Mike Rowe has made a career out of, for a day, doing jobs that most people wouldn’t want. The host of the Discovery Channel show “Dirty Jobs” is a funny guy who isn’t bashful about making fun of himself while he’s elbow deep in mud, manure, fish entrails or some other nastiness, and that makes his show entertaining.
But beyond cracking jokes, grossing out his audience and drawing ratings, Rowe’s show has a purpose – demonstrating that one doesn’t have to work in an office building or wear a coat and tie to make a good living. He has doubled down on that message by launching a website, mikeroweWORKS.com, to promote blue-collar trades and by his involvement with I Make America and Go Build Alabama, campaigns designed to promote manufacturing and industrial trades and to attract high school graduates into them.
While Generation X wisdom has been that college is a necessary step toward career success, more and more millennials are taking Rowe’s message to heart. A recent story in the New York Post found growing numbers of millennials who are choosing to bypass a college degree and instead learn a trade to go straight into the workforce.
An obvious allure to this strategy is the avoidance of student loans, but one blue-collar millennial interviewed by the Post had a 4.0 grade-point average and his pick of scholarships. Instead, he chose an apprenticeship as a steamfitter.
Why? “In the end my decision was more about economics and benefits and job satisfaction,” 20-year-old Washington Mayancela told the Post.
Who says millennials are entitled or impractical?
While their college degrees aren’t keeping computer programmers and marketing specialists and journalists from getting laid off like factory workers, demand remains constant for skilled tradesmen. The Post cited a Department of Labor statistic that placed the 10-year projected employment gain through 2022 for carpenters in the United States at 24 percent, and noted that experienced journeymen carpenters in New York City can earn $80,000 a year.
Some school systems are recognizing and addressing this trend even before graduation. In Mobile, Ala., where I live, each of the public school system’s 12 high schools features a specialized Signature Academy, in which students can prepare for careers ranging from Aviation and Aerospace to Engineering to Health Sciences to Manufacturing, Industry and Technology. Students are leaving those academies and going straight into jobs at local industries like Airbus, Austal Shipbuilding and Outokumpo Stainless.
While the very word “millennial” may, for many of us, conjure up images of “safe spaces,” campus protests and humanities degrees, there are clearly a large number of twentysomethings out there who aren’t scared of a little hard work, providing that the benefits are worth the effort.