Instrumentation & Controls, O&M, Policy & Regulation

Dirty Jobs star stresses need to bolster skilled workforce

HOUSTON-The reality of America’s skilled jobs gap is getting “pixelated” these days, Mike Rowe said, and it’s obscuring the real workforce needs in our nation.

Rowe, who rose to fame as creator and host of “Dirty Jobs’ on the Discovery Channel, told funny stories of episodes involving “feces from many species” and one particular chain of events focused on artificial insemination of cattle at a nearby ranch in Houston. The network powers-that-be made sure the questionable parts got pixelated, yet Rowe had a pivotal, timely point to make during his Thursday keynote at the ABB Customer World event.

Confusion is created, he said, “when we take pains to cover up that which should be self-evident.” Indeed the U.S. is in the midst of technology revolution-brought on by robotics, digitization and other advances-but it has tremendous job skills gaps in so many industrial and blue-collar sectors.

“We live in the most connected time in the history of the world,” Rowe added, “yet we’ve never been more disconnected from the things that matter the most.”

ABB’s work centers on automation across many fronts, from process to energy management. It needs skilled individuals who can work alongside robots, analyze data and help it compete with companies who are leaping into the very same technologies.

For instance, some 2.5 million robots are built and operating across the globe, about 400,000 of those introduced in the past year. Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s robotics and motion division, showed videos of how robotics will not only advance the latest industrial revolution, but be programmed to easily engage with human co-workers.

History has proven, time and again, that technological advancements change and yet increase the jobs opportunities for people.

“The adoption of technology helps the prosperity of companies and nations and is not a threat,” he said. “The people who programmed this (robotics shown on the screen): These are the new jobs.”

Television legend Rowe’s point was even broader. He noted the millions of Americans mired in student debt from four-year schools, yet a skills gap in a multitude of sectors-including heavy machinery, automation, electrical, plumbing, welding and HVAC work.

“We have seven million jobs out there, 75 percent of which don’t require a four-year degree,” Rowe said. “They require training; they require will.”

To put his money where his mouth is, Rowe started the mikerowWORKS Foundation to try and help solve the disconnect between school career counselors and the real job prospects out there. It has given close to $5 million in scholarships and incentives for young people to gain job skills training.

Many people have lost their awe of the miracles of modern plumbing or electricity, heating and air conditioning or machine works, he noted. They need a reconnection back to these crucial skills.

“The conversation has been obscured or pixelated,” Rowe said. “Think of the advancements in history…they never wrecked jobs…maybe they’ve displaced them (and created more new ones than those lost).

“I genuinely believe there are seven million jobs, many in your industry, are out there for the taking,” he told the crowd.

ABB Customer World wrapped up its four-year run Thursday.