"…we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor."

A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor he knows who was unable to move forward on the construction of a new power plant. The reason, I thought, was fascinating: it wasn’t a lack of funds or a lack of support – it was a lack of qualified welders.

Dirty Jobs Host Mike Rowe

 

When Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs creator and host Mike Rowe addressed the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last year, he painted a bleak picture of the current trades situation in this nation:

“I believe that we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce,” said Rowe. “Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions… There are 450,000 openings today in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap seems real, and it’s getting wider.”

Rowe began his speech to the US Senate recalling a memory from his childhood, how working alongside his grandfather sparked his interest in the many ways tradespeople make everyday life simple for the rest of us; this is the idea behind Dirty Jobs. While the show does an excellent job of exploring just that, national interest trade work is at an all-time low.

 

Is this still an issue of the myths surrounding skilled labor, an image problem or are young adults simply uninterested?

The last Weekly Roundup featured an article about high schoolers giving their take on the trade skills gap, the basic gist of it being: it’s just not for me. "It's a mentality gap," said Rowe. "It's not just a shortage of skills, but a shortage of will to learn the skills."

RIDGID, a top supplier of professional grade tools, found that only 6% of high school students are looking towards a career in skilled trades, with reasons such as:

  • Uninterested
  • Don’t believe skilled trades provide much opportunity
  • Skilled trades are not high tech enough
  • And 54% of the young adults surveyed believe that computers offer a brighter future than skilled work.

 

What can we do as a nation, as people interested in the continued growth and prosperity of this country, to get young adults interested in the trades? If you were put in charge of a national PR campaign for skilled labor, where would you begin?

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