When most people picture a plumber in their mind, the image is more reminiscent of a sitcom trope than reality. That disconnect, coupled with a tightening labor market, bred skill gaps in a number of blue collar industries, partially because people do not see skilled trades positions as viable or lucrative careers. Mike Rowe wants to set the record straight.
“If you see a plumber on TV, he’s going to be 300 pounds with a giant butt crack,” said Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs and champion of the blue collar worker, according to a report by Yahoo!.
“And none of them look like that,” he continued. “They’re actually pretty fit, and pretty smart, and most of them are making six figures a year.”
Misconceptions about the professionals who build and maintain infrastructure – including construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and similar skilled tradespeople – have resulted in a shrinking labor force in these critical industries, Rowe said.
“We’ve marginalized an entire category of work,” he asserted. “And we just don’t appreciate the opportunities that are out there.”
Rowe has extolled the virtues of blue collar work for more than a decade, even launching mikeroweWORKS, a nonprofit that helps interested students learn a skilled trade though job opportunities and scholarships, in 2008.
However, the skills gap only continues to widen, with just 9 percent of high school students choosing to pursue a career in skilled trades. As more school eliminate skilled-based learning, like shop class, the percentage could keep falling.
Rowe believes a fundamental misunderstanding about what constitutes a “good” job is to blame. Additionally, parents and educators have long pushed college as the only path to success, further reducing interest in skilled trades.
“Parents want something better for their kids than they had, but we don’t really know what ‘better’ means,” said Rowe. “Nobody has ever suffered from learning how to weld, learning how to run electric, how to lay pipe. But crushing debt and a lack of skill could derail your career before it gets started.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for plumbers in 2017 was $52,590, which is significantly higher than the $37,690 median annual wage across all workers. Plus, the job outlook is incredibly positive, with a “much faster than average” growth rate, and some plumbers can cross the six-figure mark, especially if they work in large cities or choose to run their own business.
“What we affirmatively choose to expose our kids to is where the conversation starts,” Rowe added. “To make these opportunities appealing, we need to celebrate them from the very beginning.”
How does Rowe propose making the skilled trades seem more enticing? He thinks that bringing back shop class would be a great way to start.