You may know Mike Rowe's face from the hit TV reality show Dirty Jobs, or from his many narration and spokesman jobs.

I recently saw him interviewed regarding his new book,Profoundly Disconnected, in which he argues that we've been selling our children into debt slavery, encouraging and sometimes forcing them into debt from which many will never extricate themselves in order to get jobs which simply aren't waiting for them.

On the other hand, he argues, that in the course of working on Dirty Jobs, he saw "Help Wanted" signs hanging everywhere. Some of them were for the sort of dirty jobs the show highlighted, but many were for jobs like welder and diesel mechanic. If you are willing to work with your hands instead of your head, he argues—and if you are willing to go where the jobs are instead of stipulating that the job has to be in some major city like NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Seattle—you can make a very good living indeed.

The high tech sector is very volatile, and the skills one needs to land and keep the job one might be aiming for in high tech might be old hat and obsolete and unwanted by the time one graduates, or shortly thereafter. On the other hand, there's no end in sight to maintaining diesel engines or welding two pieces of metal together.

Any discussion?

Tags: high, jobs, low, tech

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His point is valid.  As bad as it is in the tech world, especially the computer science world, it's even worse for people pursuing a college program that will essentially result in being qualified only for a career in academia.  Or perhaps other levels of education.  That would include almost all of the humanities, unfortunately.  And to a limited extent other majors that can make good money but only if you have the fortitude and ability to stick to it all the way to a doctorate.  If you don't, then you end up with a degree that's hard to get a job with by itself, even if it's a vital component of something you could do very well with.  There was a time when the job market would value a humanities major for jobs dealing primarily with people even if the job did not deal directly with (for example) English literature, but I believe those times have for the most part passed.  Yet you see people taking on that lifetime of debt to pursue that, with very slim job prospects afterwards.

Another problem that pushes people into college sometimes, is the large number of jobs that require a some basic amount of literacy and numeracy (a lot of the sorts of jobs mentioned in the OP fall into that category, incidentally).  Unfortunately many people manage to collect a high school diploma without attaining either (I am seeing a stat out there that 14 percent of adults cannot read at a 5th grade level in the US, but I caution that I can't find the original source), so even though these jobs really shouldn't require the specialized knowledge that comes with a college diploma, oftentimes employers now give preference to applicants with some sort of college degree as a simple marker for "literate."  Shouldn't a high school diploma serve as such?  It's as if there now needs to be a short post-high-school program to give people the basic education they should have got in high school (if not sooner).  Of course technology provides an easy way out (stereotypically, but not limited to, pictures of items on the cash register at a burger joint, or scan codes), but the prospects of people in such a situation will be limited to those kinds of jobs.  Even worse the proportion of illiterates in prison is much higher, as much as 70 percent (though the direction of causality, if any, isn't clear).

Certainly for jobs like welder or diesel mechanic, very valuable skills indeed but not bookish in the least, there are specialized vocational schools that teach those things, and if you are too illiterate or innumerate to be able to perform those jobs, they will either teach that or you will fail to get through the school.  Employers in turn probably know which of these schools give out certificates that mean something and which are the vocational equivalent of diploma mills.

But to answer the larger question, college cannot be and should not be for everyone.  Ideally it'd be for people of at least some academic bent, and people going in would have some basic level of literacy.  There ought to be a better-defined "vocational" path in our educational system, and it ought to start a lot earlier than it does.

high tech might be old hat and obsolete and unwanted by the time one graduates, or shortly thereafter

This is both true and irrelevant. College and university shouldn't be teaching you job skills... they should be teaching how to think and learn. Don't go to college and expect to learn job skills.

A higher education should teach people to be logical and to be open minded to new ideas, however most people can't afford to spend, say $20K only to learn such skills. They probably have a career in mind and higher education is an investment in getting there.

A higher education should teach people to be logical and to be open minded to new ideas, however most people can't afford to spend, say $20K only to learn such skills.

Higher education is a huge investment, but this situation is unique to Americans. There's no reason why a college education had to be converted into a lifetime of ball-and-chain student loan debt, except for the conservative Republican ideology that made it that way.

Think of it as an early step in the triumph of capitalism over democracy: put public education out of reach and the public becomes easier to misinform and influence. Examples abound;  the War in Iraq, climate changehealth care, the Ground Zero mosque, and even national elections.

Education? We don't need no education. Obama is a socialist Muslim antichrist.

Whose gonna be designing and making those diesel engines in the first place? The US already ranks dangerously low in math and science. It is a fallacy that a college degree in engineering, or computer science goes obsolete. It's the principals that matter. Logic, math and physics are the real tools. Give me a mix of old veteran engineers (who have seen it all) and some young, eager, bright " fresh outs" and I'll have that product ready for the factory floor ahead of schedule and under budget. I can tell you that electrical engineering is just about the same as it was when I was the "fresh out" 25 years ago. Can you oversell a technical degree? I doubt it. It takes care of itself. My handsome face and quick witty humor didn't help solve a fourth order differential equation. The down side of a technical degree? Well let's just say your opinion means nothing and grammar doesn't count at all ;)

Ari, Are there subjects or activities that interest you a lot? It's really great when work feels like fun. It's like you are cheating or something. I have had work days in the lab when I didn't even notice it was 8PM and everybody was gone !

My advice to anyone considering getting a student loan is to only consider it if you're going into a profession where you can earn the big bucks. That means only if you're planning on being a medical doctor, attorney, engineer, CPA, or some such.

I would never take out any sort of loan to get a degree in the arts (I can't think of any exceptions off the top of my head). While there are always individuals who break out of the pack and earn a lot of money in any art, for the most part a degree in art sets you up for a life of relative poverty.

Ditto for teaching.

Better to take your time and pay your way. I have a friend in debt way over her head after taking out a federal student loan to get an "education" from The ArtInstitutes. She lives hoping the government will soften up a bit on collecting student loans with some sort of forgiveness program.

I recently saw [Mike Rowe] interviewed regarding his new book, Profoundly Disconnected, in which he argues that we've been selling our children into debt slavery, encouraging and sometimes forcing them into debt from which many will never extricate themselves in order to get jobs which simply aren't waiting for them.

I haven't read his book so I can't comment on the specifics beyond what you mentioned in the OP. To those:

Is a college education worth it? Assuming strictly cash value, one look at the statistics on income, unemployment and education should answer that question. A college education on average doubles your weekly income and halves your unemployment rate compared to just having a high school diploma. (See the table below.)

It's not absolute, of course. You could earn a comfortable living in a skilled trade (like welder or mechanic) or get a college degree and end up unemployed for years. But the statistical picture nationwide overall: more education is associated with higher incomes and better job prospects. The student loan debt would have to be very high to offset that kind of benefit.

This perspective seemingly ignores the non-cash value of higher education, which includes critical thinking skills.

It's also worth noting that higher education as a value prospect wouldn't be an issue at all, if not for the bizarre, self-defeating approach that the United States takes.

The concept of "arm-and-a-leg higher education" started with the Higher Education Opportunity Act back in the Nixon and Reagan years. They shifted the country away from mostly free public higher education to mostly loan-based public higher education: "For post-high school programs, the United States is far outspent in public dollars. U.S. taxpayers picked up 36 cents of every dollar spent on college and vocational training programs. Families and private sources picked up the balance. In other OECD nations, it was roughly reversed: The public picked up 68 cents of every dollar in advanced training and private sources picked up the other 32 cents." 

The burden of the backs of students keeps increasing and is nearing the point where the "public" in "public higher education" is virtually meaningless. Americans have virtually forgotten that public higher education, like public high schools and public libraries, used to be mostly free.

The graphs below show the cuts in public higher education funding over the last six years alone. Looking at these graphs it's easy to forget that public higher education was once affordable for virtually anyone with academic merit-- rather like in the rest of the developed world today-- and students did not routinely graduate with five or six figures of debt.

Here are the accompanying tuition increases over the same period:

The problem with those stats in terms of refuting Mike Rowe is that he was recommending BOTH considering high-paying trades AND going where the demand is high. There are places in the country where welders, pipefitters, mechanics of various sorts, and other tradesfolk are in such short supply that they can demand outrageously high salaries. The $35K welder in Pittsburgh might make four or five times that working on a natural gas mining operation in Iowa.

The other problem with your stats is that they are generally true. Rowe's advice was not offered as a panacea to finding good-paying work for everyone.

Should the person who's unemployed now consider learning welding in a few months without getting into debt or should s/he go into debt to get a college degree. Bear n mind, too, that a lot of the people he's addressing are well beyond typical college freshman age.

The problem with those stats in terms of refuting Mike Rowe is that...

I'm going on the actual premise you had attributed to Mike Rowe at time I responded: "[Rowe] argues that we've been selling our children into debt slavery, encouraging and sometimes forcing them into debt from which many will never extricate themselves in order to get jobs which simply aren't waiting for them."

This seemed to be Rowe's argument as you presented it: that encouraging high school kids or younger ("children") to obtain college educations isn't worth it ("debt slavery").

I disagree this is the case for children. The statistics strongly indicate it's well worth it for children to get a college education from a strictly financial point of view.

...he was recommending BOTH considering high-paying trades AND going where the demand is high. There are places in the country where welders, pipefitters, mechanics of various sorts, and other tradesfolk are in such short supply that they can demand outrageously high salaries. The $35K welder in Pittsburgh might make four or five times that working on a natural gas mining operation in Iowa.

That part is a little off the original point. While I don't necessarily disagree, it might be misleading (but only a little bit). It's true that salaries vary by region and profession, but this is true both for tradesmen and for professionals in other lines of work, including those with advanced or professional degrees. Physician salaries, for instance, vary by national location and population density: metropolitan areas pay less and rural areas pay a lot more.

Maybe Rowe is arguing that vacancies and salary hikes are much higher by region in the vocational trades than in most other professions? If true, that would bolster his argument.

The other problem with your stats is that they are generally true. Rowe's advice was not offered as a panacea to finding good-paying work for everyone.

True, but you must admit the way you presented it emphasized children, not everyone, so the rest of this is a new (and interesting) dimension.

Should the person who's unemployed now consider learning welding in a few months without getting into debt or should s/he go into debt to get a college degree. Bear n mind, too, that a lot of the people he's addressing are well beyond typical college freshman age.

I don't know, but I think it depends on a lot of factors; how much debt you'll end up with (present and future), the worth of the degree, the age of the person and his or her life circumstances.

Are you 30, married with kids, and in debt? If so, going back to college for a $50,000 BS degree could make less sense than going into welding. Are you 45, single and mostly debt-free? If so, a $25,000 Masters degree might make sense.

It's difficult to gauge something like this in general terms instead of on a specific case-by-case basis. Still, Rowe seems to have a point that a good-paying, in-demand job (of any kind, anywhere) is worth considering and shouldn't be dismissed because it doesn't require a degree, and isn't in a city.

Another dimension has to do with contendedness. The person who goes into accountancy in order to earn a high income might discover that s/he would be a lot happier as a sculptor or writer.

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