Mike Rowe Wants America to be Shovel-Ready for 'Dirty Jobs'

Today's cuppa: PG Tips tea

18006_IMG_7272_m This week, I put out a syndicated feature story on what keeps "Dirty Jobs" star Mike Rowe busy when he's not violating farm animals -- for more on that, click here -- or crawling into sewers.

He's on a mission to restore the respect and dignity to traditional work, so that one day in the future, welders, pipefitters, carpenters, pig farmers and heavy-machine operators can become the lead characters of glossy primetime network dramas, just like lawyers, doctors, cops, forensic investigators and spoiled rich teens.

Rowe is also the cover boy for this month's Outside Magazine -- click here to look at that -- proving that May is the Month of MikeRoweWorks.com.

Enjoy (and then get back to work, fer cripes' sake):

Mike Rowe pitches jobs, 'Dirty' and otherwise


By Kate O'Hare



If you go to www.mikeroweWORKS.com, you're going to see "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe, but he's not going to be talking about exploding toilets, chasing pigs or the intricacies of animal husbandry.

He's going to be talking about old-fashioned work, the kind you do with both your brain and your hands. The jobs may be dirty, but here, the dirt isn't the point; it's the dignity of the job.

With billions of dollars set to be poured into rebuilding America's infrastructure, new jobs will exist, but will unemployed sales consultants, computer programmers, middle managers and liberal-arts grads be able to fill them?

"You really think the 3 million jobs that our leaders are going to pull out of thin air are going to require a degree in music appreciation?" Rowe says. "It's not going to happen. They don't need philosophers and English majors right now; we need people that can build stuff."

But first, a little background.

In "Dirty Jobs," airing Thursdays on Discovery Channel, Rowe travels the nation in search of people who do the often tough, unpleasant and downright icky jobs that keep civilization running smoothly.

As both an on-site apprentice and TV explainer, Rowe also works very hard. But this wasn't what he wanted. His plan had been to avoid ideas that might become a big hit and work only enough to keep the coffers filled.

Then Rowe came up with the concept that became "Dirty Jobs," which recently celebrated its 200th grimy occupation.

"It got away from me," Rowe says. "I've worked every day for the last five years in a frickin' sewer.'"

Along the way, Rowe learned a lot about the hard work he'd been avoiding and about the vital, important and often lucrative jobs that were increasingly overlooked by career counselors in favor of higher education and jobs that didn't require physical labor.

Then he gave a speech at Grainger Industrial Supply in Chicago, a Fortune 500 company with $6.4 billion in sales in 2007.

"I spoke to their employees," he recalls, "about the changing definition of a good job and my perception of how hard work was essentially under siege, that the traditional notions of manual labor had taken it in the neck.

"I talked about my granddad and the fact that he was this eighth-grade dropout who eventually became a carpenter and electrician, a steamfitter and a pipe fitter, built the house I was born in without a blueprint.

"I said, 'Those guys, they're still out there. Many of them are probably in here right now. But no one's celebrating them, and they're not the role models that my granddad was.' "

Rowe graduated from Towson University in Maryland , so, he says, "It's a strange thing for me, because I did the college thing. I find myself in a weird spot, but I like it, because it allows me to be a fish out of water."

After the speech, he was talking to Grainger CEO James T. Ryan and learned 18007_IMG_7955_m that not only did the company face the usual economic pressures but that the pool of skilled workers on which they and their customers depended was shrinking, with fewer new workers and trade-school students.

"So he's talking," Rowe says, "saying that it seems pretty obvious that hard work needs a PR campaign, and that's essentially what I said. He said, 'That's what I want this company to do. I want Grainger to take a position in that exact area.' "

If the company did that itself, it would seem self-serving, so Rowe had an idea.

"I said, 'Isn't there some neutral place, some third-party place, where somebody is championing this cause?' He just looked at me and said, 'I'm the CEO of an $8 billion company; why do you think I'm standing backstage talking to you? No one's doing this. No one cares.'

"And I said, 'I think I care. And I'll spend some money, and I'll start a site.' "

The result is www.mikeroweWORKS.com, which Rowe envisions as a public forum and resource center for those seeking skilled-labor jobs or the training to get one.

"Even though the project may be 'shovel-ready,' " Rowe says, "the larger question is, 'Is the shovel operator shovel-ready?' Is he ready? Does he feel good about it?

"Or is it going to become an opportunity that he avails himself of because he has no other choice?"

And like "Dirty Jobs," which gets its ideas from its viewers, Rowe's new venture needs you.

"I built the framework," he says, "and I'm happy to blow the trumpet and make the calls, but I need help. I'm too busy to do this by myself, so I need corporate help, and I need you guys to think that fundamentally this idea is sound.

"The feedback has been great, and so we just keep fumbling forward."