Adam Crain

Mike Rowe On Education, Work, and Opportunity

October 12, 2016

Adam Crain

You’re probably familiar with Mike Rowe. He is the man who for eight years on the Discovery Channel cleaned out sewer lines, scraped roadkill off highways, castrated lambs…and much more on his hit TV show Dirty Jobs. Today he hosts Somebody’s Gotta Do It on CNN and narrates the show Deadliest Catch.

More than just a TV star however, Rowe has used his shows as a platform to champion the dignity of work and the opportunity it brings – whether the work is done by someone in a suit and tie or in a bucket truck.

Through his Mike Rowe Foundation, he provides training for jobs that are available but hard to fill due to a lack of qualified workers.  It’s called the “skills gap” …and unfortunately, its growing.

In fact, right here in South Carolina, the Education Oversight Committee has analyzed state and national data showing that by the year 2030, two thirds of all jobs in the Palmetto State will require at least a two-year or postsecondary degree or credential.  And with half of these jobs in STEM-related areas (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), recent ACT results showed only 10% of South Carolina high school students meeting basic levels college or career of readiness in these critical fields.

Enter Mike Rowe. Last week, he spoke to over 1,300 freedom advocates – including the Palmetto Promise team – at State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. But you don’t have to go that far to hear Mike’s thought-provoking take on education, opportunity, and the inherent dignity of work.

Ericka Andersen writes in a recent National Review article titled “Mike Rowe: Stop ‘Cherry-Picking’ One Form of Education,”:

“Interviewing Rowe, was a real privilege because he preaches a message that gave my family and me a wonderful life filled with opportunity. Its bipartisan and practical – and its this: Sometimes the thing you’re passionate about isn’t the thing that you’re good at. You might be good at plumbing – and its possible to thrive, find passion, and make a living doing that if you allow yourself to be open to it.”

Rowe is famous for saying that traditional college is not the answer for everyone: ‘They are unfairly cherry-picking one form of education as being the best path for most people.”

Rowe is concerned that undue pressure on high-schoolers to attend 4-year college (and often assume mountains of debt) – paired with unrealistic advice to college graduates to “follow their passions” – renders students stunned when they are confronted with the realities of the job market.  Most are unprepared for the idea that high-paying opportunity might be just around the corner– in the form of a technical or somehow otherwise “dirty job.”

This of course, isn’t about “settling” for less or making careless decisions about your future.  But it is a call to recognize that work in whatever form it takes is noble…and there is more than one path to earned success and happiness. Skills training may be a better idea for some students and public policy should acknowledge that reality.

In South Carolina, high-tech manufacturing jobs are increasingly the backbone of our economy.  And we would do well to point students in the direction of this opportunity and better prepare them in grades K-12 for college or career readiness. Andersen continues:

“Living your career dreams if you have the talent to fuel them, isn’t a bad thing, but job choices aren’t necessarily what makes someone happy and fulfilled. That’s why Rowe said, ‘the world is full of very happy septic-tank cleaners and miserable investment bankers”

Instead of college, some people may find more opportunity through employment in, dare we say it, a dirty job. And that’s just fine – our economy needs both.

READ MORE: Mike Rowe On What’s Wrong With This Election