A recurring feature of every State of the Union speech in memory is a touting of the economy, no matter how bleak or robust it is. Last night was no different and with record low unemployment and more people working in America than ever before, there’s certainly good reason to talk about jobs and making a living in America. To add nuance to the discussion, however, skilled-work advocate Mike Rowe reminded everyone that as good as the job numbers are, there are seven million jobs in welding, plumbing, carpentry and other skilled work waiting to be filled.
Rowe argues that we’re having the wrong discussion about work by debating quality over opportunity.
“This is an inconvenient truth for a lot of people who are wrestling with the aforementioned cognitive dissonance. We have seven million jobs that are open right now. A big chunk of those — the majority — don’t require a four-year degree,” Rowe explained to the hosts of Fox News‘ post-SotU panel. “I’ve got $700,000 I’m trying to give away this month from my [MikeRoweWorks] foundation…but it’s hard to award work ethic scholarships these days because we’re affirmatively challenging the idea that the reason unemployment exists is because there are no jobs.”
The “MikeRoweWorks” Foundation gives away $5 million a year in work ethic scholarships.
“There are a lot of jobs,” Rowe said. “The discussion, as a result, has broken down into, ‘Well, is it a good job or is it a bad job?’ We’re not talking about the existence of opportunity, we’re talking about the quality of the opportunities that undeniably exist. As a result, we frame the debate in a way that we can’t possibly win.”
“We’re having the wrong conversation,” Rowe concluded.
Rowe went on to offer what he believes is the issue, saying Americans have been sold the idea that the only “good” jobs out there require four-year degrees and that’s just not true.
“You’re not hearing the stories of the kid who’s making $120,000 a year. The kid who a year ago learned how to weld. You’re not hearing those stories.”
Thankfully, Mike Rowe‘s advocacy and getting skilled work the representation it needs in schools seems to be paying off. For the first time in decades, we’re seeing a push for reinvestment in trade schools that leave young adults with valuable knowledge and skills that don’t saddle them with massive student loan debt, while also paying well.