Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” talks about the nature of work

This video is actually over a year old, but the message resonates nonetheless. I am a bit of a paradox – someone who is obsessed with Asia, who spends my days lethargically tapping away at my MacBook Pro (fantastic device), helping companies do business in China, often to outsource the “jobs Americans won’t do anymore”. Yet I still have interests in two successful American manufacturing companies that make 90% of their product in the good old USA, and we are in the process of moving some of those products back to the America from China. That’s what the math is telling us to do, and I know it is the right move. I have an MBA, but some of my fondest career memories are of manual labor, working in a small brewery and various factories. I hate going to the gym (as anyone who’s ever met me can easily attest), but I love yard work – pruning trees, weeding, splitting firewood, etc.

Rowe’s point delivered to Congress, is worth quoting:

Rowe explained that “dirty” jobs, like those in manufacturing and farming, used to mean success, but now look like settling. He wants that to change.

“I don’t think the country is going to fall back in love with manufacturing and I don’t think these policies are going to change, until or unless we reignite a fundamental relationship with dirt, work, and the business of making things, as opposed to the business of buying them,” he said.

He said one of reasons this is occurring is because community colleges and vocational education have taken the backseat to four-year college degrees.

“It’s not happening because people hate community colleges, it’s not happening because people hate the trades, it’s happening because we’re promoting a very specific kind of education at the expense of the others,” he said.

I’ve written before about the higher education bubble (here and here) and thoughts on American competitiveness and the attitudes towards work, but Mr. Rowe does a better job of laying out where we’ve lost our way a bit. Convincing people that the only path to wealth is $120,000+ in debt for a degree in liberal arts or the soft sciences seems further from the mark than ever.

China has built serious capabilities in the last 30 years, skills and knowledge that many parts of the developed world have allowed to atrophy. Part of the attraction to doing business in China is price, but increasingly it is because the domestic industries have shrunken to the point that China is the only place you can get it made, whatever “it” is. That is why PassageMaker is there, so that if you are forced to do business with Chinese suppliers, you have an advocate that understands your concerns and requirements, and has your success as our primary objective.

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