In testimony last May in front of the US Senate, Mike Rowe shared an ugly truth: “Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The Skills Gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it … 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’.”

“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.”

We applaud Mr. Rowe for speaking out about a trend we’ve seen coming for years. BelRed and other companies in the skilled trades (emphasis on skilled) offer a great career, with challenging work, good pay, benefits, and steady work. In fact, BelRed was recently named the Best Contractor to Work For by a national publication. To create the pool of employees we need, we work with local vocational schools and even local school districts, but that still isn’t enough. We’ve had to expand our search for new team members outside of our industry, and have have found some success training people from other industries.

Beyond what we can do, and the action required from the government and from schools, Mr. Rowe nailed it when he said, “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.” Until this attitude changes, and parents and kids begin to see how great a career working with your head AND your hands can be, we will continue talking “about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.”

To read Mike Rowe’s full oral testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, click here.

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