GOOD: What do you think it means to have a “dirty job,” or a job that most people would not want?
MIKE ROWE: Attitudes toward hard work have changed, and not for the better. Many people view dirty jobbers with a mix of pity and derision. Some ignore them altogether. However, one thing is unchanged: People with dirty jobs make civilized life possible for the rest of us. For that reason, I see a willingness to get dirty as a mark of character.
G: Why don’t more people respect dirty jobs?
MR: Once upon a time, we were proud to be dirty. Dirt looked like work, and work was revered. Now, we’ve redefined our notion of what a “good job” looks like. We’ve taken the “dirt” out of the formula, and in the process, marginalized a long list of important professions. Big mistake.
G: How are we going to suffer by demonizing dirt?
MR: Lots of ways. Unpaid student loans, a crumbling infrastructure, a widening skills gap. A third of all skilled tradesmen are north of 50. They’re retiring in record numbers, and no one is there to replace them. We’re not sufficiently gob-smacked by the accomplishments of skilled labor. And so we don’t encourage it. Even as thousands of college graduates return to Mom’s basement, hopelessly in debt and with no prospects in their chosen field. It’s madness.
G: So you’re anti-college?
MR: No. But a four-year degree is not the only way to acquire useful knowledge. Trade schools, apprenticeships, community colleges, on-the-job training, the kind of learning we dismiss as “alternative education,” is every bit as viable as a traditional sheepskin diploma. Maybe more so. And a hell of a lot cheaper. We need to stop promoting one form of education at the expense of another. It’s stupid.