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The First Four Years Are The Hardest…

Dear Governor Romney,
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My name is Mike Rowe and I own a small company in California called mikeroweWORKS. Currently, mikeroweWORKS is trying to close the country’s skills gap by changing the way Americans feel about Work.  (I know, right? Ambitious.) Anyway, this Labor Day is our 4th anniversary, and I’m commemorating the occasion with an open letter to you. If you read the whole thing, I’ll vote for you in November.
First things first. mikeroweWORKS grew out of a TV show called Dirty Jobs. If by some chance you are not glued to The Discovery Channel every Wednesday at 10pm, allow me to visually introduce myself. That’s me on the right, preparing to do something dirty.
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When Dirty Jobs premiered back in 2003, critics called the show “a calamity of exploding toilets and misadventures in animal husbandry.” They weren’t exactly wrong. But mostly, Dirty Jobs was an unscripted celebration of hard work and skilled labor. It still is. Every week, we highlight regular people who do the kind of jobs most people go out of their way to avoid. My role on the show is that of a “perpetual apprentice.” In that capacity I have completed over three hundred different jobs, visited all fifty states, and worked in every major industry.
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Though schizophrenic and void of any actual qualifications, my resume looks pretty impressive, and when our economy officially tanked in 2008, I was perfectly positioned to weigh in on a variety of serious topics. A reporter from The Wall Street Journal called to ask what I thought about the “counter-intuitive correlation between rising unemployment and the growing shortage of skilled labor.” CNBC wanted my take on outsourcing. Fox News wanted my opinions on manufacturing and infrastructure. And CNN wanted to chat about currency valuations, free trade, and just about every other work-related problem under the sun.
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In each case, I shared my theory that most of these “problems” were in fact symptoms of something more fundamental – a change in the way Americans viewed hard work and skilled labor. That’s the essence of what I’ve heard from the hundreds of men and women I’ve worked with on Dirty Jobs. Pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers…they all tell me the same thing over and over, again and again – our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce.  We are no longer impressed with cheap electricity, paved roads, and indoor plumbing. We take our infrastructure for granted, and the people who build it.
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Today, we can see the consequences of this disconnect in any number of areas, but none is more obvious than the growing skills gap. Even as unemployment remains sky high, a whole category of vital occupations has fallen out of favor, and companies struggle to find workers with the necessary skills. The causes seem clear. We have embraced a ridiculously narrow view of education. Any kind of training or study that does not come with a four-year degree is now deemed “alternative.” Many viable careers once aspired to are now seen as “vocational consolation prizes,” and many of the jobs this current administration has tried to “create” over the last four years are the same jobs that parents and teachers actively discourage kids from pursuing. (I always thought there was something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.)
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Which brings me to my purpose in writing. On Labor Day of 2008, the fans of Dirty Jobs helped me launch this website. mikeroweWORKS.com began as a Trade Resource Center designed to connect kids with careers in the skilled trades. It has since evolved into a non-profit foundation – a kind of PR Campaign for hard work and skilled labor.
Thanks to a number of strategic partnerships, I have been able to promote a dialogue around these issues with a bit more credibility than my previous resume allowed. I’ve spoken to Congress (twice) about the need to confront the underlying stigmas and stereotypes that surround these kinds of jobs. Alabama and Georgia have both used mikeroweWORKS to launch their own statewide technical recruitment campaigns, and I’m proud to be the spokesman for both initiatives. I also work closely with Caterpillar, Ford, Kimberly-Clark, and Master Lock, as well as The Boy Scouts of America and The Future Farmers of America. To date, the mikeroweWORKS Foundation has raised over a million dollars for trade scholarships. It’s modest by many standards, but I think we’re making a difference.
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Certainly, we need more jobs, and you were clear about that in Tampa. But the Skills Gap proves that we need something else too.  We need people who see opportunity where opportunity exists. We need enthusiasm for careers that have been overlooked and underappreciated by society at large. We need to have a really big national conversation about what we value in the workforce, and if I can be of help to you in that regard, I am at your service – assuming of course, you find yourself in a new address early next year.
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To be clear, mikeroweWORKS has no political agenda. I am not an apologist for Organized Labor or for Management. mikeroweWORKS is concerned only with encouraging a larger appreciation for skilled labor, and supporting those kids who are willing to learn a skill.
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Good luck in November. And thanks for your time.
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Sincerely,
Mike Rowe
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PS. In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I wrote a similar letter to President Obama. Of course, that was four years ago, and since I never heard back, I believe proper etiquette allows me to extend the same offer to you now. I figure if I post it here, the odds are better that someone you know might send it along to your attention.

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Admin note:  to make this easier to find, here’s a reprint of the letter to President Obama:

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30 January 2009
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC

“For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.”

Dear Mr. President,

Much of what you said on January 20th struck a chord, but nothing matched the simplicity or truth of that particular observation. I am awed by the task at hand, and compelled to tell you about mikeroweWORKS, a public awareness campaign designed to reinvigorate the trades, reinforce the importance of skilled labor, and draw attention to our crumbling infrastructure.

My name’s Mike Rowe, and I host a program on the Discovery Channel called Dirty Jobs. Dirty Jobs is a simple show about hard work. No plot, no script, and no actors. The show relies upon a mission – one that sends me around the country to work as an apprentice in a wide variety of occupations not typically associated with a four-year diploma. From coal mines to cattle ranches, crab boats to construction sites, I’ve spent the last five years laboring alongside men and women who do the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Now, after 200 dirty jobs, I enjoy a national reputation as an expert in absolutely nothing. However, I have managed to succeed in highlighting an important group of hardworking Americans that I believe deserve our respect, and from whom I think

we might learn a thing or two about the meaning of a “good job.”

Forty years ago, people understood that sweat and dirt were the hallmarks of important work. Today, that understanding has faded. Somewhere in our economy’s massive transition from manufacturing to financial services, we have forsaken skilled labor, along with many aspects of our traditional work ethic. Trade school enrollments are down, even as our infrastructure crumbles around us. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Community Colleges are routinely described as alternatives to a “proper” education. Madison Avenue bombards us with messages that equate happiness with leisure. Hollywood portrayals of hard work usually embody an element of drudgery or some silly stereotype, and jobs once considered vital to our society are now simply overlooked. The ranks of welders, carpenters, pipe fitters, and plumbers have been declining for years, and now, we face the bizarre reality of rising unemployment, and a shortage of skilled labor. Strange days.

Whether through elitism or indifference, the net result is the same – people have slowly shied away from these jobs. Not because they aren’t important or lucrative – but because they are simply not celebrated. This perception is real Mr. President, and I believe it’s standing squarely in the way of your recovery plan, as well as your initiative for Volunteerism and national service. In my opinion, it needs to be corrected as soon as possible, which brings me back to my idea.

mikeroweWORKS.com is a destination for anyone looking to investigate a career in the Skilled Trades. Its purpose is to encourage, educate, and celebrate the business of Work, by focusing on those opportunities related to rebuilding our national infrastructure. The idea grew from the mission of Dirty Jobs, and evolved with the help of loyal viewers who constantly provide the site with daily links to scholarships, apprenticeships, fellowships, and other worthwhile programs. Large corporations have offered support. Industry leaders, Retired Generals, teachers, laborers, professors, parents, and students have all gotten involved. My hope for mikeroweWORKS is that it function not just as a useful resource, but also as a “call to arms,” and ultimately, a PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. I would like to see mikeroweWORKS help assure that those three or four million jobs you wish to create, are jobs that people feel proud to have.

People often tell me that Dirty Jobs reminds them of a time when Work was not seen as a thing to avoid. When skilled tradesmen were seen as role models, and a paycheck was not the only benefit of a job well done. We need to recapture that sentiment. We need to celebrate, on a bigger scale, the role models right in front of us. Dirty Jobs has given me the opportunity to do that. With a little luck and the right support, mikeroweWORKS, will take it to the next level.

Thank you for your time, Mr. President. Good luck in your term, and please know that mikeroweWORKS and Dirty Jobs are at your disposal.

Sincerely,

Mike Rowe
CEO, mikeroweWORKS, inc.
Executive Producer, Dirty Jobs

  • Scott M.

    Mike,

    Bravo on your excellent letters!

    Many seem to miss that you’ve been willing to work with either political stream… Please don’t let them get to you.

    I greatly respect and appreciate what you are attempting to do. Honestly, I hadn’t quite thought through the issue in this way before, but I quickly found myself agreeing completely.

    I own an auto repair business, employing eleven hard working “dirty” people. I’m not “on the floor” anymore (paperwork… don’t get me started on that), but you know what? I miss it. There’s nothing like being exhausted at the end of a day of good, honest work.

    Keep it up my man. I was a fan already, but it’s at a whole new level now.

    Scott

  • Beth Pullin

    Thank you for getting your ideas out to the current and hopefully future leader of our country. I would love to have my desk job back but, even in retirement, I work in a dirty job. Actually follows that I have those jobs at home also with 6 horses to feed because I cannot find 4 of them new homes. So as a retiree, I work with the elderly cleaning up in all ways after them. (You can only imagine)

    Well, our current was given a chance, although after investigation I would still not have voted for him. The unfortunate situation is that we only have two choices and Romney was not my frist anyway.

    I am thrilled he read your letter, responded and you came to Ohio to speak your mind. Would have like to have been there but I was “cleaning up” for money.

    If you want assistance getting the “word” out there,feel free to contact me and I will try to muster up a venue which can contribute to your cause.

    Come sing with me sometime.

    Beth

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  • Brian gallagher

    Mr. Rowe let me start by offering you my sincerest appology for being dissapointed to see you with mitt romney, who I consider the poster child for indifference towards all that you and those on your show do and stand for. I have loved you and what you do and stand for since the first episode of DJ, so I had to know why you were with that clown, and it wasnt until I found this website that I found that you first approached Obama years ago to no avail. This has me really dissapointed in him. By the way I am a master carpenter, working on high end homes on Long Island in NY, mostly in the Hamptons. Ive been in the const. business for 20 yrs and have seen first hand the attitude and respect level for what I do deminish to the point where sometimes I need to walk away from these people before I knock their disrespectfull ass out. So what I am trying to say is THANK YOU for the crusade that you are on, WE NEED YOU. By the way I graduated top of my class in high school, and have 2 degrees but CHOSE to do what I do out of love for the trade and a need to make an HONEST living and be outdoors in the sun in nothin but shorts and a tool belt.

  • Lisa

    Skilled labor is the backbone of America. I am the wife of a small business owner–he works 12 hours on average every single day (he did build that ;) ). we love your show and love the fact you showcase hard work! Thank you :)

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  • Leslie Bigos

    My son goes to a high school where nearly everyone aspires to go to a 4-year-college. The thrust of all the counseling the students get is “college bound”. My son — who scored in the 95% on his college entrance exams — has chosen to go to technical school and become an aircraft mechanic. I for one, want the the brightest people working on a plane that I am going to fly in. Our family had to seek out a career path for this son because he loves tinkering, working with his hands and building things. The school system is set up to funnel kids into college where many drink themselves into oblivion and drop out or graduate without being able to meaningful work. Thanks for championing skilled labor!

  • willliam gregor

    As much as I appreciate what you have done with your show demonstrating the importance of what many see as menial jobs, I am absolutely flabbergasted that you would appear on stage with Mitt Romney. Romney epitomizes all that is wrong with America and the lack of respect for many of the hardworking people that keep this country running.

    Maybe you feel rebuffed by President Obama because he didn’t immediately reach out and ask you for your help and advice. More than likely he never even saw it. I suspect that some staffer read your letter and decided there were more important things to focus on and better job authorities to be consulting. Bottom line as you have stated yourself many times, you are nobody special and you posses no special skills or knowledge. Your experiences are good ones, but millions of Americans have them too. Many of us have enjoyed your show because it reminds us of ourselves seeing those who work hard for what they earn and develop a love for their jobs as terrible as they may sometimes seem.

    But in fact you do have a special skill and that is having that “every man appeal”. You come off extremely well as a “regular guy”. I think, or at least used to think, that is real. You have been blessed with a platform to use your skill and help others in this country realize all the things and all the people who keep the country running are just regular folk too who are doing their best at what they do.

    Unfortunately, you are now taking that skill and exploiting it by standing with a man that has zero respect for these people and their lives. There can be no doubt about this. Here is a man that has sold out thousands of these people just for the sake of his own enrichment. Here is a guy who has personally exported jobs to China and has sold others on the concept because it can be so profitable. I know you are not making an “official endorsement”, but you might as well be.

    President Obama has done nothing but stand up for all these hardworking regular people. He spent a large part of his early political career working hand in hand with these folks trying to help better their lives and becoming fully aware of all that they go through. He has tried very hard to get more people like this working to rebuild the infrastructure of the country only to be flatly rejected by the Republican party. Obama has been very much a promoter of trade schools and helping people get the skills necessary for many of these jobs. He is all about the middle class and lower paid workers making these contributions to the country and our economy.

    Romney on the other hand has a history of destroying the middle class and costing jobs rather than creating them. Romney destroyed good paying “dirty jobs” and the only jobs he can take credit for are very low paying “clean” jobs like retail sales and stocking shelves. Americans selling and moving around foreign made products is no way to build a future for the country. I’m sure that Romney didn’t read your letter either until some staffer saw a way to use it to cozy up to the working class. I’d bet he never saw the show either until they saw an opportunity to use you as a tool to exploit the working class. Think about it, why would he even find your show entertaining? Here’s guy who never had a blister and probably never even got dirt under his fingernails. How could he even relate to it other than maybe thinking that “there’s some people I’d like to fire!”?

    I am a professional but, started as a guy doing dirty jobs. I still work with dirty jobs, but these days the focus is about how to make them easier and safer. My experiences are invaluable and working closely with the people is key. I worked my way up but haven’t forgotten where I came from. A lot of people see me as a role model because hard work and good performance is what got me where I am.

    You always joke about not being particularly smart yourself and maybe you are just making a stupid mistake. Maybe you just don’t have a clue as to what is really going on like many of the hardworking people you are exposed too,simply because they don’t even have the time to stay informed. Then again maybe you are just seeing an opportunity to promote yourself. I hope it’s the former. Romney sees most of the people you’ve worked with as being part of that worthless 47% looking for a handout. He joked about how these people think they should be entitled to health care just because the can’t help themselves. You’ve seen the jobs many of these people do. You can see how these folks put their own health at risk in their jobs and you can see that when they get old they will be paying the price for the work they have done. Romney looks like a young man because he’s never done an honest day’s work in his life. And you look to this guy to help the people you have come to so respect and cherish? Very sad, I thought you were a better person than that.

  • Mike Bullington

    Wow. Thanks for taking a stand. You’ve certainly aroused the bitterness of the Left. You’ve evidently caused them to feel “left out” as a result of your views and they will now hate you with unmitigated passion. I’ve seen your show from time to time, but never considered myself a fan. I really don’t know how much more I’ll watch it, but when I do, no doubt it will be with great appreciation for what you are doing to turn this awful economy around. God bless you, Mike.

  • Gearhead730

    Mike you have sent both my teenage sons letters of congrats for being Eagle Scouts and that’s says you care.I think we should sit back and see that this country can’t support the free giveaways. We need to reinvest in America and manufacturing and making dirty smells and dust. We have become way too restrictive on what business can and can’t do. I make my living and my boys are going into fields where they work with their minds and hands getting dirty. We must understand a college degrees doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is smarter than an individual who works with their minds, hands and heart. I say push back EPA’s reg let some dust dirt and smells happen and lets get this country back to work. Then we can lower or national dept and maybe support some health care for people less fortunate or who have fallen on hardship. Don’t vote party lines we must rebuild our infrastructure and manufacturing base in this country for our children and future generations. That’s what made this country such a force, hard work ,sweat, dust, dirt and determination. Thanks Mike for caring.

  • EJ Zell

    Mike, appreciate what you are trying to do for manufacturing in this country as a 30+ employee of CAT. Just wish I could see you at an Obama rally as I did last week in Bedford Heights, Ohio (Cleveland) Romney Ralley.

    Would love to collaborate with you based on my experiences recruiting young engineers for manufacturing jobs in the country. Often it’s the parents warning of “dirty jobs.”

    Best regards,

    Ed/San Diego

  • Billie

    The point some of you are missing because of the same arrogance that has been displayed by the President and is shared by msnbc and most Obama supporters is that mike rowe has a HUGE following. Every vote counts! I’m sure you guys will find some way to blame this and all the rest of your incompetence on Bush lol

  • donna

    Thank you for caring. Did you get a response from Romney? Obama doesn’t care to respond-It would cut into his campaign time. Thank God there are people out there like you.Your show is great. Keep up the good work. Hope you vote for Romeny!

  • Nyxalinth

    I love your show. My dad his dad worked for the railroads, and my maternal grandpa was a tool and die maker. My grandma worked in a school cafeteria for almost 60 years, hardly glamorous or high paying, but extremely vital for the kids.

    I vote Democrat, but I will say that I agree with everything you said in both letters. I do think it bad form that the President never responded, and it will be equally bad form if Mr. Romney doesn’t.

    This country has lost so much respect for the actual hard work needed to give us all everything we need. That’s the root cause of a lot of problems, including the whole “They’re taking our jobs!” issue. Someone figured out that most Americans turn their noses up at construction, meat processing, etc., but immigrants would do them at a far lower pay rate, and there you go. It’s honest work, but we as a country decided we were better than that, as you point out.

  • Kevin Baldwin

    Mr. Rowe,

    Thanks for the interesting article that you have written. Yes, we Americans have found the possibility of ignoring all things that make us comfortable. We as Americans should be ashamed of ourselves and the responsibility that we let foreigners take care of our basic needs. I hope that you message will reach many more people throughout this country and wake up the minds of the simple American man or woman. So sorry to learn that your show has been cancelled, but I wonder ” were Americans to lazy to flip the channel or were they looking for the remote control?”

  • Michael V. Moses

    Mr. Rowe,

    I am sending this to you with the same request you ask of Gov. Romney and President Obama by asking them to contact you. I have sent you an email requesting a conversation with you by phone or email. I would prefer the old fashion way of talking in person via phone. My company has a lot to offer the world and I would realy like to see what you think about it. I am very passionate about job creation, which my company will have to have tens of thousands of employees, life and property saving products and plastic pollution that my company provides. This could be the dirtiest job you have ever seen and could be the most meaningful dirty job you have ever seen!

    I hope to hear from you soon..

    Sincerly,

    MVM @ MVMRD

  • Michael V. Moses

    Hello again Mr. Rowe,

    I posted a comment on this “Sound Off!” board and I would like to thank you for your deep concerns about America and what you are offering as help for America and Americans. I too, am very deeply concerned about job creation, plastic pollution and other things that are in need of in Americas infrastructure.

    I am a member of mikeroweWORKS and I have sent a request for you to contact me to discuss what my company has to offer. I am leaving my office number, cell number and email address in this post. I hope to hear from you soon and if we all can work together we came provide some solutions to today’s problems America faces.

    Michael V. Moses

    Chairman/CEO

    MVM Research and Development Group, Inc.

  • Marlene

    Many Thanks for posting The First Four Years Are The Hardest

  • Sue Newell

    Mr. Rowe’s letter is brilliant and hit the nail on the head. Of course,
    This is not the direction of BO. Hope Mr. Rowe will consider becoming
    A political leader. Than again, that job may be ‘too dirty’…..

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  • Connie

    Good Morning Mike,

    I saw you on Fox News this morning. I wanted to look at your website regarding work disconnect but I can’t remember the website. Can you send it to me please?

    Also, I enjoyed the picture you shared about diplomas vs skilled labor. You are so right. I see the problem everyday. People who are highly skilled but without diplomas are withering away. They are made to feel inferior to people with academic skills. Many peopls with diplomas have student loans but aren’t working. They have incurred student loan debts can’t find jobs. Now they are plagued with escalating interest plus the student loan itself, can’t get a job, and cannot pay their debts.

    I would like to read more from the work disconnect website. You are well respected. I am so happy you are helping people find jobs. It was nice to hear Catapillar has jobs in Las Vegas but sad their aren’t people to fill those skilled operator positions.

    Connie