30 January 2009
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
“For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.”
Dear Mr. President,
Much of what you said on January 20tt struck a chord, but nothing matched the simplicity or truth of that particular observation. I am awed by the task at hand, and compelled to tell you about mikeroweWORKS, a public awareness campaign designed to reinvigorate the trades, reinforce the importance of skilled labor, and draw attention to our crumbling infrastructure.
My name’s Mike Rowe, and I host a program on the Discovery Channel called Dirty Jobs. Dirty Jobs is a simple show about hard work. No plot, no script, and no actors. The show relies upon a mission – one that sends me around the country to work as an apprentice in a wide variety of occupations not typically associated with a four-year diploma. From coal mines to cattle ranches, crab boats to construction sites, I’ve spent the last five years laboring alongside men and women who do the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Now, after 200 dirty jobs, I enjoy a national reputation as an expert in absolutely nothing. However, I have managed to succeed in highlighting an important group of hardworking Americans that I believe deserve our respect, and from whom I think we might learn a thing or two about the meaning of a “good job.”
Forty years ago, people understood that sweat and dirt were the hallmarks of important work. Today, that understanding has faded. Somewhere in our economy’s massive transition from manufacturing to financial services, we have forsaken skilled labor, along with many aspects of our traditional work ethic. Trade school enrollments are down, even as our infrastructure crumbles around us. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Community Colleges are routinely described as alternatives to a “proper” education. Madison Avenue bombards us with messages that equate happiness with leisure. Hollywood portrayals of hard work usually embody an element of drudgery or some silly stereotype, and jobs once considered vital to our society are now simply overlooked. The ranks of welders, carpenters, pipe fitters, and plumbers have been declining for years, and now, we face the bizarre reality of rising unemployment, and a shortage of skilled labor. Strange days.
Whether through elitism or indifference, the net result is the same – people have slowly shied away from these jobs. Not because they aren’t important or lucrative – but because they are simply not celebrated. This perception is real Mr. President, and I believe it’s standing squarely in the way of your recovery plan, as well as your initiative for Volunteerism and national service. In my opinion, it needs to be corrected as soon as possible, which brings me back to my idea.
mikeroweWORKS.com is a destination for anyone looking to investigate a career in the Skilled Trades. Its purpose is to encourage, educate, and celebrate the business of Work, by focusing on those opportunities related to rebuilding our national infrastructure. The idea grew from the mission of Dirty Jobs, and evolved with the help of loyal viewers who constantly provide the site with daily links to scholarships, apprenticeships, fellowships, and other worthwhile programs. Large corporations have offered support. Industry leaders, Retired Generals, teachers, laborers, professors, parents, and students have all gotten involved. My hope for mikeroweWORKS is that it function not just as a useful resource, but also as a “call to arms,” and ultimately, a PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. I would like to see mikeroweWORKS help assure that those three or four million jobs you wish to create, are jobs that people feel proud to have.
People often tell me that Dirty Jobs reminds them of a time when Work was not seen as a thing to avoid. When skilled tradesmen were seen as role models, and a paycheck was not the only benefit of a job well done. We need to recapture that sentiment. We need to celebrate, on a bigger scale, the role models right in front of us. Dirty Jobs has given me the opportunity to do that. With a little luck and the right support, mikeroweWORKS, will take it to the next level.
Thank you for your time, Mr. President. Good luck in your term, and please know that
mikeroweWORKS and Dirty Jobs are at your disposal.
Executive Producer, Dirty Jobs