Mike Rowe has long been known as an advocate of a stronger labor force, in particular through his foundation mikeroweWORKS, an organization that "help[s] people get trained for skilled jobs that are in demand."
In a recent appearance on Fox News, Rowe offered bracing commentary on the current labor crisis, particularly how we might go about fixing it. The text of the convo is below if you don't have time to watch:
Stuart Varney: Mike, bear with me, please. But I think [4.5 million people quitting their jobs in November] might be good news. People are quitting to climb the food chain looking for better wages Where am I going wrong?
Mike Rowe: ...I think it's probably a fair way to look at it. From my position, as a guy who runs a foundation that's focused on debunking stigmas and stereotypes around the skilled trades, I've never seen anything like this. Not a week goes by where my foundation doesn't get a phone call from some association in charge of some industry that's struggling mightily to recruit.
Just this month I've heard from the energy industry, the flooring industry, you just go down the list, one after the next—the restaurant industry, the cable and broadband industry. They are all struggling with the same basic problem, and that is how to make a more persuasive case for the opportunities that exist within their industries. And they're all talking to the same group of people who, for whatever reason, have, I think, changed their fundamental relationship with the definition of a good job.
This is not just a conversation between a mismatch of skills, although I think the skills gap is a very really real thing. This is a conversation about our workforce, and the imbalanced nature of it, and the way that that's going to impact every single American who shares my addiction to smooth roads, indoor plumbing, affordable electricity, and so forth.
Varney: So tell me, what is the new definition of a good job?
Rowe: That, interestingly, is one of the few things that we can control. And it is within our individual control to make that very decision. Guidance counselors have to decide, teachers have to decide, parents have to decide. The thing we identify as aspirational will set the stage for virtually everything that follows...
It's also a chance for me, Stuart, to remind people that for every five tradespeople that are retiring right now, two are replacing them. This is a terrible bit of arithmetic that we have to grapple with. it's just bad math. and it's happening right in front of us.
Varney: We have to change the status that we apply to blue-collar jobs.
Rowe: I think so.
Varney: A "dirty" job, a blue collar job, should be regarded as a good job if you do it well, your heart's in it, it's a vocation. We have to change the status. We stop looking down on people who work with their hands...
Rowe: I couldn't agree more. But we can't do that unless we do the same thing with the definition of a good education. It can't be "higher education" and everything else is some vocational consolation prize. We need to set the table fairly, we need to explain to kids that working with your hands, learning a skill that's in demand, can still lead to prosperity.
Rowe is absolutely spot-on.
The path out of the present labor crisis—and multiple other looming crises—is a definitional change.
We need to stop this clinical obsession we have with a college education and start recognizing that for many if not most people, a cheaper and more practical vocational approach is the actual path to genuine prosperity and stability.