Mike Rowe’s Advice to Politicians: Do Some ‘Dirty Jobs’

Sheer hard work is required today, he explains in a revealing interview — and a skills gap hurts America

The former host of “Dirty Jobs” testified before Congress Tuesday with a compelling message — there are a lot of jobs out there that nobody seems to want.

In an interview with LifeZette Tuesday afternoon, Mike Rowe touched on this national problem and the work he and his foundation — Profoundly Disconnected — are doing to help rectify the situation.

“There are 5.6 million jobs that exist right now that people aren’t excited about,” Rowe told LifeZette.

“There are 5.6 million jobs that exist right now that people aren’t excited about,” Rowe told LifeZette. “Everybody’s talking about bringing jobs back, which is great, and everybody’s talking about reducing unemployment, which is great. But the existence of so much opportunity often gets ignored because we have this belief that I think says, ‘If we can just create more opportunity, fewer people will be unemployed.'”

He added, “I just know that the skills gap proves that opportunity alone is not enough.” The specific jobs that can’t be filled speak to a gap Rowe said is widening quickly. “Many of them are trade jobs,” he said. “It’s the very vocations that built this country.”

As the host of the immensely popular “Dirty Jobs” and narrator of reality programs like “Deadliest Catch,” Rowe, who is based on the West Coast, knows firsthand about under-appreciated jobs that require a special kind of work ethic. On his TV series, Rowe worked as everything from sewer inspector to snake wrangler.

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Unexpected jobs like these are beginning to go unnoticed in America, though they are much needed. Rowe pointed to a cultural issue that is keeping young Americans from even considering vocational careers.

“Expectations are almost always the enemy — no matter your generation. The expectations seem a little out of whack with reality for a lot of people,” said Rowe. Those “expectations” for millennials are being set by parents, teachers, and guidance counselors who point toward expensive educations as the immediate thing to do when one enters the real world after the high school classroom.

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“We’ve got $1.3 trillion in student loans and the millennials hold the lion’s share of that,” said Rowe. Giving the blunt advice he is so well-known for, he advised millennials, “Figure out what you want to do before you spend a ton of money on it.”

As for the vocational jobs companies seem to have a hard time filling, Rowe said young people today are wrongly told vocational jobs are “beneath your potential.”

It’s a mentality that needs to change. “Keep your mind open,” he said, referring to millennials. “The dream job sometimes winds up being the job you didn’t dream about.” Rowe’s foundation works to provide scholarships to individuals looking to get trained for jobs that exist and are needed in the workforce.

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He doesn’t entirely put the blame on millennials, however. “In relative terms, when a millennial sees a craftsman pull a tool from a toolbox they’ve never seen before and use it in a way that appears somewhat magical and the result is a door perfectly hung or a wall perfectly plumb or a fixed skateboard, whatever it is — that feels not so different, I bet, than the way I feel when I see them take my device or do something that makes sense to their brain in a way that feels or appears magical.”

What the modern day may need is a new “Dirty Jobs.” It was a show that served as a salute to the jobs many don’t think about — but rely on utterly. It made hard work cool in a way few media projects do today.

“I would require every elected official to do any of the jobs from Season 1 (of ‘Dirty Jobs’).”

“We treated these men and women on that show like American idols,” Rowe told LifeZette. “We spent the whole day with them. We put them in the center of the action.”

The show positively highlighted many “dirty jobs” by “celebrating the adversity present in the work, by celebrating the difficulty, by celebrating the good, the bad, the ugly, the warts and all.”

Rowe’s job today — besides pushing for skilled labor positions to be filled in America — is his podcast, “The Way I Heard It.” “It’s for the curious mind with a short attention span,” said Rowe. The goal of the short podcast episodes is “to make history and biography fun by presenting the subjects as a mystery or a riddle.” 

As for the white-collar politicians Rowe spoke to about much-needed blue-collar jobs, Rowe has an idea for them as well that may help highlight hard work. In lieu of term limits, he’d require politicians who want to run again for office to follow one simple rule: “I would require every elected official to do any of the jobs (from ‘Dirty Jobs’) from Season 1.”

Which job would he most like to see politicians perform? “Getting a lift pump out of a waste water treatment plant.”

Why? Because it requires “ripping off the old and putting in something new.”

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