us filthy and exhausted at the end of the day, but what we have all created is something totally amazing.

Working with my hands requires intense thinking as to process, math,timing make no mistake it's extremely cerebral, but the hook for me is the Zen of where my mind goes when I pick up a brush. Life gets worked out when my brush moves, I can eat as much as I want because I burn it all off, and I sleep soundly.

We have sold our children into incredible financial distress by de-valuing working with our hands as being a "less than" option to an honest and decent life.And we have severely limited our own national goals, policies and security by not valuing vocational education. The piper must be paid and no one is going to like the price.

My father was a child of the depression, World War II disabled veteran, millwright and farmer. His life reflects what makes this country the beacon of hope for people all over the world. Mike Rowe's remarks ring true and rekindle the pride I had growing up on a hard working family farm mid-last-century. Citizens of the USA long to reclaim these types of civic values again. Our leaders just need to find the will to make it so.

College degree which gave me skills of organization and people skills, but have been a general contractor, handyman, fixer-upper for many years and I receive so much satisfaction from the physical labor of accomplishments visible right now. Thanks Mike, we need skilled labor to stay a leader and giver to the wide world of God's creatures.

There is irony, as well as tragedy (and a certain amount of comedy, albeit somewhat dark) in all of this. I'm a 59-year-old woman. I am very bright in all the ways that had guidance counselors unable to see any possible future for me other than college. But I was always far more interested in making things, or fixing things, or taking things apart to see how they worked. As a child of around ten or twelve, I successfully repaired a three-speed bicycle hub, using tiny springs I made from wire I got by unraveling the end of the bike's brake cable. Even the do-it-yourself bike manuals tell you to leave this repair to the pros.

My dad was a draftsman/designer who held at least one patent. Sadly, he died when I was four, and I think any possibility that someone in my young life might have noticed that I had a real gift with Thingsdied with him.

For here is the irony: as a girl, I was not permitted to take shop class, though I would have loved it, and would have excelled. In my late teens/twenties, I looked into cabinetmaking and other trades, but it was quickly made clear to me there was no place for a female in such jobs, at least not for a female who had all possible qualifications for the work except being able to somehow break through this bias (a barrier than sometimes can and has been broken, yet one which no man ever had to get through simply to be allowed to learn a trade). When I called about jobs as an apprentice or assistant or whatever, men laughed at me, told me it was a man's job, hung up on me.

Eventually, I bought equipment and taught myself to build furniture; I got interested in the lathe, taught myself turning, and have been self-employed as an artistic woodturner for thirty years. I've taught all across the US and Canada, and have written two books and many articles about Woodturning.

My point is only to add this to the reasons Mike cites to explain so well what has happened in our country with regard to so-called "manual labor,"(which nearly always requires far more intelligence than is believed by those who don't do it): so often, in the past, the skilled trades have had structures in place that systemically excluded not only women, but often people of races or ethnicities considered undesirable.

To be sure, had I been able to become a cabinetmaker, plumber, electrician, or other skilled worker, I would be nearing retirement. But it is likely that my presence in such a trade would have encouraged, at least indirectly, other women to pursue similar work. I am certain I would have done what I could to have made the work more open to people of diverse demographics, as I have done to some small extent in the field of artistic Woodturning.

I agree totally with all of Mike's interpretations of why and how this situation has arisen,and the current and future consequences for our society. This is just another layer to the whole issue, and one that, IMHO, still has some relevance.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Well said, Judy. Your contribution to this discussion is much appreciated.

The problem as I see it, is our welfare system, a byproduct of which, encourages people not to work. One would think it would be more cost effective to train those with aptitudes rather than just dole out checks.

My work as an engineer could not happen if it weren't for the people who operate the drill rigs, excavators, and trucks and install the infrastructure and equipment (in sometimes harsh conditions). It's a true team effort to get real work done.

The sort of work that Mr. Rowe thinks our society denigrates is the sort of work that can demand just as much attention to detail, problem-solving, and varieties of social intelligence as the so-called "knowledge workers" must demonstrate. The physical labor that paved our roads, built our bridges, and won coal from the pits can connect us spiritually to what it means to be, as surely as Dr. Tyson's work in astronomy helps us understand our place in the universe.

Too many legislators involved in education who don't have a clue what is needed. Technical education should begin in the 6th. grade. High schools are filled with kids who could use a good technical education. The Career & Technical Education should start at an early age, remain rigorous throughout high school and graduate kids who can enter the workforce with some skills.

My dad left home clean and came home dirty. He was a journeyman electrician. But he had dreamed of being an electrical engineer. That dream was shortcurcuited by his fathers death. My dad and his new bride moved back to Idaho to help out his mom who still had two daughters in high school.

It was my dad's dream that his children would go to college, and not have to work as hard as he did. He liked his work, but it cost him his health. Asbestos in his lungs. He nearly lost his life once in a workplace explosion (not his fault--someone else playing with what they had no business touching). He wanted his children and grandchildren to have safe jobs.

The last decade of dad's life he didn't breath without pain. Still, he worked until he was 80 years old, because he enjoyed his job. But if that asbestos had not been in his lungs, he would still be with me today.

I write this not because I don't believe people should work in these jobs, but because in many places there are moves to roll back the labor safety measures that have helped ensure that no one else ends up like my dad did. Everyone should have work they love. My dad sure did. He told his co workers that their jobs changed peoples lives, and to always remember that. He built schools, hospitals, jails, courthouses, college classrooms, prisons and wired the turbines on a hydroelectric dam. He built the house I grew up in.

THe other thing is that these jobs used to pay well--not all of them do anymore.

Thank you

In my opinion, so much of our disdain for trade work is rooted in our throw away culture. Growing up in the 50’s, I remember my father fixing many things. If it was beyond his capability, we would call a repair person or take it to a shop. Now we spend thousands of dollars on appliances and technology that seemingly cannot be fixed. Planned obsolescence seems to be the manufacturer’s mantra. Americans are all keen to buy the latest, newest, gadget, but when if one fails we cast it aside or worse yet ship it off to a foreign country for children to disassemble the toxic parts. I believe that we need to not only value the work of our remaining skilled workforce, but look at our own lives and honestly ask what it is that we value. Is it things rather than relationships? Is it ownership more than sharing? And is it a salary more than the satisfaction found in craftsmanship and artistry.

With 100 million Americans on public assistance of one form or the other,we need to get back to work.

Let it be known that the vast majority of those on public assistance do work, but they are forced to work in service-industry jobs that do not grant enough hours or wages to stay afloat.

This also reminds me of an old joke a urologist friend loved to tell: The urologist was complaining to the plumber about the plumber's high fee after only an hour of work. He says to the plumber, "You know, I am a urologist and I don't even make this much in an hour." The plumber says, "You know, when I was a urologist, I didn't make this much an hour either." Hehehe!

My plumber's response to such comments from doctors is this: "I guarantee MY work."

Being an ex-welder myself... I had written a large paragraph on this issue, almost an essay, but perhaps I'll cut to the chase. Companies have come to treat welder's like dog's, or worse, like hedge funds. :(

I have done many blue collar jobs. A wonderful book on this topic is The Puritan Gift by the Hopper Brothers.

I am so grateful for this. I think we celebrate many good things, but certain things get forgotten or consistently overlooked.

People should lift heavy things, build the things that they use every day. Cherish the things that are dear and have a hand in the making or more contemplation in their acquisition.

It isn't that things are made cheaply so much as it is that we apply value to flimsy things.

Thank you.

I heard someone commenting the other day that kids are not learning to problem solve. I believe that. I teach. Over the years and more and more, students keep expecting to be bailed out of situations instead of reading and understanding instructions and figuring out answers for themselves. This speaker's example was that "back in the day" if you got a tent for Christmas you and the gang planned the sleep out and put the tent up yourselves. Parents were nowhere in sight. If you managed only to get part of the tent up correctly, then, you were uncomfortable and disappointed and so figured it out and made it work next time. You made mistakes and learned from it. You made your own experience good or bad. Parents are either too involved(as in sports) or "pay someone to put the tent up". It is hard to find people like my brother or father that, I swear, they could figure anything out. Problem solving and hands on. It was very obvious on 9/11 whenall of a sudden we had hero firemen; As if the firemen came from nowhere and/or it was OK to be a Fireman again.

The only way we can step out of consumerism is to participate in the production of something, anything. If we always rely on others to do things for us, we cannot appreciate what their work involves. The consumer is getting farther and farther away from production which is being hidden from them. Vocational training should return to the schools and everyone(both boys and girls) should have at least some classes in practical life skills of taking care of a car, a house and to develop some basic skills in building as well as gardening, cooking and yes, sewing. School shouldn't just be about intellectual development, there need to be more hands on experiences for our children.

Thanks Marla! Some of my most fond times in school were spent in shop class and mechanical drawing. My 'guidance counselors' had the same disdain for the skills I amassed over the years of doing with my hands, creating novel designs, building things of great use to me and my families (and even cooking great meals). To those who are advancing even now, consider the source of your counsel. If these 'experts' have never had the experience of creating, doing, or living a full life, think at least twice before you heed their words. In the mean time, get out there with a volunteer organisation and learn how to do, so that you can do for yourself. Dusty dirty tools are not to be shunned or despised. They are the very means for your creation and sustenance of your life. Embrace them and let your best work be done with them.

So Mike says that there is a major skills gap with lots of jobs and no-one to fill them? Huh? What planet is he speaking from? Certainly not here. My cousin works construction. He's broke and basically moving state to state desperate to find work that pays more than minimum wage. My brother is an electrician. His house was foreclosed - why? Well not because he turned down the avalanche of offers. Insane article and not even resembling the truth. Funny, I never imagined Mike as being an ivory tower guy before...

I cannot speak to your brothers situation and skill level, but every trade is sorely in need of a younger generation to take their place. Mike Rowe is right on and his article!

Simply help our children ( boys and girls) amass a tool collection of their own. Start with tape measure,square and level. Build a bird house or pinewood derby car. Turn or kick off the TV & listen to Krista and enjoy your children and fun projects.

I have a BS and MS in engineering that leaves me with a desk job. I love to work with my hands and volunteer at a bicycle co-op whenever I get the chance because I love to fix and teach others to fix theirs bikes.

I often wonder if it would be a waste of an education to quit my day job to find work where I could really use my hands....

First, I want to affirm that I believe in the value of labor unions. I come from a family of working people who believed in the value of labor unions. However, I also know, personally, young people who have completed post-high-school vocational programs who cannot find work because they can't get into their skill's union. My understanding is that some unions are unreasonably exclusive--although I would love to be wrong about that.

Eagerly anticipating the possibility that Krista would interview Mike one day!!?? They are two of the most thoughtful people I know of when it comes to meaning, integrity and respect in the world we live in today.

As a recent comic said, "it is important to have a college degree so you know in what field you are unable to find a job".

We have put too much emphasis on COMPUTER SKILLS and left out the skills that are extremely futile for the existence of our future generations.Home economics and shop are what I grew up with in school. I feel it is an absolute necessity to re~institute the apprentice programs that allowed anyone to learn a job despite their financial ability or prior skills. And with this training, gain the ability for a career. To have gardening in schools, beginning at pre-K level through high school, including solar /wind power , water conservation and the like. Your right about the age of those who are qualified with the knowledge to do the "dirty work". My husband, who is semi-retired is one of those "jack of all trades". He can and does fix anything.( Of course, not the new fandangled automobiles and all their computerized gizmos that are constantly being recalled) SO, please keep up the good work my friend, we are with you 100 %......

I'm 15 and love the fact that you guys went forewords and started this. I'm really the only one at school who is really interested in cars and knowing how stuff works! Everyone else is interested in either sports or video games, and in my family my brother goes "shiny? expensive? I like it."and it just bothers me that the only people i can talk to about wiring or building are my teachers and my grandpa. I mean when you here older guys say "When I was young, we put an engine on a shopping cart and wired it all by myself...". I WANT TO DO THAT!! my brother came had his birthday and bought a harbor freight engine with it but instead of taking it and building something with it he goes "put this on something," I didn't complain obviously, so I made a 3 wheeler with a bike, snowblower, rebar, and the engine.
All I'm trying to say is thank you...

Everyone assumes that there is a shortage of qualified workers, or that people don't want to do certain jobs. I am a high skilled person who is currently unemployed. Companies want my skills, but the wage they want to pay is insulting. Also, I am ex-military, and so many job ads in my field require an associate's degree, completely disregarding the technical training and experience that veterans receive in the service. So, to business owners, if you need high skilled people, first, pay them what they're worth, and second, don't exclude qualified people with unnecessarily restrictive requirements. There are more of us out here than you think. Show us the respect we deserve, and we'll help fill those high-skill jobs.

Your story is my story, I won't say I'm a junk yard dog but remembering the depression growing up with the most optimistic parents, father from potenza Italy in around 1908, mother Hungarian I thought born in Budapest but mother came pregnant and born on staten island, I don't know how they met but I know they got married after my father purchased heir house when he heard his sweetheart was going to loose thier house defaulted on last payment of $15 I think, to a cruel mortgage holder, he had to repurchase the house to keep my grandfathers family intact, like all Italians of that era Mussolini to wipe out illiteracy had everyone go to school to at least 6 th grade , was enough for basics, reading writing and arithmetic, he took after or was inspired by his stepfather a famous architect in Italy , I still have a leather coverd book of marble work used as examples in the great churches there, he was a man of all trades , starting as an office boy for a shipbuilding yard on shooters island between Staten Island and New Jersey famous for all the yachts and later warships I think for both big wars, he learned tin nocking, ship carpentry, was a practical joker one incident caused the "no goosing " sighns to be posted on the island,a man was carrying a long piece of wood near the water edge , pop goosed him with the newspaper he was bringing to mr Gadoy who ran the yard for I think was townsen and Downey, man fell overboard , pop couldn't swim threw a cork ring hit him in the head, knocked him out another yard worker pulled him out was ok, it became a federal crime and had to appear before a judge, it came out in testimony he was under age and was to be let go, my father pleaded with the judge how many people were in need of his salary a long story , the judge declared him 17 or older to keep hi job, many other stories, but from there he learned mant trades. After ww2 he became an expert bricklayer rose to super tenant of many wpa projects, as a kid I would go on jobs and mix cement Cary bricks if a chimney I would never let him carry to the roof, he was a tinkerer would make anything out of copper, wood, taught me much about sewer construction, pitch had to be exact , everything we did had to stand pass an city are state inspection, you know the rules it goes easy, I was allways in grease , allowed me to o anything in the garage, I built a boxboat out of floor boards that floated when 11 years old,made a diving helmet out of a tin 5gallon can , put tied a window in it soldered a garden hose fitting in it , my brother pumped his brains out only to have it slowly fill and almost drown, needed more air, I became a pretty good electrician, rewired old houses , plumbing , installed boilers , as kids used to race old cars from the junk yards, used to tow an old welder to the Weisglass stadium on staten isl, needed to put together the car when crashed , I tell you this story because it is all over for people like us, you have to grow up thru hard times I had to shoot small game , even pigeons for the Sunday dinner,
Growing up in a patriotic town called Travis, seeing my neighbors die in different wars, when in grammar school or shortly after I joined the national guard to go fight the enemy , after awhile with my parents wondering where I went after I finished my training driving tanks shooting everything the army had , they found out I was too young and gave me an honorable discharge, when I graduated high school I joined the army security agency, went to Korea , the war ended I volunteered to go north to pyang yang to keep our ears open,discharged in 56, wasted all my separation pay in the local gin mill, stopped drinking after spending it all in the local pub m when I was broke went in the bar, he was making a pot of chicken soup , I asked for a bowl he said a dollar I didn't have he said no soup , I never went back to a bar again, got a job in General Electric factory trained repairman for the hot point line , became the factory rep for all appliances they made, covered ny and New Jersey locally, was a bricklayer for awhile , joined nyc fire dept, stayed there 30 years
Sad part of the story is buying a old almost condemned house for $6000 in 1961,
Pop and I gutted it to the beams , rewired , plumbed , had a coal stove in the kitchen, put in an boiler I liberated from a house being bulldozed for the staten island expressway thanks to the destruction of Staten Island and other areas by robert Moses, that boiler I just replaced with an old gas fired high effiency pulse boiler I was factory trained on another story, became obsolete because of the lack of qualified repairman, it's more effiecent than any on the market with my added heat exchanger to squeeze almost the last btu out of it before venting,
I keep going into story's, what I mean here I bought a house to continue what I did as a kid, build boats, machinery, repair cars , engines, weld, whatever you want to do in a free country, what happens land gets sold around you, houses gets built by people , city people come here to enjoy the trees and shade they cut everything down , complain when leaves blow in thier yard, they don't rake they hire migrant yard services while thier kids do nothing, I tried to give a kid some tools to do some small repairs on thier friends cars , change oil etc, tells me he makes more money in one day than I do in a month, he was doing drugs, like many kids here, one day I saw a guy hitting him on the ground, I went next door got the guys to help break it up , they said no was being arrested, I recently saw him serving at a lighthouse affair I volunteer in, he looked good , had a job told me he wished he took my advice
So I'm in an area now , that have to be carefull , weld , test engines, make noise, only when the sun shines not to bring too much attention ,
I should of been a shop teacher of something , I have friends that hang around, but no kids that want to learn what I can do, with all the drug ctivity going on I have to be carefull who comes in my yard I have a lifetime of artifacts hanging on my shed most all bronze brass from all the years of wreck diving, allways a car apart, or rebuilding boat engines, tools all over the place, occasional junkie walks in to sell me some stolen article, I physically escort him out he understands not to return ,
Where in the city can a kid like me when young who wants to build boats, weld, hunt, race cars, dive, I think it all starts you have be poor enough to get a job and work for 13cents an hour in a bakery as I did , no allowance, won't happen all these jobs taken by people like me from other countries, they will soon do the welding , building etc because we must go to college and learn nothing
Sorry mike I get out of hand , I'm over 80 and would do it different if I had the chance, google me "Fanuzzi's gold" a sweet girl Georgia gruzen followed me for a year for a class project , went broke doing it, I didn't know , she wanted to sell the DVDs can't didn't get rights to some music in there , so can give it away, if you want to see it email her or me I will send it to you, I have trouble watching it
Ed Fanuzzi

I graduated with a BFA in 1998 from Virginia Commonwealth University. I now owe about $50,000 for an education, that for the most part, I will never use. I am currently a painting contractor in Tallahassee, FL. I also lay tile, hang drywall, and do some plumbing and guttering.I am not and will never be a lady who works in an office. All of these things I learned on the job and well, really because it was the easiest way for me to support myself and my two boys ( who have come to work with me often). This is very hard work and more and more I work for older people who tell me that the people their families have depended on for years to do skilled labor are dying out. They are always surprised first that I am a woman doing this work and that I have the work ethic that I do.i am very interested in teaching young people and especially young women to do the kinds of hands-on work that I do. There is such a need and it only seems to be growing.
That said, I recently did some painting work for some people a little younger than me who just could not believe that paying me a living wage was fair to them. I had to explain to them, in writing, twice, exactly what they were getting. I had to fight for my paycheck after working for weeks in 100 plus degree weather on a 35' ladder, painting for them. They are fairly fresh out of college and have no real life skills and have never done any hands-on work. It was extremely frustrating. I wish more kids had to learn some real skillsat least so that they could appreciate the work being done for them.

I work primarily as a writer, but I find physical work immensely satisfying, and it provides me with some "thinking time." I'm thankful for the people who taught me various skills.

Wow! This story really hits home. I just about burst into tears when Mike talked about his grandpa being a magician, so was mine.

I had to make my way out of a military aircraft mechanic's job into an engineering career after attending many years of college. The four-years experience and my FAA license never helped me get a job.

I left home at 17 to join the Navy and never came back to live. I made my own way, no free car, no $80,000.00 college gift from my parents. I made my own advantages, and I'm proud of that.

It's true. It's just like Mike says, no one values the skills, efforts and pride that "working" men put into their work. They're under-appreciated, Under-paid and overworked. Just the other day, I had to explain to someone complaining about how much they'd have to pay a painter. They thought they should only be making like $10.00 an hour.

This person works in a hospital, so of course she feels she should be making $50/hour as an LPN. Wow! Six months of nurse's training and you're better then everyone else!

One thing to reflect upon, which is that most company's upper echelon (obviously privileged and college educated in prestigious colleges) look down upon those who do not fall into their paradigm of success and usefulness as nothing more than commodities. They say they want those skilled blue collar workers but are unwilling to acknowledge their worth by paying a fair and decent wage. Yes, it's true some professions (welders, plumbers, etc.) can make a good living but normally only if they work for themselves. Corporate America has itself devalued skilled labor as an operating expense that must be quelled in order to maximize investor and CEO profits. You get what you pay for and I am reminded of the saying that, "Skilled labor isn't cheap and cheap labor isn't skilled". Something corporate America needs to acknowledge at some point between teeing off at their exclusive country clubs. Would be nice if there were more Mom & Pop businesses which might afford young people an opportunity to learn and advance in a skilled trade. Unfortunately the situation we have today is that most jobs are controlled by huge conglomerate hegemonies who see the value and worth of a human being's skill and labor as nothing more than a base plus or minus on a balance sheet or stock return. We have become profit and loss statements and have lost our humanity and due respect as essential components of what makes America great. We have become nameless, faceless numbers on a spread sheet. As long as those at the top, including all of the millionaires in Congress, continue to value the rest of the working classes and their labor and toil as nothing more than an inconvenient expense to their bottom line I'm not sure if there is much hope. The only counter to corporate greed and largesse was trade unions which now have become akin to anti-American behavior and subversion. Shame, shame.

I am a teacher. I have worked with students who have IEP's (individual educational plan) because they are identified of having a learning disability. These students are often very smart, kind and will become great citizens. They feel dumb because they wont live the American Dream of not going to college. Many of them that I know, hold rank of Eagle with Boy Scouts of America. I feel America needs factory,technical and vocational trade jobs for people who want to work.

Hurrah for Gov. Haslam (TN) who has instituted FREE 2-year community college to any high school graduate in Tennessee. That's a major beginning to re-supplying our trades-related workforce.

Imagine a salesman with an Mdiv. School was never a place I excelled in grades, but I had fun. During High School I was a paper boy, and helped the local milkman deliver that precious libation. I also worked in a local gas station during a time when the gas jockey also worked along side a mechanic and learned how to fix other cars and Hot Rod their own. After just about passing Junior college, I began working for a Typesetting company; one that still exists today due to re-inventing. In 3 months at the age of 20 I was asked to join the sales department. I was sales manager at 24 and VP at 26. I loved the work in all respects for 34 years. But I had a call to ministry and enrolled at McGill for a "4" year Bth degree and a 5th year for my Mdiv. The results of a life time of the trades and the opening of the mind to academics is priceless and in good timing. Imagine a university, like that of a mega hospital, dealing on one campus with life; the beginning, the middle and the end. A place where everyone can work and grow by learning together, networking in and through a formation that blends and integrate skills. A place and environment that fulfils the needs of those learning, seeking employment and offering employment to those who want to join in to the vision of the visionaries. Would this allow the Steve Jobs to stay in rather than dropping out to drop in? In my five years at McGill I felt for the many young people who had no idea where their hard earned cash, or outlandish debts would bring them. All the time hearing my corporate friends saying, “there are no trained people out there for what we have to offer... Thanks Mike for getting dirty and not being afraid of splash back. God Bless America and the great land of the Canucks too.

I couldn't agree more. We have one person who we call to "right all the wrongs" that seem to occur on a weekly basis at our home whose value to us in immense. He has a daughter who just graduated from a high school in Northern Virginia that does offer a technical training alternative to an academic college bound degree found at the great majority of high schools here. She apprenticed with him on every job that he did for us and now is working for a car dealership apprenticing to further her skills. She is pursuing her life's dream and she looks forward to each day with pride and appreciation.

I envy her when I compare her with so many young college educated graduates who are struggling to find a job or who are finding very little true satisfaction in what they are doing.

The bias and disrepect toward workers isn't just about blue-collar / white-collar,it's now tangible in varied organizations when management hoards more than their share of benefits at the expense of those who do the hands-on work. Somehow, those who talk about the work are worth more than those who get it done. Ask health care workers who have lost their benefits and other highly skilled employees who rank low in their organizations. Workers managed by MBAs who really don't care who treats the patients or who creates the real value in companies and organizations.

My son has an undergraduate degree in Finance and a graduate degree in Macroeconomics. He gave up trying to find a good paying career in the private sector so he started his own business as a mechanic in the yachting industry. He is doing very well and is able to come home to his family every night.

My father was an orthopedic surgeon and my mother was a nurse. I was always taught about the value of extensive education. However, when I think of my late father, I don't think of him as the educated and skilled surgeon. My fondest memories are of the man who would have my brother and/or I help him as he fixed the toaster, the lawn mower, the table fan. We helped him build a wooden sled to tow us behind is 16' boat out on Great South Bay on Long Island. He built a sailboat from a kit to sail on that same bay. On almost a daily basis, I feel that I honor my parents most not as a now-educated former Navy and airline pilot, but as a man who fixes "stuff" with his hands like his father. My father fixed both people and stuff with the same hands, and he fixed a lot of both. Never under estimate the value of skills vs. book learning. We have the best educational institutions in the world, but they were built and are maintained not by professors and over-charged students, but by men and women of the trades. Regarding employment, the electrician working at a school has skills and knowledge which have immediate value in our economy. Not so for the school's students when they graduate. As a country, we need to value and honor our trades men and women.

Mike Rowe,


I Have lived long enough to be a first hand witness to death of the American Manufacturing empire. For the last 40 years I supported a family through the wonderful world of American Manufacturing- It was manufacturing that took me from poverty -Living the American Dream

I am the currently chairman of the Hernando County School Board - 2 years ago I put my income life on hold because I want to devote as much time as possible trying to make a positive change in education for the survival of "America The Beautiful"

Thank you for all you are doing


If you would like to collaborate any where, any time

Gus Guadagnino


so you want to make construction trades available for free to school students.
it takes smarts to build things, indeed.
if a fool can`t do fractions they are worthless for precision work.

yes fundamentals should be instructed in schools and you dont need expensive elaborate labs .

a tape measure and hand drafting are where it all starts and if they cant grow from there , they are no good for any field.
general algebra and physics concepts haven`t changed ever.

SPECIAL ED has no business in the construction industry.

don`t use the shop classes for a dumping grounds for the untrainable !