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Dirty Jobs

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We’ve long been fans of Discovery Channel’s series, Dirty Jobs. Host Mike Rowe, with his quick, dry wit, is the good-natured trainee for all sorts of jobs guaranteed to gross out or freak out and, most definitely, get him and his temporary co-workers filthy.

Whether it’s cleaning out a sewage tank, breeding horses (which is not done the way one might think), or raising mealworms, Mike is not afraid to get dirty. Or do things that other people might think are beneath them.

So, when I saw a link floating around Facebook last week about Mike’s Rowe’s testimony before the United States Senate, I had to see what it was about. When I clicked the link, there was a photo Mike Rowe, all cleaned up and professional-looking in a suit and tie and an article that, while not missing Rowe’s sarcastic sense of humor, articulately pointed out a weakness in today’s American society.

I invite you to go read the article. Mike states the issue much better than I could. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Are you back? Great! But just in case you didn’t really go read the article (and you should), the gist of it is that we, as a nation, have placed so much emphasis on a college education and professional jobs, while thumbing our noses at trades that there is now a huge skills gap. That gap has resulted in 200,000 open manufacturing jobs and 450,000 trades, transportations, and utilities jobs with no one to fill those jobs. Mike sums it up nicely when he says,

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree.

He goes on to say that,

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a ‘good job’ into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber if you can find one is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

My Papaw worked in the steel mills. My Granddaddy was a carpenter. My step-dad was a mechanic and my dad a carpenter for many years. These were not uneducated men who settled because they weren’t cut out for college. They were hard-working men who didn’t mind getting dirty to support their families.

When did that become second-class?

Last week, I had something that I needed to disassemble to put it into the trash for garbage collection. I found the right tool, but I needed something to hold the bolt on the other end to keep it from turning while I loosened the first end. I couldn’t figure out what I needed, and Brian was at work, so I waited until Josh woke up and asked him.

He came out to the garage, took about 5 seconds to assess the situation, then confidently walked over to the toolbox, pulled out a tool, and got to work. He had it apart in under 2 minutes. I was so proud of him for a couple of reasons: 1) I knew he’d know exactly how to take the thing apart and 2) I could see his complete confidence in the fact that he knew what he was doing.

Later, when he was reading aloud to me, and I felt like banging my head against the wall. (Dyslexia is not fun, y’all.) I remembered the Mike Rowe article. I am a firm believer in kids having a firm grasp of the basics: reading, writing, and math. However, I am also a firm believer in encouraging each child in his or her God-given area of giftedness. I strongly suspect that my son was created to work with his hands.

While my goal will be to give him a “college prep” education, I will not consider an apprenticeship, vocational training, or a trade school to be settling for second-best.

Our country needs men and women who are not afraid to get dirty doing an honest days’ work. and we need to quit treating them like second-class citizens because their skills are vital to our economy and our way of life.

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  1.  Kris, I LOVE this letter and your post.  Such a good point! Thanks for sharing. My husband is a pastor (not a dirty job in the Mike Rowe sense), but he's not afraid to get dirty to dig in our sewer or fix our cars. He's the best of both worlds. And I'm a firm believer in encouraging our children in what they're designed for. If my son is designed to work with his hands, by all means, we should make opportunities for him to get better at that.

  2. My husband has been saying this for years!!!  I'm going to make sure he reads that article 🙂  

  3.  An excellent post.  I especially like the Lee Binz quote.  My dad is a mechanic, and I definitely know my way around an engine, but he always desired a "bettter life" for me…didn't want me or my brothers having to do hard labor to make a living.  It's not that he thinks poorly of these professions, he just wants his children to strive to do better than he did.  Or I guess have it easier.

  4. I know what you mean, Julie. My step-dad was always the same way. I agree that the majority of it was probably him wanting, as you said, a better, easier life for us. I also can't help wondering, though, if part of it was related to the way society, as a whole, looks at trade workers. Either way, my goal with my kids is, like I said, to prepare them for college, if that's where God is calling them, but to give them opportunities to excel at a trade, if that is where God is leading them — and to be happy with whichever they choose.


  5. My husband has also been saying this for years!  Where would we be without all the people who have had "dirty" jobs?  My dad is a finish carpenter, who worked many years as a tree spacer and compassman in the Canadian timber industry…he's not afraid of any job!  He's also one of the smartest people I know, despite never attending college or even graduating from high school. 

  6. This is such a great post!  An area that I am struggling with and needed encouragement.  Thanks ! 

  7. I so liked this post! I'll just say that our twelve-year-old car would not still be running if not for my husband's mechanic skills. Every month I don't have to make a car payment is a beautiful one! 

  8. Hey Kris I read this article yesterday and I really liked it. My husband is a mechanic, loves working with his hands and getting dirty. I have always told my children that if what they feel God has called them to do is be a garbage man then as long as they are the best   garbage man they can be I will be totally proud of them.A hard days work is respectable no matter whether its as a lawyer or a plumber. I totally agree with you :0)

  9. I love this post! We have often talked in our family about why it is that it's assumed every child MUST go to college or else they are a failure! I remember briefly entertaining the idea of becoming a hair stylist when I was finishing up high school, and the very strong reactions I got about that because I was such a good student; in other words, because I was "smart" I couldn't just skip college.

    And when did wanting to be a homemaker become so shocking? You should hear the reactions of other teens — and some adults — when my teen says what she really wants most is to be a wife and homemaker.

    Generations of my family have been blue-collar workers. My dad was a brick mason when he was a young man, and a mechanic later. Even after he became a successful business owner, he was still treated differently because he had dirt under his nails at the end of his workday. Yet those businessmen driving the Volvos & BMWs he repairs were paying our bills because they were unskilled in the very necessary skills my dad possessed.

    I could go on & on, but maybe I should save that for a post of my own. 😉

  10. Excellent point about girls being homemakers, Jamie. You should hear some of the reactions I've gotten when I've suggested that I would be okay with that being my girls' chosen professions. In my opinion, a college education is not "wasted" on a girl who winds up being a stay-at-home mom (love hearing the stories of women who went to college to be educators and are now "wasting" those years because they're "only" homeschooling their kids), but I wouldn't want my kids to feel like that had to go to college in order to be successful.

    Would I like for them to go to college in order to further their education and give them all the skills they might need whatever they choose to do? Sure, if that's in keeping with God's plan for their lives, but I don't necessarily think it's a requirement for being a well-educated person or for succeeding in life.


  11. Great post. I don't have cable but we watch past episodes of Dirty Jobs on Netflix. Love the show…
    Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention! You've made very good points.
    And, yes, I did go check out the link…after I read you post 😉

  12. Thanks alot Kris, now I have to pretend I'm reading a really long article while my tears get into check. I really really really needed to hear this right now. Not just the fact that we both want to bang our head against a wall when the boys read – but that they are not second class workers. We go to our state testing tomorrow – and I know, that the test is centered around reading. They don't really care what skills and knowledge ledge the boy holds, just how well they can read for 3 hours.  Hugs to you today, this article just gave me a reality check, and a hug.

  13. Aww, thanks, Angie. You don't know what it means to me to hear that. Sometimes homeschooling can be so discouraging and it's so easy to doubt ourselves or just become overwhelmed with frustration. I'm so glad I could encourage you today.


  14. My dad used to work the line at Ford, my grandpa retired from there.  My mom used to load United Parcel Service trucks when I was a little girl.  My husband used to work his family business building houses with his uncles. I used to clean office building.  Not all of these are dirty jobs but they were jobs some paying very well.   My son who is 8 says he wants to build things when he grows up.  We have always been taught to do the best we can whether it be in trade or what ever.  Be proud of what you do.    Great article and post Kris.

  15.  Amen, Kris! And with the cost of college skyrocketing, I'd be happy to see my son start earning money once he finishes high school rather than going deep into debt for a college degree, if there's a hands-on job he's interested in and gifted for!

  16. Kris,

    You know I totally agree. I have always admired my husband for his ability to fix anything. My boys have grown up doing the same. I put college out there for them as a potential goal but as the time comes closer, I think Mr. A is  not going to go…gulp. I don't care so much but my family does and they will harass him. He is asking for tools, tool belt, and money for his pilot's license for his graduation. (He is just going to fly away from home someday I know.)

    I just want to say that you need to keep yourself on track if you decide to not point towards college. Family and friends will sneer at you and judge you harshly…at least they have done so to me and to my boys. My best advice is to expose your son to as many different hands-on type jobs as you can in high school. Mr. A has worked with an electrician, a carpenter, an auto mechanic, cell phone salesman, landscaper, and a painter. He has taken welding at an adult education school. His dad has taken him to work at the fire station and at the fire academy. There are many, many ways to make a living and I totally agree that our boys and girls need to have the pressure off if they are not aiming for college. Mr. A just started working at a tool store and he LOVES it and his boss is impressed with his knowledge.

    Great post and helpful to so many readers.

  17. I totally agree, Barb, about exposing kids to as many hands-on training experiences as possible. I've said before, one of the smartest things my in-laws ever did (and one that I'm most thankful for) was helping my husband get a job with an appliance repairman. Brian ultimately went to college, but the skills he learned while working with the repairman have saved us so much money. I'll never forget my oldest telling her home daycare provider (back in the days when I worked outside the home) that her dad was a "good fixer." He sure is!


  18. What an excellent post Kris. I totally agree. I also need to remember this when I'm listening to my middle son read. He's very mechanically inclined as well.

  19.  Awesome post, Kris!  Thank you for drawing my attention to his speech – I never would have heard about it.  His speech was excellent and definitely gave me lots of food for thought.  We live in a blue-collar town surrounded by two white-collar towns.  It makes for an interesting mix.  Also, when you come right down to hard and gritty take home cash – white collar jobs don't necessarily make more money than blue collar jobs.  Perhaps the whole blue-white collar language isn't PC anymore – I don't know. 
    We have tried to encourage our children to never look down on anyone because of their jobs.  (Well, unless their profession is pole dancing but that's another issue).  Thanks again for posting this!Samantha 

  20. I emailed this article to my husband who has long been saying that we are trying to shove the boot of college education on every foot, regardless of whether  its a good fit or not. Thanks for sharing!

  21.  Thanks for posting this.
    My ds13 is dyslexic, but he is very smart and funny, and yes, even social!  =)
    I have three teenagers (the oldest going into 11th) and we have always homeschooled.  
    Ds has a twin sister who, in the early years, surged ahead in schoolwork, everything seeming so easy for her.  But he is doing much better now, and they are actually doing more subjects together once again.  He is very happy about that.
    I used to worry about my son, and what would he do when he grew up?  But he has a lot more confidence than he used to, and I have more confidence that he will succeed at whatever he chooses.  I believe those are intertwined.  
    Thanks again for your article.

  22. Amen! Thank you so much for sharing this. We love Dirty Jobs at my house and I have 3 girls:) What Mike said before the Senate is so true and speaks volumes about the state of our country and unemployment etc.

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