Dirty Jobs creator on the need for skilled tradespeople in America

Mike Rowe, creator of the TV show "Dirty Jobs," testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the de-skilling of America, and the way in which skilled manual labor has been undervalued and derided in the USA to its detriment:
A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn't a lack of funds. It wasn't a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We've elevated the importance of "higher education" to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled "alternative." Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as "vocational consolation prizes," best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of "shovel ready" jobs for a society that doesn't encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a "good job" into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber -- if you can find one -- is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we'll all be in need of both.

I came here today because guys like my grandfather are no less important to civilized life than they were 50 years ago. Maybe they're in short supply because we don't acknowledge them they way we used to. We leave our check on the kitchen counter, and hope the work gets done. That needs to change.

Testimony of Mike Rowe (via Reddit)


  1. A much bigger problem is the fact that, where these jobs exist, they aren’t paid a living wage.

    1. “A much bigger problem is the fact that, where these jobs exist, they aren’t paid a living wage.”

      Exsqueeze me? Are you referring to the US & Canada? Every, say, electrician I am acquainted with (and I know several) earns quite a good living. As do most of the other tradespeople I know. Can’t speak for the rest of the world, naturally.

      1. I think some people are confusing skilled trades with factory work here. Actually, the fact that people are putting welders, plumbers, etc. in the same league as someone who puts widgets in boxes on an assembly line is pretty telling.

    2. Nonsense.

      Where are you getting your information?

      Any skilled tradesman worth being called that makes good money. A skilled tradesman who isn’t making “a living wage” is one who is not very good at their job.

      Welders with the skill set needed for doing the type of construction work that I’m assuming the governor was referring to in his statement make excellent money. Welders who have the skill set required to do welding on any piping or containment vessel used in a nuclear reactor will make very good money.

      Granted these people are highly specialized and are not the norm for welders, but any competent welder can make a good living.

    3. Pete, you’re kidding right ? If you are _good_ at what you do and you are a plumber, electrician or mechanics you _do_ make lots. Case in point: when I was 35 I worked with some guys like that and I was floored to learn that they had 2 houses each, paid in full and worked only about 6 months a year, quitting their job whenever they felt like and reapplying some month later because their boss couldn’t find any replacement.

      While I was barely scraping by working in research, not owning anything, never with a full contract, always 6 months to one year contract and then the same period trying to find another job paid shit at best.

      Of course the keyword here is that you have to be good at what you do, if all you know is which way to tighten a screw you’ll never amount to much anyway, with 5 years of study or not.

  2. Well, it’s not like there are strong cultural imperatives in the US to go study Greek, or become a psychiatrist, either. Generally Americans care fuck-all about education, period (although we do love to fetishize odd specialities and excellences of any kind).

    I would also say that for a TV personality to be pushing this is rather ironic, and perhaps more indicative of the problem than he’s aware: we now have Makers and TV talking-heads who opine on the joys of all things dirty and handy, and seem to be losing the solid working class of people who do this kind of thing. That he started his TV show based on his nostalgia for having once dug up a septic tank with his “magician” grandfather is rather sad, and quite revelatory of where we’re at these days.

  3. perfectly done. mr. rowe eloquently exposes a simple fact that our nation has long, long forgotten: college isn’t for everyone. too many of my friends have degrees they don’t use and a debt they’re stuck with for years. being a plumber may not have made them- or me- happier or richer, but the idea was never even suggested. in modern suburban high school, vocational school isn’t discussed. “your parents probably went to college because you’re here, therefore you will be going to college.” it’s the first step that’s gotten us to where we are today: increasing tuition, increasing admittance requirements, inflated grades (to ensure admittance), malaise of the recent graduated, and- as mr. rowe points out- a developing shortage of skilled labor.

    1. I completely agree! I’m paying off a never ending college debt for a degree that has done nothing for me. i encourage any young people I interact with to think about a trade school as a more realistic (cheaper) way to really get a job…

  4. Good for Mike Rowe! He’s nailed it.

    Why do we push for ALL students to go to college? Sure, we want everyone to attain their utmost potential — but take into account that everyone has differing skills, talents and interests, not all of which line up for a college degree. Let’s remove the stigma from being a “tradesperson” and recognize it for the importance it has in our society.

    I read a stat a few years ago that it takes an engineer 10 years post-college to catch up to the earnings a welder can attain while the engineer is in school incurring debt. (Looking for the source; will post if/when I find it).

    1. I read a stat a few years ago that it takes an engineer 10 years post-college to catch up to the earnings a welder can attain while the engineer is in school incurring debt. (Looking for the source; will post if/when I find it).

      Please do post this if you find it. I’m appalled that my alma mater is now charging $50k (!!!) per year for an undergraduate education, simply because that’s what Harvard and MIT do. It’s wrong on all counts.

      But I have to say, while I like Mike Rowe, I liked him a lot more before he started shilling for Ford.

      1. He’s plugging an American engineered and built product. That’s not a bad thing. I would more be upset if he were plugging a BAD product, which Ford has done an impressive job changing itself into a manufacturer of quality. They took ZERO dollars from the Federal bailouts. Mullaly gave back his own salary to help stave off deeper cuts at the company. Ford is one of the few American Corporations (specifically in manufacturing) doing what is RIGHT. And I for one applaud them for it.

        I formerly drove a Ford Ranger prior to switching to Hondas. My wife and I have owned an Acura, Civic, 2 Accords, CR-V, and an Odyssey. We have both discussed that when our next auto purchase comes around while Honda/Acura will still be at the fore front, Ford is number 2 on the list to take a look at. They completely have pushed Toyota, Nissan, et. al. off of our radar.

        For $50,000, you could learn a tremendous amount of actual, useful knowledge in two years, then walk into a relevant trade-level job and pay back the $50k debt in, say, five years. Maybe six. As long as you’re smarter than a potato, you should get by just fine in life.

        If you go for the right skills set, you might even be better off leaving the US to live in a country that allows more vacation time per year. You’ll never be appreciated in the US, so it’s probably better to learn as much as you can, then go someplace where your life will be valued and respected.

    2. It’s also sad that very few “engineers” have any practical skills, yet they’re the ones designing new products and bossing around the few skilled laborers we have left.

      I’m 33 and work as an aerospace engineer and unix bastard, mostly. The other day I needed to modify a Ti digital signal processing (DSP) board, and fortunately my local lab is well equipped for surface mount soldering. An older fellow walked in while I was doing the work and his first reaction was “holy crap, you kids still know how to do that?” Well, I never learned jack shit about it in any school, but I taught myself how because it’s a handy skill. Specialization is for insects. Besides, it helps to differentiate me from my non-hacking, no-skill-having, rubber-stamp-resume-embellishing “peers”.

      Do I want to solder all day long for a living? Hell no. But I wouldn’t mind splitting my time as a tool and die maker or machinist. Sadly, to do that I’d have to move to China or become an independently wealthy hobbyist/entrepreneur.

    3. “Let’s remove the stigma from being a “tradesperson” and recognize it for the importance it has in our society.”

      Seen this. Go to a bar in when I was in college, tell a woman “I’m an EE major,” you get the “how you doin” Joey type response. Go to a bar as an apprentice, tell a woman “I’m an apprentice in the Plumbers and Pipe…” and the eyes glaze over if she’s even still sitting there or facing you. lol. People look at me like I’m a nut that I chose this over college. People IN MY TRADE at work look at me sometimes like that. Even people in my trade don’t want their kids to do this work.

      “I read a stat a few years ago that it takes an engineer 10 years post-college to catch up to the earnings a welder can attain while the engineer is in school incurring debt. (Looking for the source; will post if/when I find it).”

      Here’s my cousin’s situation as a pipefitter and welder. Apprentice at 19, turned out at 24, in 1998, hasn’t made less than 100k, often much more since then. And the period of apprenticeship he was making money instead of spending it. First year we made 45-50% of a journeyman, (+5% of journeyman’s rat every six months) by fifth year we make 85%-90%. That’s here in Vegas.

    4. It’s indicative of the fact that people consider these jobs beneath them. We’ve all grown to expect that we will somehow be exceptional. Problems arise when we all obviously are not. There’s no way this is a classless society, either.

  5. As Judge Smails said, “The world needs ditch diggers, too!” And I couldn’t agree more.

    For example, my dryer is broken and eating my clothes. It will cost me less to buy a new dryer than have my current on repaired. I’d rather have it repaired. Repairmen are local. I want my neighbors to be gainfully employed. I don’t want to trash a machine that is 90% good because it costs too much to fix a broken 10%… but that is what makes short-term economic sense for me.

  6. I have a BFA and an MS and yet in reviewing my total life earnings I have made more money working at skilled trade-type jobs than so-called desk jobs, which are difficult to find these days. But I always have someone asking me to do this “lower” form of work, plumbing, concrete work, painting, welding, fabrication, etc. Maybe it is time we realized that jobs like banker, marketer, corporate executive, real estate agent and the like are mostly useless and do not add to the common good, and should be replaced with profitless automated systems. Or robots, if we had better arts education, so the unemployed would have something to do with their time.

    1. I have a BFA and an MS and yet in reviewing my total life earnings I have made more money working at skilled trade-type jobs than so-called desk jobs, which are difficult to find these days. But I always have someone asking me to do this “lower” form of work, plumbing, concrete work, painting, welding, fabrication, etc. Maybe it is time we realized that jobs like banker, marketer, corporate executive, real estate agent and the like are mostly useless and do not add to the common good, and should be replaced with profitless automated systems. Or robots, if we had better arts education, so the unemployed would have something to do with their time.

      FUCK, YES.

      Eradicate the damn parasites! These vampires have been leeching society dry long enough. It’s high time their ridiculously elevated status was withdrawn so they can be seen for the freeloading vermin they are.

  7. As a Vocational Education Instructor I agree with Mr.Rowe, and not just because I watch his show. Voc Ed has a stigma attached that it is only for people that won’t go on to higher education, so you might as well learn some job and do it for the rest of your life. There is a shift happening though, Voc Ed is now referred to as CTE, or Career Technical Education. It’s more about getting kids exposed to different career paths than just teaching them how to make cassaroles in home ec. Besides, was your science teacher ever a scientist? Was your english teacher a published writer? Now we have CTE courses that are university accredited so parents are taking notice.

  8. In the main family I grew up in, I had a younger brother who would have made an excellent mechanic but the parents in that family would not allow it. Better to be in the lowest level office job than getting your hands dirty in a blue collar job. They both came from manual laborers themselves, so I understood the basis for their assumptions, but at the same time, I didn’t: both of their parents had much happier lives than they did. What was so wrong about that?

  9. I work a skilled labor job. I’m an aircraft mechanic. I earn a comfortable wage in a secure federal position and I derive a great deal of satisfaction from it. Not many other jobs where you can fix an engine one day, drive a forklift the next, develop a program for keeping track of tools the next, etc. etc.

    Every job has bad days. I don’t complain much because the usual advice I get is to go back to school. According to the BLS if I finished my computer science degree I’d be set to earn about two thirds of what I earn now.

    Doing what I do amounts to a pretty good life. Not that you’d get anyone involved in our test score driven education system to admit it. In our quest to produce college ready students we’ve lost sight of what may be a good thing for a great many young adults.

  10. I find it ironic that the guy with the “least” education amongst the law makers he spoke to was the one who had to explain to them this simple truth.

    If those guys are supposed to be among the “smartest guys in the room”…and believe it that THEY think they are..


    Seriously…WTF is wrong with us as a nation?!

    Sad thing is…the skilled tradesmen that do Plumbing, Electrical, etc etc….they have routinely been accused of overcharging for their services for decades. Imagine when there are fewer of them available?

    And scarier still…watch Holmes show. His program shows you the short cuts and sloppy work that the BAD tradesmen are doing right under most people’s noses!

    My God…we are all fucked.

    1. Just an FYI – Mike Rowe has a degree in Communications from Towson University, and sang in the Baltimore Opera. He’s got at least as much of a formal education as most elected officials.

  11. On the job training is how I became a computer programmer (not a Software Engineer, which is a guy with an SE degree). On that level I agree completely.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of professions which are quickly disappearing because of the kind of work I do. I automate people out of work. “All skills will eventually become computer skills” sayeth the cartographer. Not that we will ever run out of the need for ditch-diggers, but I can see why people would rather not dig ditches for a living. I’ve done it and it sucks.

  12. As a teacher this is too true. I work in a area where many students are in school only to avoid the truancy fines. This sounds unreal but it is true.
    Many students are not engaged in class and become behavior problems. The education system is far form perfect but Mike Rowe make a good point we need skilled labor. Many of my class metes from when I was in school took wood shop and discovered that they were very good at working with their hands. I have run in to many of them who now own companies and work in trade labor fields. Many make way more than I do and do not have the debt that I do form going to school.
    There are many jobs that can not be outsourced.

  13. And of course, instead of hiring a plumber, we’ll just have ready made kits for entire sink and pipe assemblies, sewage runs etc or even just disposable living accomodations…instead of addressing the real problem.
    You can rinse and repeat this issue for everything, it represents the desire to do less and get more. Employers take advantage of employees, employees in turn hate their jobs and work less, and everyone seeks to do less and get more.

    Its almost as if people are being raised to be unhappy with what they have, you know? Like…like things are just never good enough.
    And sure, for many it isn’t. But how do we fix this?

  14. Here’s the deal. This has nothing to do with high flown ideas of what is a worthwhile occupation. This has to do with MONEY. Most factory jobs pay crap, are not unionized and have very few benefits. This is because most labor is shipped overseas or outsourced. If tax laws were changed so that American companies would rather keep jobs and manufacturing in the U.S. then wages would be higher because the American worker would not have to compete with the Chinese worker who gets an even shorter end of a shorter stick. Ousourcing and offshoring is why we can’t fill factories. No one wants to work for peanuts.

    As for why don’t people want to become plumbers and electricians? I have a masters in English and if I want to become a plumber I can. Because my college education taught me management, communications skills and host of other strategies I can use to learn new skills I could become an eletrician anytime I want to. I currently fix people’s computers and use my college education to run my own business.

    People work because they get paid. if there are no plumbing jobs or welding jobs and factory jobs pay crap money because, hey, in Laos they weld a lot more cheaply. Then people won’t do those jobs.


    I charge about what it would take to see a good shrink. I do this because it took me ten years of training to be the badass I am at my job. The comparison undercuts Mr. Rowe’s point. He wants people to be plumbers, but how dare they ask for as much money as a psychiatrist? A good plumber has probably been at it a whole lot longer than an entry level psychiatrist.

    The world needs ditch diggers and if it wants then it better be prepared to pay what they are worth. If not, here is a shovel.

    1. He does sort of rather leave out the a fortiori principle: that, having learned critical thinking skills, abstract reasoning, etc., it’s probably easy for many to then learn mechanical and trade-based skills. But for the hypothetical average plumber to go from that to writing, management, theorizing, etc., is perhaps a bit of a stretch, those avenues of thought having been neglected or closed down by rote mechanical work. This is of course an unfairly broad generalization, and we all know folks who do both kinds of work well, but in my experience the college-educated handy types are more common than autoworkers who can quote Homer.

      I also rather love the irony that we’re all discussing the immense value of skilled trades on the Internet, most certainly sedentary (unless we’re at our lecterns that we’ve had the leisure to read about and buy, and probably have not made, QED), and very likely not whilst plumbing or ditch-digging etc. The nostalgia and lack of critical thinking about our lionizing of trades while proving that we ourselves are not tradesfolk really needs to be pointed out: like, if you have the leisure and education to think critically about the value of skilled labor, you’ve rather declared what you really value, and it likely isn’t skilled labor (at least for your own work), or you wouldn’t be typing this, you’d have your hands dirty with my stopped toilet, or something. Unless you’re the Soulwork as Craftshop author, and have managed to marry both endeavors (although I rather wonder how much $$$ his writing earns as opposed to the craftwork he writes about).

    2. If tax laws were changed so that American companies would rather keep jobs and manufacturing in the U.S. then wages would be higher because the American worker would not have to compete with the Chinese worker who gets an even shorter end of a shorter stick.”

      This sure isn’t how U.S.-style capitalism works. I’m not sure what you think “changing tax laws” means, but it absolutely wouldn’t result in a single job returning from overseas so long as A) there is dirt-cheap labor to be utilized/taken advantage of in other countries; and B) U.S. trade laws and agreements continue to allow and exacerbate this disparity.

    3. “I have a masters in English and if I want to become a plumber I can. Because my college education taught me management, communications skills and host of other strategies I can use to learn new skills I could become an eletrician anytime I want to. I currently fix people’s computers and use my college education to run my own business.”

      And you’re assuming just because one has a college education, they can learn management, comm. skills, etc.? To the extent that one with a liberal arts degree and come out learning higher technology on their own? WOW. I mean, I also have a liberal arts degree and can learn anything I put my mind to really, but I also realize this is a ‘born’ talent, to have the /ability/ to learn such a wide range of subjects.

      Anyway, finishing university doesn’t mean squat when ‘D’ is still passing. It is just another business, this ‘education’ system.

    4. electrician whenever you want? plumber whenever you want? i would like to challenge you to write one of the technical exams for these trades, it takes a minimum 5 years in the field along with training in instrumentation, electronic, electrical and practical theory, fire alarms, plc’s etc to gain the experience and knowledge required to become a competent and licenced mechanic. I realize you may have broached some of these subjects in the computer world however, a lifetime of text can never replace real life experience. It’s misconceptions like these that discredit the validity of trades licences. (licenced electrican)

  15. At dinner with my in-laws a few years ago, somehow or another they were discussing an old friend of the family who’s son had become, in my in-laws’ eyes, a ne’er-do-well, and my father-in-law quoted that ‘The world needs ditch diggers.’ It was irritating to hear him say that, to group a trade in with people who can’t get themselves together enough to keep a job. He also rather rudely described my father ‘as an electrician or a plumber or something.’ I found it problematic that he, a robotics engineer, would dismiss my father as somehow lesser because he has a blue-collar job. But when I read this article I immediately thought of that because that pervasive attitude comes from both angles, from people who are born into white-collar families and from people who come from blue-collar families who send their kids to college ‘to do better than their parents did.’ Somehow, competition became more important than just stability and job security.

  16. As a stone mason, I think this is happening at a family level, like chgoliz said. If I had a son or daughter I don’t know if I would recommend the trades (especially moving rocks) until wages are much higher and more time off is mandatory.

    Skilled labour is rewarding but demanding on the body.

  17. One thing I think is missing from this topic is the fact that a University IS NOT required for a thorough education. I know that if I had only done what was asked of me at uni I wouldn’t know a third of what I do now. The bulk of my education came from me reading and studying things that interested me on my own. In other words, there’s absolutely no reason why your plumber can’t discuss phenomenology (or fill-in-the-blank) with you while he fixes your leaking toilet.
    There should be more reasons to educate ourselves other than making lots of money and avoiding physical work.

  18. Couldn’t agree with Mr. Rowe more on this one. We do indeed need skilled trades and will likely never not need them. And they should (and often are) be paid very handsomely for doing the grunt work that the rest of the educated bozos can’t or won’t do.

    I’m actually appalled every time I run across a college grad that doesn’t even know how to fix or repair common household items let alone use a broom. I had a roommate years ago that called me at work to tell me the toilet was overflowing and he didn’t know what to do about it. Talk about educated idiots.

    Most skilled trades are very skilled. My electrician sister had to spend about five years going to night classes at the hall to become a journeyman with the union. She also attended a regular college to get a bachelors in order to qualify for a job with the state. So, she actually has more education than your average college grad and certainly is a lot more intelligent than most Lib Art people I have met, like the dipstick that couldn’t figure out how to use a plunger or turn the water off at the intake on a toilet.

    1. Rarely are basic problem solving skills taught in school. People are taught formulas on how to solve known problems. I know someone who has two doctorates. One day I was helping her with her computer. She was trying to plug a Flash drive into the computer but there wasn’t enough light to see the socket. I pointed out that more light would be helpful. She then went around the house looking for a lamp small enough to drag over to the computer. I then pointed out that opening the shade on the window next to the computer would provide plenty of light. Sigh.

  19. E-mail from BP engineer called Deepwater Horizon rig a ‘nightmare well’ six days before explosion

    A General Electric Co engineer said he resigned 35 years ago over concern about the safety of a nuclear reactor design used in the now crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

    The examples above demonstrate where peoples’ priorities are.

    In Germany you cannot become a barber without getting a proper license. In France you need training to be a waiter. In the USA Joe the unlicensed plumber dreams of owning his own multi-million dollar plumbing company instead of getting proper accreditation, joining a union, and fighting for better wages and high standards for his profession.

  20. I’ve often thought that one of the reasons for the decline of vocational education in our schools is at least in part due to liability issues and school systems becoming terrified of being sued thus throttling educational opportunities. But I have no data on this to back it up. Does anyone else?

    1. I don’t have any data, but I do have a glaring example:

      I picked up a book from Edward McKay for a couple of bucks:
      Renovating Old Houses (George Nash). Now this book is dated 92, and in it he points out things that would terrify most people today.

      The idea that a person can level their own house, or even jack it up and replace beams and the like seems so foreign of a concept to most people that it wouldn’t even enter their mind they could do such a thing. I mean that’s why we have “professionals” that do that stuff right? Well what about 50 years ago? Ram Jack didn’t exist. People had help from their neighbors and they did these things themselves.

      In a span of half a century this country as become reliant on the service of companies and others to do things that anyone should be able to do. (I’m not talking about replacing a sill beam on a 100 year old house, but things like fixing a running toilet or replacing an electrical outlet.) Or hell mowing your own damn yard.

    2. The liability issue is a real chilling effect on schools and has been for decades. Wood/metal shops, chemistry labs, photography labs, even cooking… The insurance rates went up and everyone said “we don’t need it that much…”

      Not everything is better virtualized – just cheaper.

  21. I have been a machinist for the last 13 years (rapid prototyping not production for the entire time), I got laid off just over a year ago. I’m not going back due to how low the wages have gone. I’m also tired of being treated like a trained monkey (that is what my last boss referred to me as. When I started in ’97 I was making more than what I’m being offered now. I am not going back to that profession because of the pay and attitudes of the management about workers.

    Example – I’m fixing damage done to an assembly I made by the engineers that installed it. The part was hand delivered to me in on the west coast from Japan. My 4 bosses (engineers/MBA degrees) don’t think this is even possible. Less than 2 hours later the part is fixed and heading out to get inspected by a third party. The third party inspection didn’t catch the mistake I made (off center by .00006) but well within tolerance (.0001). I got paid less than $40.00 the company I worked for got paid $13,000 and I’m the only person that is allowed to touch these because of there complexity and tolerances.

    If you are in need of skilled labor – Machinist, welder, metal fabricator, automotive mechanic, computer technician, licensed massage therapist and wood worker. I am highly skilled in all of those.

  22. Wow from a website that promotes “making” things everyone’s opinion seems rather limited in what he is saying.

    Sure there is a phone book sitting with scores of numbers for electricians/plumbers/carpenters… Sure just about any average Joe can do this work.

    Hell I don’t have major experience in any of these fields, but yet I’m doing a lot of the work on my own house myself.

    Why? Because Mike said skilled. You don’t hire welders straight out of school to build planes or nuclear power plants. If you are experienced and skilled enough to know the intricacies of how to weld more exotic metals or in difficult situations then you become much more valuable. And at one time that was part of the craft, to become better at it. It didn’t matter if you were a carpenter/electrician/plumber.

    (Like someone said that Holmes show on HGTV points these things out real fast to the novice.)

    I see enough crap work by so called “professionals” that I have stopped caring about someones degree or qualifications. If they can explain the how and why of what they are going to do (and I feel like it’s correct) then that’s probably the person I’m going to hire.

  23. I think a big problem is that we don’t value skilled labor, and that includes *any* skill – scientists, craftsmen, teachers.

    Offices and factories want cogs, and schools are designed to produce cogs. Time spent working at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart is time NOT spent in the presence of masters and capable people.

    This isn’t an ‘eggheads vs working men’ discussion, and it weakens us to think of it that way. Mastery of *any* sort, of *any* trade, should be valued more than it is now. I remember a few years ago my dad took his broken lawnmower to an eccentric man who worked out of his garage and likely knew more about lawnmowers than most people on Earth. He had my immediate respect.

    “He doesn’t even know how to X” is also not a fruitful line of thought. I can’t change my oil, but I can build a computer from a pile of parts and I can run a multiple regression. Harping about ‘my skills beat your skills’ is pointless – people can’t know everything. That’s the whole point of mastery – devoting yourself to truly understanding something means there will be other things you just don’t know. My grandfather could fix damn near anything, but he couldn’t have captained an ocean liner.

    The lesson of Mike Rowe’s testimony is that trades need to be valued, and liberal arts yahoos need to be valued, and policemen, and.. and. It sounds like an after-school special, but it’s a simple fact of humanity: the more knowledgeable and skilled people a culture has, the stronger it is and the more it can do. Treasuring skill begets skill, treasuring cogs begets cogs.

    1. Right, but the entirety of your education and life-experience that allows you to theorize about value and to frame a critical discussion about it rather suggests that a liberal-arts education is in many ways more valuable than a trade-based one. Mastery of anything is indeed necessary and valuable: but mastery of the category of mastery–being able to think, theorize, and postulate, frame hypotheses, test their validity, reflect critically on what you’ve done, and reflect critically on your critical reflections (and on your capacity to do so at all)–is rather rarer, and infinitely more precious.

      Put another way, the flint-wielding cavemen were valuable in being able to skin hides and start fires: but that harebrained stargazer who first thought to use the flint to scratch designs on the cavewall is the one who dragged us light-years forward culturally. A myth, to be sure, but one that helps to frame the discussion we’re having.

      1. I agree that some contributions have been more earth-shattering than others, but even though I’m a liberal arts yahoo, I don’t think the liberal arts are the only way to gain the greatest understanding.

        Most relevant to today’s political world, people who are masters know how something works, and that knowledge isn’t ideological. A mechanic doesn’t tell you the best tool to use because it fits with John Boehner’s religious beliefs – she just tells you what the best tool is.

        Really skilled people use what’s best and use what works. And they tinker and explore – they test boundaries and see if anything will work better (“forming hypotheses and testing validity,” as you say). They operate based on reality to make reality work better. In my mind, the medium is absolutely irrelevant. People thinking this way about *anything* is a benefit, and it’s a kind of thought that can be applied to any trade.

        The problem I see societally is that we don’t value thinking like this because it gets in the way. Wal-Mart doesn’t *want* the best and brightest, and neither do most corporate offices. We’ve been making efforts to assure that much of our work can be done by grunts, and so that means we need to produce grunts. But we’ve far, far overshot in this regard. Plumbing and electrical work shouldn’t be done by grunts, even if some corporate boss thinks it’s more profitable.

        The absolute, central problem in all of this is that corporations and government see the ONLY resource as money. A well-made house might not bring in more cash than a slipshod one, especially if your customers can’t tell the difference. So a really good carpenter isn’t needed.

        1. I largely agree, but there are scale issues involved. The non-ideological plumber can tell us a lot about tools, pipes, plumbing. The non-ideological economist or planner can remake or re-create entire societies. I guess that’s maybe my point: that your point re: “They operate based on reality to make reality work better” is totally true, but the Liberal Farts and related fields, like academic science, allow one to do this on a much more massive, and perhaps long-lasting and transformative, scale.

          And I still think that tinkering with tinkering–concepts, language, ideas–yields more interesting results than just plain-old tinkering. Perhaps what’s best is to encourage everyone to always push harder: to push the grunt to understand the social forces determining their gruntishness, the plumber to theorize about other uses for their tools, and for the arid liberal-artsy type to embrace practical uses for their theories. “Always connect,” that sort of thing.

  24. It is ridiculous that they need a tv personality to be made aware of this. Are congressmen really that out of touch with reality? We’re become a nation of retail store drones and financial biz mooches and everything in between is getting squeezed.

    I do love Mike’s show, he is perfect for it and does a great job.

  25. There are too many degrees in America. A master’s degree is the new bachelors; which makes the old bachelor’s the new high school diploma. Also, almost all entry level jobs require two years experience. This would seem to be evidence supporting the idea that you can’t get your first job unless you know somebody. It’s almost as if to combat the widespread access to education castes have started to put social gatekeepers in place.

    1. There are countries where bachelor’s degrees didn’t even exist until a couple of years ago. If you wanted a degree, you had to go for a full-fledged master’s degree.

      That said, I think the world is heading towards shorter degrees (cf. UK, Australia, New Zealand and lots of EU countries that introduced bachelor’s degrees).

  26. A practical reason for higher education (not saying it should be that way): mobility. Now, most Americans probably don’t want to work abroad (or travel abroad, it seems, seeing that relatively few people hold a passport) but if you do, formal education is still an important factor and often a requirement for work visas and immigration — even in the US, BTW.

  27. It doesn’t surprise me that so many young people have sought degrees in business/finance and that it seems to have coincided with the decline of our country and crash of the economy.

  28. “We leave our check on the kitchen counter, and hope the work gets done.”

    The folks working for him are lucky. I’ve seen people refuse to pay painters (even just for labor) because they (the customer) picked a color they didn’t like. I wish this was an isolated incident, but the Trump value if-you-can’t-afford-it-just-take-it is pretty damn popular with the upper-middle-class ‘poor me having to pay taxes’ crowd.

    1. The folks working for him are lucky. I’ve seen people refuse to pay painters (even just for labor) because they (the customer) picked a color they didn’t like.

      Oh yeah, this has turned into a major issue for me. It used to be if you didn’t pay, I’d slap you with a mechanic’s lien in a heartbeat. The threat of me taking your house used to be enough to get 99% of people to pay up. Now so many people are underwater on their mortgages that I insist on being paid in advance (or in advance installments for big jobs.) I turn down a lot of work because of sketchy homeowners, but I seldom get screwed, unlike many of my less financially-savvy competitors.

  29. Along the same lines is that we have been so focused on getting our kids into higher education we stopped caring what they learned and what they planned on using that $100k education for.

    BA’s in philosophy, English, history, fill-in-the-blank-American studies, or the endless list of degrees put out there to fill a vast supply of people that “need” to goto college, do not lead to careers. They may force you to read and expand your mind, but you could have done that for the cost for a library card.

    I’m willing to wager that the glut of ‘under employed’ college grads are almost always BA’s not BSc or BEng. To claim your under employed you need to find me jobs that match your education, not a whole lot of ‘manager of art appreciation’ jobs out there.

    We do our kids a huge disservice by pressuring them into universities with no real career at the end. All we do is waste their time and burden them with debt.

    Pick up a trade, you’d be surprised how satisfying and rewarding most trades can be. But then again how many 18/19 year old kids do you know that are willing to bust their back in the cold/mud while they learn their trade, the new guy starts at the bottom.

  30. “Maybe it is time we realized that jobs like banker, marketer, corporate executive, real estate agent and the like are mostly useless and do not add to the common good, and should be replaced with profitless automated systems.”


    “The idea that a person can level their own house, or even jack it up and replace beams and the like seems so foreign of a concept to most people that it wouldn’t even enter their mind they could do such a thing. ”


  31. “It doesn’t surprise me that so many young people have sought degrees in business/finance and that it seems to have coincided with the decline of our country and crash of the economy.”

    Well it’s comes as no surprise really. There is money to be made in handiwork but… In my home city there’s a short of about 1k laborers in my (former) trade alone. The trade was booming but none of the profits made their way to the actual workers. Guess where the money was funneled. Yeah that’s right, the guys in charge of the economy of the companies.

    Probably great money to be made as a small entrepreneur but being the small guy in the trade means going bust if even a single customer refuse to pay.

    Handiwork will only get more expensive but the money won’t go to the physical laborers. No wonder the interest is lukewarm at best.

  32. This is a system perpetrated and perpetuated by those with great wealth. Ballooning student debt is securitized and held by America’s wealthiest, the wealthy establish standards of degree and education requirements for jobs, those seeking jobs must comply and handover their money to the wealthy. These are the same people who want to shrink government spending on education therefore limiting options of vocational training at cash-strapped high schools while at the same time increasing the cost of education at universities. The result is a growing population of indebted and relocated white-collar suburbanites who can’t change a light bulb. Feel fleeced?
    For more:

  33. The disco channel link is one of those terrible break-it-into-N-tiny-pages-to-tweak-pageviews. The
    full text
    is on one page on Mike Rowe’s website.

  34. My boyfriend has a trade skill in working all kinds of really fancy printing presses, including large scale ones that businesses use for signs in-store, outside of store and for circular ads. Doing that job would make him about $20/hr… but he’s been laid off for a year now because the market is dried up. Prior to that he had a job at a “print shop” for a year being a simple courier. Before that, he worked for the same print shop doing his actual trade skill for about 6 years. Now I make more than him as an unskilled office worker/customer service monkey.

    I am glad that I have a job that helps us both out but I agree that American skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick. We will always need repair persons, builders, trash collectors. Though these jobs aren’t glamourous they are just as necessary. “A hard day’s work” isn’t encouraged any more by Americans. I got most of my respect for these service workers from my dad who has worked as a maintenance worker for the state for 30 years. You know how they rewarded him? Offering to lay him off with a small severance package or take a step down in pay a few years before his retirement is due so they can give him a lower pension.

  35. The current state of affairs, plus homeschooling, is how you build an army of christian soldiers.

  36. The idea that being a plumber or an electrician doesn’t require a knowledge of the sciences, is crazy. My dad dropped out of school in grade 8, and later went into the Air Force, and he is actually smarter in science than most “well-educated” college graduates today. There is a huge difference between being a garbageman and being a skilled tradesman.

  37. See Matthew B. Crawford’s _Shop Class As Soulcraft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work_, 2009, Penguin Books.

    From the fly-page: “Crawford is a philosopher and mechanic. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago. . . . He owns and operates . . . an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.”

    He makes the same point that Rowe does, and it’s a point that needs to be made over and over.

    Full disclosure: I teach a liberal arts discipline in a Big 10 university. And I still say Rowe’s (and Crawford’s) point is a point that needs to be made over and over.

    Got that? Or do I need to say it again?

  38. Shovel ready jobs aren’t skilled jobs. Nothing about ditch digging, unless you’re using a piece of equipment is a skilled job. Most of what’s featured on Dirty Jobs are not skilled jobs btw.

    Welding, plumbing, pipefitting, HVAC, electrician, crane operator, heavy equipment operator, etc are skilled jobs. Jobs that take 6-10k hours of OTJ training and 3-5 years of apprenticeship are skilled jobs.

    And believe me there’s forces at work to make them not skilled jobs. We’ve seen one electrician (we think) hold up an outlet to 10 immigrant “electricians,” show them how it goes in, then the 10 guys would run off, find a spot where it was already laid out for them, put it in, and come back and wait for the next task to be show and told to them in mass.

    Same thing in plumbing where a tract 100s homes goes in, there’s ONE licensed plumber supervising the rest of the “plumbers.” Where the tract is considered one location rather than each home skirting the laws and code in place that require a licensed plumber per location.

    1. My father (bless him!) used my brother and me as cheap labor any time he wanted to do a home improvement project. Along the way, he taught us a fair amount about plumbing, soldering, wiring, carpentry, masonry, and repairing cars and other mechanical devices. I consider that I am equivalent to at least an apprentice in several trades. However, I am not supposed to do anything more elaborate to my house now than replace a leaky valve or malfunctioning light switch, unless I go through a formal program and pay large quantities of money for a license.

      A couple of years ago, I had a leaking toilet. Being pressed for time, I called a ‘professional’ plumber, who replaced the wax seal in the base. Nine months later, it was leaking again. I replaced and upgraded the whole toilet at that time, for the same cost as the plumber’s previous house call. No more leaks. I am willing to pay for professional work, but only if it is professional grade, and I can’t do a better job myself.

      1. Having been a Realtor for a few years, I have to say that some of the homeowner repairs that I saw forced me to explain the concept of wrongful death suit to the sellers. You really shouldn’t do any major DIY electrical work unless you’re planning to live there until you die and you don’t care if your heirs have to rip it all out again.

      2. TheMadLibrarian right on!
        Feeling pressed for time I decided to hire a plumber to do a job I knew I could do, but lacked confidence. I wasn’t home when the work was done (I was busy earning money at my job). I didn’t like the look of the work. Two calls back for repairs later I had to do a difficult and code required part of the job myself. I still have one last leak to repair. I could have avoided this by supervising the job, but why bother? The point was to save money by spending my time earning. Turns out I’d be several thousand dollars ahead with some new skills to boot if I had done it myself, and the job would be done correctly the first time.

        I’m not a trained electrician or plumber, but feel confident I could learn the skills rapidly. Running your own business sounds strange to me, but I might be able to learn that too. Had I invested in these skills early rather than my college educated career path I’d be earning twice what I do now.

        Antinous, this I sue your ass to oblivion attitude is a major part of the problem and needs to be changed. I hear you about fire trap wiring. I am still discovering all the well intentioned time bombs in my home. I disagree that some jurisdictions would prohibit me from making repairs that bring my home up to code.

        1. Replacing switches and outlets is pretty safe and easy, but DIY wiring is generally a great example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. Sellers were outraged that I had a problem with a gigantic, tangled, improperly grounded and insulated electroctopus hanging from the garage ceiling.

          1. ‘Electropus’, awesome and stolen. Seen quite a few of those and never had a good word for it but now I do, thanks.

            Homeowners do some gnarly, WTF shit and it’s usually the electrical work that just makes me wonder how some of these geniuses manage to stay alive. A personal favorite is the uncovered, ungrounded, untaped outlet in a bathroom then overloaded with adapters and cords. Another good one, a guy hung an open fluorescent fixture in a tree and had no idea why that was a bad idea.

      3. Dunno why you replied to me, but if you think all there is to plumbing is the setting and finish of fixtures, you’re not at even a second year level of apprenticeship in it. And I can’t speak to the “professionalism” or in the trades known as “craftsmanship” of your plumber, because I don’t know him or his training; and you probably don’t either and didn’t ask.

        I can tell you many of the service plumbers in my area, Las Vegas, don’t have a plumber’s licenses from the Authority Having Jurisdiction; Clark County, or (soon) Nevada. If this is the case in your area, I’d suggest next time calling your local Plumber’s union, or checking their website for a list of service contractors that are signatory to them. You’ll get a real plumber for sure. And if you don’t want to spend the money for a union guy, or even have some sort of philosophical problem with unions (though building trades are more like guilds than say, the UAW) then you should at least ask the guy who shows up to see his license. If he doesn’t have one, send him away.

        As it stands I paid nearly zero for my plumbing license and nearly zero for my training, because in a union apprenticeship you’re working while you’re learning. And you’re getting paid progressively more and more every six months as you become more and more proficient and trained.

        And I’ve yet to see anyone who’s relatively young who’s a master of all trades. The saying of “jack of all trades, master of none” never goes away. Most of these “jacks” do what I call “homeowner” level of work, maybe “homeowner +1.” Good enough for a guy who doesn’t have the right tools, materials, and training. But the price sure was right; real cheap.

  39. why can’t tom vilsack do it like everyone else does it. components from china, labor from mexico. and there’s plenty of welders here in new york. where is he trying to build the thing? some wildlife refuge in the boondocks?

  40. Big thumbs up to the content of Rowe’s testimony. However it smacks a little of “I’m not an expert on labor, but I play one on tv” — not that he pretended to be an expert here, but dang, was this the best choice of someone to testify before congress on this subject?

  41. I know quite a few electricians – and they all make around 80-130K/year…this is, of course, after apprenticing, dealing with all the seniority issues, etc. Many who are unionized are furloughed for months at a time, or are forced to travel 1/2-way across the country in search of work during off times. It’s not the easiest profession if you don’t own your own business.

    Plumbers make around $50/hour – and earn every penny. We use a plumbing company that is multi-generational: grandfather, father/mom, and now 3 sons…they live around the block from us and are wonderful.

    The 4 people that knowing them makes life way easier: an MD, an attorney, a plumber, and a (non lazy) computer-geek.

    1. I’ve observed that people who work in cubicles don’t understand that people who get paid hourly to work at remote locations can’t necessarily bill for 40 hours a week. They hear $100 an hour and think !!!$$$$200K a year$$$!!!

      I get $35 for teaching a one-hour yoga class, and that sounds like decent money. Except, if I were doing it full time, I couldn’t do more than four classes per day since it involves driving from class to class, set-up, schmoozing so that I actually have students, etc.

    2. “The 4 people that knowing them makes life way easier: an MD, an attorney, a plumber, and a (non lazy) computer-geek.”

      Soooo close right up until the stupid qualifying of “computer-geek” into lazy/non-lazy. Lazy MDs get people sicker. Lazy attorneys lose cases and then you pay the other guy’s legal fees. Lazy plumbers cost you money years down the road when it breaks or the inspector makes you fix it to code before the bank will finance the person buying your house. Somehow there are “lazy” geeks that are just shiftless and a plague on all those good hearted geeks? What a load of crap and quite frankly it goes to this discussion on appreciating the trades. Dealing with computers is a trade just like anything else. EXCEPT people think that somehow you should fix their computer for free and love it. I’ve asked friends who were professionals in various fields for advice but I’ve never asked a friend who was a plumber, doctor, or lawyer for a freebie. And they don’t ask me to fix their computer for free. Geek and nerd used to be words you used to make fun of or demean someone, until suddenly the geek was the guy saving your bacon, suddenly it was ok to be nice to them. Like many slurs that have been embraced by the people they were directed against, it is one you earn the right to use to describe someone else. Just because you are friendly to me know that I can save you from your computer, doesn’t mean I suddenly want to be your friend. I have plenty of friends that treated me like that BEFORE the computer revolution.

  42. To yosemite.

    If corporations were taxed for every job they outsourced for more than it cost to outsourcing. then outsourcing would no longer be profitable and they would hire american workers

    If trade tarrifs were in place which made importing goods more expensive than manufacturing them here then they would be made here.

    tax laws directly relate to how employers hire people, how many they hire and what they pay them.

    1. I misinterpreted you 100%. There is a vastly different pro-corporate argument which asserts that if taxes and regulations on U.S. businesses were reduced, then they would find more economic incentive to keeping factories in the U.S. What you appear to be arguing–that taxes and tariffs should be assigned to penalize (or ‘de-incentivize’,if you will) businesses from re-locating outside the U.S.–is something I wholeheartedly support. Until that happens, capital goes wherever labor is cheapest and regulations are lowest (human rights and benefits be damned)… because it can.

  43. I can’t speak to all trades, but I can definitely say that all the contractors I work with as a geologist (heavy equipment operators, drillers, etc.) drive better pickups than I do.

    1. Is that because they make more money, or because they’re less responsible with the money they make, or have fewer other responsibilities (not having student loans of course is a fair point)?

      BTW I’m a geologist too, but haven’t been able to find a job for over a year. Tons of listings for the contractor type stuff you mention, though, all the time. So in that aspect they’re better off too.

  44. Wow. Many comments seem to have a remarkably narrow view of what constitutes “skilled labor.”

    A plumber or an electrician is not a monkey executing stored procedures. Or rather, many of them probably are, but then that just means they aren’t sufficiently skilled. These are craftsman, and they must have plenty of knowledge and understanding of their craft to be able to adapt it to new situations as they arise. These are not skills that we know how to teach with books- that’s why there are apprenticeships. There is as much craft and art in plumbing as there is in medicine, and society cannot function without both.

    And don’t think craftsmanship is limited to the obvious trades, either. A Ph.D. is essentially an apprenticeship as well. I’ve met scientists who I would be willing to describe as master craftsman- the craft of asking good questions. Old professors tend to have uncannily accurate hunches based on what looks from the outside like very little data. I’ve met others who are essentially trained monkeys, pushing buttons they don’t understand.

    Unskilled labor is relatively easy to automate (once it become cost-effective to do so). When we run out of low-wage countries to outsource to, you can expect most such manufacturing jobs to get lost this way. Same goes for relatively unskilled mental labor- think of the armies of punch card technicians and humans making tables of function values from decades ago. That leaves skilled mental and manual work. Of these two, mental labor will probably be (mostly) automated first. Manipulating data and symbols, finding patterns, getting the right answer, these are things computers are good at. Much of what doctors, scientists, and engineers do today will likely be automated in my lifetime. (Of course, this just means such workers will be far more productive, and I believe that in these fields demand will expand to meet supply). Working with *stuff* embedded in the world, integrating sensory data, making the results attractive- these are hard, even if you are human. These needs are not going anywhere for a long time.

  45. man, i think it’s just that with more access to info it’s easier to do a lot of shitty jobs yourself and not need to hire someone.
    i can wire an outlet in my house now because i had to learn how to do it.
    i dug a french drain to fix the basement flooding.
    found an addition on our house made in the 60’s had no insulation in the walls and the siding was beginning to deteriorate, so i replaced all of it with hardi plank, new framing and insulation.
    i’ve never done any of these things before in my life, but i didn’t hafta hire anyone.
    now, if the job’s wa-ay too technical or heavy duty, yeah. i call someone. with know-how. dare i say, a $peciali$t.
    it’s just where we’re at these days.

  46. That’s what happens in a country wherein the value of work has been DEvalued, and the class of people who do that work has been demonized,politically marginalized and economically decimated.

    The top 10% who created this problem aren’t going to recognize it as a problem until their own wealth is in jeopardy. And then it’s oh, boo hoo hoo…

  47. Apart from the desirability of building a nuclear reactor other that half-a-kilometer underground, I tend to wonder as to the skills and fortitude of the designers who are hampered by accountants and politicians who always complain about the costs and hope they’re well away when the inevitable happens.

  48. My grandfather worked for AT&T. He manually made and laid much of the fiber optic cable through the Midwest that allows us to have high speed communication. I ask him to tell me all he can about it because there is almost no one else out there that has the knowledge he has, and I wish I could learn it all myself, but time is short.

    He never asked for thanks for what he did, it was his job, and it was a job a hand full of people could ever do. His hardhat and worn leather jacket still hang in his work room. I know he is one of the last of his kind and it kills me to see him going.

    I’m glad there are people in this world who still recognize and respect the labor people have done to create the world we have today. I just wish there were more of them.

  49. If you’ve never seen Mike’s TED talk I recommend it. Kind of squeamish, but highly entertaining account of a segment that didn’t make it onto his show.

    The book someone butchered the title of above is Shop Class as Soulcraft. It’s pretty good reading in this vein.

  50. It slays me that so many people can make money from financial manipulations that do nothing to create actual wealth- just re-allocate existing wealth.

    Why should anyone aspire to honest work when there’s so much money to be made off the backs of those stupid enough to want to?

  51. Mike Rowe makes some great points, but why is education suddenly the devil here? We need skilled labor, but education isn’t some snobby, elitist thing, either. How about we start valuing basic education enough to help kids succeed at the high school level, and then provide opportunities to succeed on both higher education/white collar and vocational education or apprenticeship/blue collar work. Both are valuable.

    1. Definitely – people are talking about, say, a liberal arts or philosophy degree and a skilled trade as if they are mutually exclusive.

      What’s wrong with going to college of university for the education, rather than as training for a job, if you can afford to do that? You could study classics, or philosophy, or astrophysics, and then do an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, and pay off your college debts from your earnings.

  52. Yep, you sure can learn from a book how to do any plumbing repair you want. In the back of the code book are installation standards with step by step directions on how an installation should be done for pretty much every thing. Need to solder a joint? Page 333 of the 2006 Uniform Plumbing Code book from IAPMO. The major reasons for hiring a specialist for me are tools and time. There’s a ton more stuff that I could and would fix if I just had the tools and lacking a garage at my house, a place in the shade to do them. And if I didn’t mind taking three times the amount of time it would take a pro, or I didn’t mind the three trips to Lowe’s.

    Putting up siding, putting in a dimmer switch, all of it isn’t that hard. But it’s not the trade. Tell me how to size a 4,000 room hotel for roof drains, waste drains, water supply, gas supply. You put in a dimmer? Great tell me how you can work hot on a 480V panel at a powerhouse without smoking yourself, your partner and the pipefitter and welder who are just passing through the area. You hammered up some siding, changed out a header for a wider window? Great, make me some cabinets by the end of the week. Changed your own oil? Heavens to mergatroid; redo your clutch after working as a pipefitter 10 hours that day and drive the same vehicle to work in the a.m. Mechanic.

    Welders: If you’re only making $37k/yr welding. Stop. Just stop. Stop working rat, go find your nearest UA local, check UA.org, and stop fabbing bullshit for chump change and start welding pipe. Damn near EVERY Single union local for pipefitting is in need of welders. If you can TIG pipe, you’ll work as much as you want. Every thing that makes steam to make power; nukes, coal, gas, the root is TIG, then it’s stick out almost always. If you can weld P91 chrome you’re golden. It’s a funny thing about welding, there’s some good welders out there who can weld their asses off right up until the point where they have to do it around a pipe and have it NOT leak. But if you’re going to weld, why wouldn’t you weld union pipe and make some decent money?

    I made 70k in six months of pipefitting last year. The guys on my crew who’d been on that job all of 2010 made around 120k; but they turned down some overtime when it didn’t suit them.

  53. I went back to school to “get a trade” like many suggested after I got sick of working retail for a lousy wage. After graduating at the top of my class (and feeling all shiny and hopeful) I began working in the cabinetmaking industry with the goal of landing an apprenticeship.
    What did I find? The wages were as low as my old retail job, the working conditions were unnecessarily hazardous, job security was non-existent (I worked for half-a-dozen companies over three years), there was always some borderline mentally ill manager or co-worker hired through nepotism to deal with, and I didn’t even get a sniff at an apprenticeship. I didn’t have the capital to start my own woodworking business, so I gave up and went back to retail.
    Wish I could have got into a union shop, but it seems like you need some inside connection to get into one of the few of those.
    Others’ experiences may vary, but from what I’ve seen here, the reason not enough kids are going into trades is almost entirely the fault of the industries that utilize them – NOT “society” or the educational system.

  54. The carpentry trade has been deteriorating faster than the others. In residential construction; where carpenters do a lot of work from structural work with framing, trusses, to the finish work of cabinetry, sheet rock, mouldings, door hanging etc, they’ve gotten killed by illegal immigration. On big jobs here in Vegas, they’ll still frame the interior walls, but it’s all non-structural work and hell they rarely touch wood. A lot of steel studs. The unions are mostly Hispanic; hard to tell if they’re legals or illegals, if you’re anything but, there’s still always the case of who you know, and if you don’t even know the language, you’re more or less screwed. At any rate; it’s a marginally skilled trade. It’s strange though that on big hotel jobs here in Vegas they’re still ran by carpenters in the superintendent positions; a hold over from the days when the carpenters were a primary trade.

    Among my coworkers here’s our short list of trades we would do besides being Pipefitters and Welders, most of us wouldn’t be plumbers; it’s being dumbed downed and every swinging dick who’s put in a garbage disposal once upon a time is a plumber. Crane operators, elevator mechanics, electricians. There’s not much mentally to being an Iron Worker; heavy rigging? We do that too. Welding? Fillet welds on structural steel? Do that too, and really I’m a terrible pipe welder, but I could do fillet welds all day. Carpenters? Unless I was making custom furniture and cabinets I wouldn’t want to do it. It’s a lot of dummy work. Concrete. Nope. Masonry? Simple and repetitive. Sheet Metal workers? I’d rather have a sister in a whore house than a brother in the tin knockers. Their scope of work in construction is really kind of narrow. And a five year apprenticeship for that is a stretch.

    When I first got into this trade, and I started talking to my journeymen, started looking through the books in the class, I was startled and amazed by the breadth of the scope of our work. It’s astonishing to what’s considered the UA’s jurisdiction. Tube bending for instrument air to run massive valves and sensors at power plants; DWV plumbing, water supplies, gas, process piping, steam piping, HVAC, refrigeration, welding, medical gas, and that’s just off the top of my head. There’s so much to know that it’s just not possible for a guy to know it all even after a decade or two of working it.

  55. Need a good book on this very subject? Read “Shop Class As Soulcraft.” It’s a really enlightening read.

  56. Realistically, this is not the only problem. Tradeswork has been under fire from governments for years, with non-skilled “technicians” doing a lot of the work that tradespeople used to do, often for very low wages. Kids aren’t stupid, and they see that their chances are slim to become a decently paid professional, and instead see the trap of the low paid “installer” in front of them.

    Just like nearly all sectors off employment, wages have not kept pace with inflation. Until this is rectified, people are going to target the jobs that pay a wage that will let them own a house and raise kids. All other jobs, trades or otherwise, will be seen as a “consolation” for those who could not get a job that pays a decent wage…


  57. What’s wrong with going to college of university for the education, rather than as training for a job, if you can afford to do that? You could study classics, or philosophy, or astrophysics, and then do an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, and pay off your college debts from your earnings.

    What’s wrong with just studying what interests you on your own? Why pay a ton of money to sit in a room full of stoned teenagers texting each other while some dinosaur waiting for retirement drones on at you when you could just read the same material in the comfort and privacy of your own home?

    1. Because putting “studied a lot of books” doesn’t get you a call back on a job you apply for that says “Minimum Bachelor’s Degree Required” on the job description.

      1. Fortunately, street cred has prevented me from ever having to look for a job. Every job that I’ve ever had has recruited me.

    2. Simple. For the access to the three professors I had who totally blew my mind and reconstructed my understanding of the world around me.

      Not sure how I could have access to that kind of research and brainpower any other way. Books are cool, but face-time and lab time are important too.

    3. If you don’t get anything out of university that you couldn’t have gotten reading books on your own, you are taking the wrong degree.

  58. this is just part of the maker world.. I can do my own plumbing… and everything else that needs to be done in my home… people need to learn to do for themselves ;)

  59. Half the time I don’t qualify for the same job I have now at a different company because I don’t have a degree, this never makes sense to me. Why is experience not equally valued to having a degree? I already know how to do the job so why do I need to go back to school for it?

    1. My best guess is lawyers. They want the ink on paper so that if ship hits the fan they can stuff said paper in the face of the other sides lawyer, and claim that you knew what you where doing so they must take the bill for the damages.

  60. My high school, Lane Technical High School iin Chicago, shed most of its shop classes around the time they renamed it Lane Technical College Prep. I am passing this link around fellow alumni to try to get some momentum behind restoring those classes to the curriculum.

  61. I hate to call BS on Mr. Rowe since I like his show and all but “BS!”. There are plenty of welders out there! Some of them can’t find the work to stay in that job! Where was that govenor looking? The ocean?

  62. I met Norm Abram and Tom Silva a few years back, and they said the same thing. There is a large shortage of skilled trades in this country. They said that a lot of people went to four-year college and did poorly, ended up with no usable skills, and wound up selling insurance.

    It’s easy to find a crappy carpenter, lousy painter, or rogue unlicensed plumber, but try to find a master carpenter — you can’t afford to hire the guy!

    Abram & Silva were sponsoring a scholarship to send kids to tech school — two year college — to have them learn trades. This is a wonderful idea!

    There is nothing to be ashamed about to be a tradesman! It’s good, honest, skilled work. It is good work, the kind that can pay to raise a family, buy a bass boat, and maybe even retire early. For that matter, if you don’t have the skills to be a tradesman, then there’s nothing to be ashamed about for being a laborer.

  63. My district had a great alternative (read: vocational) HS, teaching a wide variety of trades on a well-appointed campus. Fascinated with automobiles, I tried to get transferred, but I was told point blank that my high standardized test scores were too high for that. Actually, what was said is “Because you’re one of the smart ones. Tech school is for dummies and burnouts.” (Note: I probably stank of weed when he told me this.)

    I dropped out, and eventually became a web developer. That’s fine; I usually earn about $50/hour and enjoy my work, but when I take my car to a mechanic who bills out at three times what I make and is so incompetent that I end up “re-fixing” his work, I blame that “guidance counselor.”

  64. I would much rather date a tradesman than a guy who wears a tie to work. Way less psychological baggage brought home at the end of the day.

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