Alabama's Skilled Labor Shortage -- Mike Rowe of 'Dirty Jobs' Leads the Campaign

Alabama is home to the Crimson Tide college football team and the birthplace of American heroes including Hank Aaron and Coretta Scott King. Now, a new campaign, "Go Build Alabama," is looking to create more American heroes through recruitment for trade jobs in areas like construction, carpentry, and welding.

Joining forces with Alabama is a familiar face: Mike Rowe, executive producer and host of 'Dirty Jobs' on the Discovery Channel. Rowe has been trying to boost the image of skilled workers for two years on his website,

The economy won't matter

Academics and experts argue about the economy bouncing back, but Rowe is confident the need is there.

"I'm not an economist. But there doesn't seem to be any disagreement on the rate of which skilled workers are retiring," says Rowe. "Long term, I'm comfortable saying construction can't stop. Farming can't stop."

According to the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), the organization behind "Go Build Alabama," for every person who becomes a trade worker, three or four are retiring. The root of the problem is public relations.

"We found there are so many misconceptions about these jobs. We found 'they're all minimum wage, seasonal, no career ladder, or are dangerous' and nothing could be further from the truth," says Tim Alford, ACRI Executive Director. "These jobs we're talking about pay higher salaries than four-year-degree people make, and have even better benefits. We've got to get that word out."

Beginning Labor Day, the "Go Build Alabama" public relations blitz begins, with Rowe headlining public service announcements and newspaper inserts. ACRI is targeting career changers, displaced workers, and even eighth-graders who have yet to decide their futures. State government helped expedite the program and funding comes from a fee on wages paid to certain construction workers.

First Alabama, then... Alaska?

Alabama is the first state to aggressively recruit trade workers in this way. Rowe hopes other states will jump on the bandwagon and he's ready to help spread the message.

"The likely states you would think would pick up an initiative like this, they haven't. Alabama got it done," says Rowe. "Where are you New York, where are you Illinois? Every state is going to need to do something in this space."

Alford says that Florida has already shown interest in establishing a similar program.

But are there ever 'guaranteed' jobs?

Students often bear the cost of trade school. However, if programs are given through community colleges, Pell Grants can help defray costs. The Construction Education Foundation offers scholarships and some programs offer on-the-job paid training. "Go Build Alabama" doesn't look to replace college degrees; it hopes to highlight an alternative if that path isn't ideal for a person. But like college no longer offers the guarantee of a job, Rowe reminds potential workers, the notion of "guaranteed jobs" in skilled trades is a myth. Rather, the value of the education comes with the skill learned.

"'Buy real estate and learn a skill' was the sum total of the advice my dad gave me growing up," Rowe says. "We're not making any more land, and if you have a skill you'll always have it. We have to remind people it's truly valuable. Most people don't see their jobs through that lens."

But since skilled laborers are retiring at an alarming rate, jobs will come. ACRI is developing a sophisticated forecasting system to specifically predict what kind of jobs will be available in Alabama. Unlike teachers or lawyers who may decide to stick around a few more years, trade workers doing more physical work can't often put off retirement.

"The reality is at some critical points in our lives we all have to make career choices," Alford says. "Some apprenticeships take four years to make full certifications. If the economy isn't back by then, then we're all in trouble."

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i would agree but its hard people of alabama cant jobs that illegal Mexicans are taking form us because they will work for almost nothing an don't pay taxes they draw they buy identity's ssn and are a drain on the economy we have people an businesses that will hire 2 or 3 Mexicans for what they can hire 1 us citizen for so how do an American people wake a leaving so i ask what dose it take for the people of alabama to do pleas tell us

August 31 2011 at 2:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And you ynovaser, are a typical reactive, chip on their shoulder liberal. infideldog made no derogatory statements about "natives" as you put it. He was stating a fact. Many areas of the country suffer wage depression because people from south of the US border come in illegally and work for far less than Americans have been getting. If they come here legally it's one thing, but many of them don't and all Americans are suffering for this. I suggest you do some in depth research about the impact of "natives" on border towns and their services like health care, not to mention the employment issue. However, I doubt you posess the necessary stamina to do any thing that requires actual thought.

September 07 2010 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
maggee simonton

Great going Mike.

You have brought the world to truth about jobs that most wouldn't take.

The Dirty Jobs......

Come on Mike you made a difference there I'm so glad you are back on the "band wagon" to make the world stand up and take notice!!


September 07 2010 at 2:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Paul White

I agree that NAFTA should be reviewed and rewritten. It is designed to keep the rich people rich at the cost of the middle class people. When will we quit allowing cheap labor to come in from other countries and large corporations from moving to low cost third world countries?

September 07 2010 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Northrop Gruman is not hiring in Florida and Geaogia, there are jobs but ya got to get off your AFDC azz to get it. The papers are full of trade jobs but ya got to get up out of bed in the ams to show up for work, saty at work and do not call in sick everyweek.

September 07 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work for a small post secondary trade school which caters to underprivledged young men right out of high school. The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades located in Media Pennsylvania is in fact tuition free thanks to Isaiah Willimsons endowment. Our placement rate hovers at 99%. Most of our graduates of the three year program are doing quite well and are happy to donate back to the school to keep things going for present a future young men who would not otherwise be able to afford traditional college. We offer six degrees in Power Plant, Horticulture, Carpentry, Machine Shop, Brick/Masonry, and Paiting and Wallcovering. Please pass the word.

September 07 2010 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He better be talking union jobs or he will be in big trouble with the ruling class in America.

September 07 2010 at 1:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


You are one of the few workers the UAW couldn't protect, which made you bitter. You'd better change your screen name because it represents a 1954 Hemi-Powered Engine built with UAW labor.

September 07 2010 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stan Howard

We point fingers at illegal immigrants. Interesting there is so much backlash against Arizona's new immigration law. It has been put in a damning light. Maybe, just maybe, the rest of the country will get behind steming the tide of illegal people and workers moving into our country. I still don't understand why people don't know that we are talking ILLEGAL immigrants. Get that, ILLEGAL, ILLEGAL!!!!! I have no problem with anyone becoming a citizen of the USA. A citizen has made an effort to become part of our society, not the other way around.
Support Arizona's illegal immigration laws, encourage citizenship, and enforce labor laws, i.e. fine companies that hire illegal people. Have you seen Mexico's position against illegal immigrants? Makes out laws and efforts seem lame and toothless.
I agree whole heartedly that we need trades people, skilled workers, and people who can MAKE something using their hands and their mind. We are facing an impending crisis in this country if we don't turn this trend around.

September 07 2010 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a union operating (stationary) engineer, with spending any time in college I've made over 100 grand a year. That being said my training was extremely intensive and specific to my trade. Anyone who gets involved in skilled trades must realize that there is still schooling involved and it's not always easy.

September 07 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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September 07 2010 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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