Former star of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" Mike Rowe wants to close America's skills gap.
Right now, there are more than 7 million job openings in the U.S., with not nearly enough qualified workers to fill them. As the CEO of MikeRoweWorks Foundation, Rowe has partnered with footwear and apparel company Wolverine to provide up-and-coming trade workers with the financial support they need to launch their careers.
Currently, according to Wolverine, just 9 percent of high school students are planning to pursue a trade career. In order to change this, Rowe says we have to change our perception of what we consider a "good job."
We also need to stop telling young people to follow their passion.
"We need to stop telling young people that the only way to be happy is to correctly identify your passion when you're 18, 19 and 20 years old," Rowe told CNBC Make It at a recent Wolverine event. "We basically force them to figure out what is going to make them happy and then they get this idea in their head of 'I'm going to be a musician. Or, I'm going to be an executive or an accountant.'"
While all of those are good jobs, Rowe says that following this mindset typically sends young people down a long road of expensive schooling and training "in order to start feeling happy and fulfilled wherever they land." In the end, he says, many people end up trapped — swimming in student loan debt, without any viable job options.
Instead, Rowe advises young people to follow opportunity and to then take their passion with them.
"On 'Dirty Jobs,' I met countless people who were doing things that visually didn't look like anything you wanted to be doing," he says. These jobs "looked like the thing you would go out of your way to avoid. But then, when you sit down and talk to them, you find out that they make six figures a year, and they have a vacation, and they have enough balance in their life to coach their kid's little league team and they don't have any debt."
Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban agrees. He says the he believes "one of the great lies of life is 'follow your passions.'"
"I used to be passionate to be a baseball player. Then I realized I had a 70-mile-per-hour fastball," Cuban said during an interview for Amazon's Insights for Entrepreneur series. (According to MLB.com, the average Major League Baseball player throws a 90-plus mile-per-hour fastball.)
Instead, Cuban says he believes you should pursue the things you find yourself devoting energy to. "The things I ended up being really good at were the things I found myself putting effort into," he said. "A lot of people talk about passion, but that's really not what you need to focus on. You really need to evaluate and say, 'Okay, where am I putting in my time?'"
Rowe, who is now the host of TBN's "Somebody's Got to Do It," says that hearing those stories on "Dirty Jobs" showed him that telling young people to "follow your passion" leads them to ignore potentially good opportunities. He believes that actually, "you can be passionate about anything you do."
"Take your passion with you," he adds, "but don't follow it around. Instead, follow opportunity."
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