Mike appeared on Piers Morgan’s show on October 30 and a viewer had some questions for Mike. Read his response here.
Today’s question comes from Jennifer Bailey. Jennifer posted over at CNN.com, but I’m answering here because … well, because I need more room.
JB: While Mike makes a valid point I have a few questions for him.
MR: Hi, Jennifer. I love questions. Fire away.
JB: How can the middle class send their kids to college for “four or more years” when the Republicans have made it far too expensive with raising interest rates on school loans and wanting to end federal grants?
MR: Your question implies that the middle class should be borrowing money to send their kids to an expensive four-year college. You also imply that college is far too expensive because interest rates on student loans are too high. Might I respectfully challenge both implications?
Since 1985, college tuition has increased at nearly 500 times the rate of inflation. (See: College tuition has jumped by 500% since 1985) Can you imagine the same jump in any other area? Food, housing, medicine, energy? If everything we need to live increased in price at the same rate as college tuition, there would be a national riot in about 10 minutes. So what really happened in the marketplace to allow college to get so expensive? Is it really all because Republicans want to raise the rates on student loans?
Think about it. Universities get to decide how much money to charge their students. Likewise, parents and students decide if they can afford to pay it. It’s a pretty simple proposition. But when the government suddenly makes hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans readily available — under the popular (and voter-friendly) theory that “everyone should go to college” — we see an unintended consequence. We see colleges suddenly motivated to charge more money. A lot more. And so they embark on their own PR campaigns to boost enrollment. They hire ad agencies and publicists and lobbyists and go about the business of persuading people to “invest in their future.” And most importantly, they provide an admissions department to help arrange for an affordable student loan. This is what’s been happening for the last 40 years.
If blame is your thing, there’s plenty to go around. Republicans and Democrats have both allowed a trillion dollars of public money to flow freely between students and colleges with no real accountability for the results. And millions of well-intended parents and guidance counselors are still pushing the idea that a four-year degree is the only viable path to happiness. This in spite of the fact that the vast majority of available jobs no longer require a diploma — they require the willingness to learn a useful skill. And that kind of training does not demand the type of massive borrowing that has put college graduates a trillion dollars in the hole.
To be clear, I’m not anti-college; I’m anti-debt. If you can afford it, by all means go for it. But I reject the idea that a four-year school is the best path for the most people. I went on Piers Morgan Live because I have a scholarship fund that trains people for jobs that actually exist, while rewarding the kind of work ethic I think we need to encourage. I want to spread the word.
JB: Vocational training has been taken out of most high schools. Would you not agree that they need to be brought back and kids be given the equivalent of a 2yr certification to apply to a trade school: Carpentry, welding, electrician….?
MR: Of course. The current skills gap has unfolded in part because vocational education vanished from high schools. I’m all for reinstating those programs, but I’m afraid that won’t be enough. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs available right now that people simply do not want. This is not because the jobs are “bad,” or the pay is lousy. It’s because we’ve raised an entire generation to view these opportunities as subordinate to a four-year degree. Good jobs are going begging because hard work and skilled labor are no longer valued in the same way as they were 50 years ago.
JB: Do you realize how many jobs would be available if the greedy corporations kept manufacturing and technical jobs here?
MR: Yes, I think I do. But what makes you think they would be filled?
Consider this: Right now, in the manufacturing sector alone, 600,000 jobs are currently available. That’s 600,000 open positions that American manufacturers can’t fill. You’re right — if all the American corporations moved all their manufacturing facilities and factories back to the United States we’d have a few million more openings. But then what? Do you really assume that millions of unemployed Americans would run to fill those positions? I’m afraid it’s not that simple. If it were, it would already be happening. We wouldn’t have a skills gap. But we do, and it’s getting wider every year. The fact is — according to the government’s own numbers — 3.7 million jobs are available right now. Doesn’t it make sense to fill those positions before we start demanding that companies create more opportunities that people don’t aspire to?
Like it or not, we’re in a global economy, and it’s not the politicians or the corporations calling the shots. It’s us. What we do as consumers matters far more than what we say as citizens. Right now, for instance, I’ll wager you’re reading this on a device made in China. It’s not a criticism – just an observation. Every single thing in our world, from Honey Boo Boo to your iPhone to your local Congressperson is a reflection of the things we value and the choices we make. At the cash register and at the polls.
JB: The list goes on, but I would say to you that the GOP won’t even pass the Jobs Bill and does nothing to help the middle class and our active military or veterans.
MR: Yes, Jennifer, your list does go on. And on the other side of the aisle there is another American with a different list. And their list goes on as well. This is the problem. Everyone is so focused on making their own list and keeping track of how screwed up the other side is, they can’t acknowledge a good idea unless somebody on their side tells them how to feel about it. Funny thing is, most of the Republicans I know want the same basic things as most of the Democrats I know. They all want more jobs. They all want a healthy planet. They all support our veterans. And they all want to help people who are in genuine need of help. But they disagree on the method, and on the role of government. And because they can’t get past their methodology, they just keep adding more things onto their list. And so it goes.
JB: They talked JOBS,JOBS, JOBS and all they’ve done is help their rich cronies, obstruct job making bills, make higher education unaffordable for everyone BUT their rich supporters!!
MR: I get it. The Republicans are bad. (I know this because you have use both CAPS and exclamation points!!) You have identified the GOP and their rich friends as the cause of a great many problems. You are certainly not alone. But frankly, I don’t find your analysis to be all that persuasive. For one thing, millions of conservatives are far from rich. And millions of liberals are far from poor. Does the government have a huge role to play? Sure. But ultimately, the way out of this is not through D.C. The buck no longer stops there. It stops with us. It has to.
JB: Why don’t you look at THOSE facts and ask the GOP to get off their collective derrières, help create jobs and quit jeopardizing the future of the American people!
MR: Because honestly, Jennifer, I don’t believe that the GOP or the Dems or the president can actually “create” jobs. The best they can do is encourage an environment where people who might be willing to assume the risk of hiring other people are more inclined to do so. That’s what I’d like them to do. And to the extent that either party would ever listen to a guy that used to have a show on cable TV — that’s about all I would ask of them.
JB: Btw, people WILL work their butt off, Mike, if paid a fair living wage and have affordable healthcare.
MR: From what I’ve seen of the world, most people (including me), would rather work eight hours instead of 10, six hours instead of eight, four hours instead of six. Most people prefer more vacation time than less. Most people want their gratification as soon as possible. Given a choice, most people would rather be comfortable than uncomfortable.
Again, this is not a criticism — it’s just the human condition. As a society, we can either encourage or discourage this basic tendency. In a very general way, I think we’ve encouraged it. I think we’ve encouraged people to withhold their very best efforts and their very hardest work until certain conditions and expectations are met. And I think those conditions are both relative and ever-changing. So when you suggest that people won’t work their butts off unless or until they feel that they are fairly paid and provided with affordable health care, I think you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly where our expectations have brought us.
On Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, though, I got a chance to meet a different breed. I met hundreds of men and women who proved beyond all doubt that hard work didn’t necessarily have to be conditioned on anything other than a personal decision to bust your own ass. By and large, the workers I met on that show were happy and successful because they were willing to work harder than everyone else around them. And in doing so, they thrived. Not right away, perhaps, but over time, most of them prospered. They distinguished themselves on the job by outworking the competition. And they advanced. In fact, many of the Dirty Jobbers we featured were millionaires. You just wouldn’t know it because they were usually covered in grime or sludge or shit or something worse. During the show, I also spoke at length with employers in every state, and in every industry. And no matter where I went, the biggest challenge was always the same – finding people who were willing to learn a new skill and work hard. I hear the same thing today.
Last week, I spent a few hours with the head of labor relations for one of the largest engineering firms in the world. He has thousands of positions open right now. Literally, thousands. After Katrina, his firm poured many millions of dollars into workforce development down in the Gulf. They trained — for free — hundreds of workers in a variety of positions that offered all kinds of opportunities to advance. The pay was fair. The benefits were solid. But the program ultimately failed. Why? Because virtually every single trainee decided it was just too damn hot. I’m not even kidding. They just didn’t want to work in the heat. And so … they didn’t.
In the next few years, this company anticipates 15,000 new openings for welders and pipe-fitters in the southeast. And the head of recruitment has absolutely no idea where the workers will come from. That should scare us all.
JB: Getting their hands dirty isn’t the problem. Being paid minimum wage with no Health Care IS the problem!
MR: But, Jennifer, how then do you explain the skills gap? These are not “minimum wage jobs.” These are not “jobs with no health care.” Again, you seem to assume that any time that a job becomes available that meets your criteria, a qualified and willing candidate will swoop in to fill it. But why do you think that? All the evidence suggests the opposite is true. Three and half million jobs are available right now. As in … today. What’s up with that?
If you tell me the pay is not sufficient, I’ll respectfully disagree. I’ve personally seen thousands of jobs go begging that start around $55,000, and offer a straight path to a six-figure salary. If you tell me it’s due to a lack of training, I’ll respectfully disagree some more. I haven’t seen one training program or trade school in the country that’s maxed out. Not one. I started mikeroweWORKS because I’ve personally met with dozens of employers who have hundreds of opportunities they can’t fill. Not only do these positions offer healthcare and fair pay, many offer free training. The catch? The work requires real, actual skill, and the conditions are often … uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s hot. Sometimes it’s cold. But the opportunities are there, and include the criteria you want. And yet, companies can’t fill them.
Every month, the trade schools I work with tell me about companies that are desperate for more welders. They simply can’t train them fast enough. Tulsa Welding School, Midwest Technical, The Refrigeration School, UTI … Believe me, there is no shortage of training. No, the skills gap reflects more than a lack of ability or a lack of opportunity — it reflects a disconnect between what we want, what we study, what we can afford, and what’s actually available.
Last point: Two weeks ago, I talked with a heavy equipment technician up in Butler, N.D. Jack’s 26 years old. Started welding part-time in high school. Got a job at the local CAT dealer working on big machines. Had a knack for it. Took a training program. Started around $65,000, with a 25% “Impact Signing Bonus.” Went to work in earnest. 60-hour weeks, mostly outside. Tough work, but he was good at it, and willing. Doubled his pay in a year. Met a girl. Got married. Bought a house. Had a kid. Got a raise. Paid off his house. Had another kid. Just quit his job to freelance. Why? Because he has a trade that’s in demand and real-world experience. He can work when he wants at $150 an hour anywhere on the High Plains. Jack is debt-free, highly trained, good at what he does, and absolutely thriving. Why? Because he combined a useful skill with a solid work ethic, and welcomed a chance to be uncomfortable.
A few months ago I wrote something called The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge. It stands for “Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.” (So sue me — I like acronyms.) All mikeroweWORKS scholarships require the recipient to sign this pledge — among other things — before we spend $15,000 to $20,000 training them. If I we’re a betting man, Jennifer, I’d wager that you will not approve of this 12-point promise. But maybe I’m wrong? Give it a read: “The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge” (Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo)
Tell me what you think. And thanks for the questions.