Mike Rowe Just Made the Ultimate Pitch for Blue Collar Entrepreneurs: 'I Am Addicted to Indoor Plumbing'
If you think it's hard to get someone to show up to your place to fix a leaking sink or upgrade your wiring now, just you wait. According to research on the blue-collar workforce, there are approximately six million unfilled skilled labor jobs in America, and only nine percent of high school students have plans to pursue a trade career, according to a survey conducted by footwear and apparel company Wolverine. Not the greatest news for people whose living room ceiling has just turned into a shower thanks to a busted pipe.
To raise awareness of this issue, Wolverine launched “Team Wolverine” -- part of their Project Bootstrap initiative -- which awarded three up-and-coming trade workers $15,000 to assist in their careers and businesses. Mike Rowe, who you know as the host of Dirty Jobs and the voice of Deadliest Catch, among other things, announced the winners of Project Bootstrap at a recent event in New York and, afterward, spoke with Entrepreneur about the glories of getting grimy and America's collective addiction to indoor plumbing.
Your mikeroweWORKS Foundation and Wolverine's Bootstrap Initiative are both geared towards helping people in skilled trades. Why is this so important to you?
I'm not coming at this as a spokesman for blue-collar America. I'm coming at it as a guy who's addicted to chewing and swallowing things, who is addicted to affordable energy and addicted to indoor plumbing. And most people share my addiction to those things. So I'm an advocate, but mostly I'm a fan of people in the blue collar world who make things better for the rest of us.
What do people who are hunched over laptops or working in offices not understand about these kinds of jobs and businesses?
Completion. If you're going to talk very generally about what Dirty Jobbers do and that the rest of us don't experience, I would say that there’s a sense of always knowing how you're doing, having visual cues along the way as you’re getting something done. So you're a writer. At 6 p.m., your desk looks a lot like it does at 6:00 a.m. You're not surrounded by visual cues. Now think about the crab fishermen on Deadliest Catch. For them, it’s all about what's in the pot: crab or no crab? Let's haul it up and see. No crab? That sucks. Let's move it over there. Let's smoke a cigarette, let's get hit by a massive wave, then let's check the pot again. Hey, look, crab! In a job like that, you always know how you're doing, for better or worse, because you can see the results. I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, that component is missing because you're dealing in ethereal things, things with a very long tail, very cerebral things. There are no visual cues, which can be a drag.
Between TV and your foundation, you do an awful lot. Do you have any tricks for staying focused?
The only way I can think to stay focused is to constantly remind yourself what the point is. You get to decide what the goal is and you define what a good job is -- it's always up to you. I mean I guess a lot of people would look at what I've done in the last 24 hours and say that seems like a blast. You are in New York, hanging out with your mom Peggy who is promoting her book -- sounds fun! Well, yes, but this is the 40th interview I've done in a day, and it's easy to lapse into the mental place where "This is the part where I tell that story. This is the part he's probably going to ask and I'll say that." So personally, I work really hard not to let that happen. I personally need to find ways to make sure that tomorrow is different than today just for my own edification, because I don't do well with too much certainty and I don't do well with too much uncertainty.
From left: Mike Rowe with awardees Nolee Anderson, Andrew Lacy, Hunter Allums and Wolverine VP of Markering Andrew Shripka
So you’re not one of those “every morning I do this” kind of people?
No, I am not a "routine person." But we can't live in a purely uncertain state. You need some certainty, like that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. Otherwise, what's the point? But if you have that level of certainty that the sun will rise and set, then you can ask yourself if you want to see the same exact same sunrise and the exact same sunset every day. Most reasonable people would say no. You'd miss the fog and you'd miss the clouds and you miss the seasons. So that's the uncertainty. Another word for that, that entrepreneurs certainly relate to, is variety. Whatever you call it, uncertainty or variety, that's what you need to feel fresh. And so that's why I'm suspicious of routine because like anything else, you'll become a slave to it or it'll become a slave to you. You don't want to be unable to do what you needed to do because you didn't get your eight hours sleep or because you didn't get the meal that you were promised or whatever your routine is supposed to be.
Has your viewpoint changed over time?
It has. Early on, we all fall in love with romantic versions of ourselves. Before Dirty Jobs, I lived in hotels. I hadn't purchased a piece of clothing in years because I had clothing deals with Eddie Bauer and American Eagle. So I'd fly around the country, stay where we were shooting, and then give away these clothes to homeless people on the way to the airport. I really had the whole thing down my backpack. And that was it! Well, today things are a little different. I have a foundation that is ten years old. I have employees and I have responsibilities and a business that I never really anticipated. So you can't be like Caine in Kung Fu wandering the country while a dozen people are depending you to make the donuts. You can't hold on to the old romantic version of yourself, but you can't abandon it entirely either.