Last week I had the chance to sit in on a teleconference with Mike Rowe, the creator and star of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs and founder of mikeroweWORKS.com. Hosted by Caterpillar, the purpose of the teleconference was to explain the new partnership between the company and Rowe—a partnership with the goal of highlighting the types of important, “dirty jobs” that are performed every day throughout the nation. Jobs that, like it or not, have lost some of their post-war era luster, but not their significance: We value our paved roads, our running water, and our electrical grid, and yet the folks that make sure our infrastructure is constructed, maintained, rehabilitated, and repaired rarely find themselves in the spotlight.
But that’s about to change. About one-third of the country’s skilled trade workers are over 50 and headed towards retirement. Unfortunately, currently there are not enough skilled workers to fill that gap. Rowe believes the reasons behind this skill gap are multifaceted.
“I’m not a pro,” said Rowe, “but assumptions can be made based on macro-economics, societal influences, pop-culture, and even Madison Avenue; there’s a lack of a ‘work friendly’ message. We don’t celebrate these jobs like we used to, and there’s a different sensibility of what constitutes ‘a good job.’”
Rowe went on to discuss the idea of a “communication gap” between the trades and the general public. “Essentially, there’s a universal feeling that there’s a lack of appreciation for these jobs. The skill gap is there because there’s this communication gap. Nothing is going to get fixed until we start a conversation.”
So what’s the solution? Rowe used his recent participation at the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree as an example of how to get the ball rolling. With 100,000 in attendance, including dignitaries and heads of industry, Rowe found an audience open to and interested in this “skills gap” issue. And if there are ears ready for the message, “We have to figure out a way to get beyond our own shores, and, instead of just talking to industry people, we need to bring the message to fresh ears,” said Rowe. “It’s essential to have a united voice about the skills gap and infrastructure issues—and the trades play an important role in defining this united voice.”
What do you think? How will this skills gap affect the water efficiency industry? Will “green building” and new technologies, like intelligent irrigation and AMI, fundamentally change the water efficiency skill set? Are we doing enough to encourage entrée into the water efficiency and conservation profession? And what about the plumbers, contractors, and landscape professionals that are such an integral part to water resource management?
For information about the partnership between Rowe and Caterpillar, go to: www.cat.com.