To make America great again, we need to make work cool again. – Mike Rowe
I have long been a supporter of Mike Rowe and his mission to promote blue-collar jobs as not only necessary, but as noble and rewarding (both emotionally and monetarily). In today’s world everyone needs training, but not everyone needs a 4-year college degree, and we have done a disservice to the young by promoting college as the only path to success. In much less time than it will take you to earn a college degree, and for a fraction of the cost, you can get the training you need for a gratifying blue-collar career, and jobs are plentiful.
I say I have been a long-time supporter of Rowe, but until the last few months my support had been mostly theoretical. That was before we started some fairly major remodeling projects on our house and I got the chance to get to know many of the people who are making work cool again personally and see first-hand the incredible work they perform.
We started our remodeling outside. Our first project was to replace a pad of cement in our front yard that was broken. On the recommendation of a neighbor we hired Sam, a quiet, humble, and friendly Tongan who always has a smile on his face and a kind word. Sam talked us in to doing much more than just replacing the broken cement pad. Through his inspired design, and the use of colored and stamped cement, Sam and his crew of hard-working Pacific Islanders completely transformed the curb appeal of our house.
Next, our neighbor across the street, Carrie, and his crew of immigrants from Central America installed a sprinkler system in our front yard and finished a fence that we have been planning to finish for 25 years. The original owner of our house was a cement contractor and he had been building his own cement fence. He had installed the cement posts but had only completed a small portion of the fence. Carrie and his crew removed the existing cement fence and built a wood fence using the existing posts. I wasn’t sure how it was going to look, but I think it turned out beautiful, and the posts will last forever.
We then started on our basement. Our basement bathroom had significant water damage from a leak in our kitchen, so we had to gut it and start from scratch. Our house is kind of small, so the basement bathroom doubles as our laundry room. My youngest daughter, Savannah, who is studying interior design, showed us how we could make better use of the space by move things around. Her plans included a stackable washer and dryer and moving the shower and toilet.
A good friend of mine, “Ed the Plumber”, who I used to play basketball with when we were both younger, did the plumbing. Because we were moving things around Ed had a huge job that included jackhammering our cement floor, digging a trench, and moving pipes around. Ed moonlights as a coach of a high school football team which just won another state championship to add to their dynasty. Ed recommended Jared and his brother, who did the demolition, framing, and sheetrock.
Another friend of mine, Brent, who I have worked closely with in church callings for years, did the electrical work. Brent is a man of complete integrity, and knew I could trust him to do what he said he would do, and to do it at a fair price.
Gavin, and his 19-year-old son Caleb, did the tile work. Gavin is a real craftsman, and he did an excellent job. Gavin told me he used to have a couple of crews working for him but he got tired of dealing with constant issues of people not being dependable. His solution was to cut back so that now it is just him and his son. Here was a master craftsman willing to teach others a trade that is in demand, yet he didn’t have any takers willing to do what it took to master the craft.
A neighbor of ours, Charlie, who grew up in North Carolina, and who I have also served with at church for many years, helped us design and pick out the cabinets. My wife is from South Carolina, so Charlie and her like to get together and talk about home. With the help of all these talented people our bathroom turned out wonderful.
In addition to the bathroom we also painted and put new flooring in a basement family room and bedroom. The project was just about complete except for all of the small finishing touches that every remodeling project has. I had neither the time nor the talent to do these jobs myself and wasn’t sure who to turn to, when serendipity struck. A new family moved into the neighborhood and the husband, David, has his own handyman business. We have had David up several times and he was able to skillfully and quickly do any job we had for him.
We are going to remodel our kitchen next but we decided to wait until after the holidays to start. During this break I have been thinking about all the hard workers who helped us finish our remodeling up to this point.
I work at home staring at a computer 8 hours a day, which does terrible things to your body. Many times as I heard them working I found myself wishing I had a job more like theirs. While I am sure they get physically tired, and they all have things about their jobs they don’t like, all of them seemed to enjoy their work, and they definitely all took a lot of pride in what they did. They were all hard workers, problem solvers, and seemed to love transforming the broken and ordinary into the functional and beautiful.
My only complaint is that most of them were so busy we had a hard time scheduling them. This just proves Mike Rowe’s contention that we need a lot more people learning trades like these. None of the workers who helped us are worried about the government raising the minimum wage because they have all developed a skill that is in demand. While they are not getting wealthy they all make a good living and they contribute to our community not only through their work but in many other ways.
As a society we need to do a better job of respecting blue-collar workers and promoting these careers as essential and rewarding. We also need to do a better job of making sure training in trades is available, affordable, and visible so that those in need of jobs know where to go to get the necessary training.
I am grateful that we were able to find so many honest, talented, and hard-working people to help us transform our house. It was clear that for all of them good old-fashioned hard work has never gone out of style. And I find that very cool.
Here is a TED Talk by Mike Rowe about some of the things he has learned while doing his “Dirty Jobs” TV show: