Mike Rowe was recently criticized for his new partnership with Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, whose philanthropy for conservative and libertarian causes routinely garners controversy, despite its tremendous fruits.
Rowe, himself an increasingly provocative figure, recently interviewed Koch on their core areas of collaboration, including work, the trades, cronyism, higher education, and criminal justice reform.
Koch on the politicization of “work ethic”: (more…)
Fueled by a mix of misguided cultural pressures and misaligned government incentives, college tuition has been rising for decades, outpacing general inflation by a wide margin. Yet despite the underlying problems, our politicians seem increasingly inclined to cement the status quo.
Whether it be increased subsidies for student loans or promises of “free college” for all, such solutions simply double down on our failed cookie-cutter approach to education and vocation, narrowing rather than expanding the range of opportunities and possibilities.
Fortunately, despite such an inept response from the top-down, schools at the local and state levels are beginning to respond on their own. In Kentucky, for example, PBS highlights innovative efforts to rethink the meaning of “career-ready” education and retool the state’s incentives and accountability structures accordingly.
While “college-” and “career- readiness” have become buzz words that are assumed to be all but equal, Kentucky has awoken to the reality that they ought not be so lumped together so hastily. Alas, we have tended to amplify college not only to the detriment of career, but to college itself. (more…)
Marco Rubio has inspired plenty of chin-stroking over his recent remarks about welders earning more than philosophers.
“We need more welders and less philosophers,” he concluded in a recent debate.
The fact-checkers proceeded to fact-check, with many quickly declaring falsehood (e.g. 1, 2). Yet the series of subsequent quibbles over who actually makes how much continue to side-step the bigger issue. Though the liberal arts are indeed important and ought not be viewed simply in terms of “vocational training,” mainstream American culture is certainly fond of pretending as much.
The individualistic dream-stoking rhetoric, inflated expectations, and subsequent angst have become all too nightmarish a cliche among my generation, joined by ever-increasing attempts to secure more government goodies to keep the machine humming along. Surely there are many who approach the liberal arts with a healthy perspective, but at the same time, the jokes about the barista going for his third Master’s degree aren’t exactly jokes.
Rather than approaching each individual as a creative person with unique gifts and educational aspirations, we continue to pretend that one vocational or educational track ought to apply to all. At the same time, rather than approaching the so-called “job market” as an ecosystem of creativity and collaboration, filled with countless human needs waiting to be met, we revert to thinking only of ourselves, self-constructing our preferred vocational destinies while we move through the college assembly line. (more…)
With the rise of the information economy, many millennials have steered clear from blue-collar jobs and manual labor, often prodded by their parents to pursue a “real education” and “a better life.
As folks like Mike Rowe have only begun to highlight, such attitudes have led to a serious skills gap in the trades, one that appears to hold steady even in the face of record unemployment. Yet despite these cultural shifts, such work does indeed provide significant value to the economy while affirming the dignity and creative potential of the worker.
Thus, while some prefer to hold their noses at the trades, others are seizing it as an opportunity to create and share value. Such is the case at Walker State Prison in Georgia, where a unique welding program offers to train prisoners in the high-demand trade of welding.
According to the American Welding Society, we will be short by nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020 (HT), giving participating prisoners a good shot at meaningful careers upon their release.
And the prisoners aren’t complaining. They are eager to offer their skills, learn a craft, and contribute to society. Watch some highlights here:
One can’t help but be inspired by Christopher Peeples, for example, who at 26 years old is about to finish a 10-year prison sentence. Thanks to the program, he looks forward to wonderful job prospects, and his Dad (a craftsman himself) has been quick to share in the excitement. According to NPR, one recent alumnus of the program had three job offers upon his release, one of which offered $50,000 per year with a company truck.
Ultimately, though, this isn’t about money or even stability. It’s about authentic, whole-life rehabilitation.
By pursuing work in a needed skill — by orienting hearts and hands toward service to others and thus to God — these men are entering into a transformative, collaborative exchange that will shape their very souls and spirits. Material provision is just the byproduct.
Of course, it would require no small amount of these programs to fill the skills gap we’re facing, and so the question remains: what are others waiting for?
As we continue to expand our economic imaginations and pursue vocational clarity, these prisoners offer a powerful example on how we ought to view and approach such work.
Your constant harping on “work ethic” is growing tiresome. Just because someone’s poor doesn’t mean they’re lazy. The unemployed want to work! And many of those who can’t find work today, didn’t have the benefit of growing up with parents like yours. How can you expect someone with no role model to qualify for one of your scholarships or sign your silly “Sweat Pledge?” Rather than accusing people of not having a work-ethic, why not drop the right-wing propaganda and help them develop one?
In the latest addition to Mike Rowe’s growing catalog of pointed Facebook responses, the former Dirty Jobs host tackles a question on the minimum wage, answering a man named “Darrell Paul,” who asks:
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hour. A lot of people think it should be raised to $10.10. Seattle now pays $15 an hour, and the The Freedom Socialist Party is demanding a $20 living wage for every working person. What do you think about the minimum wage? How much do you think a Big Mac will cost if McDonald’s had to pay all their employees $20 an hour?
Rowe begins by recounting a job he had working at a movie theater for $2.90 per hour (the minimum wage in 1979). He served his customers, learned a host of new skills, and received several promotions in due course. Eventually, he decided to move on, pursuing areas closer to his vocational aspirations.
He worked. He learned. He launched.
Turning back to the present (and future), Rowe is concerned about the ways various labor policies have prodded many business owners to innovate ever-closer to full-blown automation, leading to ever-fewer opportunities for unskilled workers. “My job as an usher [at the theater] was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today,” Rowe writes. “But what if that rung wasn’t there?” (more…)
Mike singled out Hollywood as a particularly egregious offender:
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?
Like most slogans, “Follow your passion!” can lead to extremes. As I’ve argued along these lines elsewhere, true vocational discernment requires a bit of triangulation. It’s not just about you and your passion, and it’s not just about others and their wants. It is also about God and his plans for you.