Mike often writes articles for magazines but because of issues like space constraints, his work is often edited down. We thought it might be interesting to post what Mike actually wrote for this one in particular a few years’ back for Fast Company.
25 Ways to Jump Start the Auto Industry (unabridged)
Mike Rowe is the Executive Producer of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, and the CEO of mikeroweWORKS.com, an on-line resource dedicated to reinvigorating skilled labor. He is also a spokesperson for Ford Trucks.
Regarding the specific issues facing The Big Three, I’ve got too little expertise and too much bias to weigh in with a straight face. (Trust me, that new F-150 really does kick ass.) However, after 200 Dirty Jobs and five years of unintended social anthropology, I do have a theory regarding our overall relationship with Manufacturing and Skilled Labor. Here it is.
I believe the majority of people in this country are deeply disconnected from the Americans who still make our stuff. I think our fundamental relationship with Work had dramatically shifted, and as a consequence, we are no longer sure what we really value.
Forty years ago, it was easy to “Buy American.” Not just because our stuff was better than theirs. We bought American goods because we actually knew the people who were making the stuff in question. We knew them through a common relationship with work, and a shared understanding of what it meant to have a “good job.” In those days of course, our economy was dominated and defined by manufacturing, and work had a recognizable, albeit dirty face. As consumers, we knew that face. In many cases, we were that face. It was a powerful and personal connection that tied us to the products we bought.
Today, that connection is gone. The seismic shift from Manufacturing to Financial Services has not only changed the composition of our Gross Domestic Product, it has changed our national mindset toward Work. We no longer celebrate the way things get made. We are more interested in the way things get bought. In this global economy, we focus only on the finished product, which makes the Americans who still make them largely invisible.
Tradesman and Craftsman, once depicted as role models, are now pointed to as examples of “alternative education.” Popular portrayals of working people have slowly devolved into caricature and hyperbole. The Skilled Worker has become a distant drone, laboring away in some soon-to-be-closed factory, disconnected from any current definition of a “good job.” Is it any wonder that Trade School enrollments are down? Can the state of our infrastructure really be that much of a surprise?
Much has been written about the drama between Management and Organized Labor, but the bigger struggle is our own dysfunctional relationship with Work. The symptoms may be in Detroit, but the problem is elsewhere.
The problem is everywhere.