Over the weekend I came across an interesting video of Mike Rowe, creator and host of Dirty Jobs. Rowe recently testified before the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. He made an impassioned case for the type of difficult but essential jobs he highlights on his show, as well as the vocational and other training programs that prepare workers for them — programs facing tremendous cuts due to state budget crises. While we hear a lot about the need to increase the level of 4-year college degree completion in the U.S., Rowe argues that skilled plumbers and welders are every bit as essential to our economic development, and that such jobs are worthy of respect and public support:
Terrie — May 16, 2011
Good for him. a 4-year collage degree is not for everyone. My cousin is a welder, a job which lets him support his family well, despite the fact that, due to severe dyslexia, he is functionally illiterate. It's not like we're going to develop a shortage of English majors if we encourage people to consider vocational schools.
Yrro — May 16, 2011
I can't agree with this enough. The solution to helping people rise out of their lower-income background isn't getting them to read Chaucer - as much as I love Chaucer - it's in teaching them any skill that they can learn to do to make a living. An associate's degree is a lot cheaper than college, and it will set you up for life 10x better than unskilled labor positions in fast food or wal-mart.
Honestly, in my school the career center made the "normal" school a much better place as well, because it meant that the only people in classical literature or european history junior and senior years were the people who were actually interested in paying attention, and not the guys who really just wanted to go work on tractors anyway.
Forsythia — May 16, 2011
We need less emphasis on "everyone to a 4 year college", and more focus on "what skills do people need to get good jobs that will support themselves and their families" and go from there. If we could only de-link this from income, so much the better - lots of unfulfilled rich kids should be using wrenches, etc.
If people are academically inclined, they will take courses once they have the time and money to do so. I know this because I've seen people in my lower-income family go that route.
Jen — May 16, 2011
On the one hand, cool. These jobs deserve a lot more respect than they get. A large number of my friends are cab drivers and they are the smartest, most with-it folks I know.
On the other hand, I don't want to see certain types of education reserved only for the wealthy, which is what sometimes happens when vocational programs become big. We ALL need the tools to analyze and critique the world and system we live in, whether we are plumbers or professors. We need to be able to critically analyze the media, the politicians, the corporations, the advertising, all of it.
What I would be terrified of is a "tracking" program like they have elsewhere in the world. That is, you do poorly on an exam at some point in your life, and it's off to the factory for you with no chance to try for something different.
Rosemary — May 16, 2011
Go Mike! I've always respected him, but this gave him mondo cool points with me. The way he talks about his grandfather is especially sweet.
annabe — May 16, 2011
Mike Rowe seems like a genuinely smart and funny guy. He has a TED talk worth checking out here: http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs.html
DeepThoughts — May 16, 2011
Bill Angel — May 17, 2011
It's possible that blue collar work has become stigmatized to some degree.
Perhaps there is a pejorative image of such workers that people have developed based on their portrayal in movies and in other "entertainment" media.
You know the plot: blue collar workers go to bars, get drunk, then go home and beat up their wives, etc.
But there is a different, more accurate source of visual imagery I would call attention to. Check of the slide show on flickr of welders:
Society would be better served I think if portraits such as these became the focal point of discussions, rather than the characters and plots of Hollywood's fictional imagery of blue collar workers who fill the "dirty jobs" and have contentious personal lives.
GEM — May 17, 2011
Pew Research Center just released a study asking Americans if they thought college was "worth it"? It's worth a read.