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Gen Z could be the blue-collar generation: Mike Rowe


(NewsNation) — The choice is very clear for some young people: Take on decades of debt to earn a college degree, or find a trade school to gain a skill that’s valuable, and in some cases very well-paying?

“Gen Z got the memo,” says a guy who knows a lot about “Dirty Jobs.”

Tune in Wednesday, April 10 at 8/7p Central for a special edition of [CUOMO] with Mike Rowe, media personality and CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which is focused on elevating and encouraging blue-collar jobs. Not sure how to watch NewsNation? Use our ChannelFinder App to locate us on your TV.

Rowe tells NewsNation’s “On Balance” that fewer people are now looking at plumbing, welding and other skilled trades as a “vocational consolation prize,” and he’s more encouraged than ever that Gen Z is not buying the long-time stigma associated with blue-collar jobs.  

“We’re seeing lots of people go affirmatively toward trade schools, away from massive educational debt, onto a path that looks an awful lot like prosperity if you can master a skill that’s in demand.”

And the numbers support his case. The National Student Clearinghouse says enrollment in vocational training is surging while it’s falling at community colleges and four-year institutions.

“The cost of college has gotten exponentially more expensive,” Rowe said. “More than real estate. More than food. More than energy. Nothing … has become more expensive more quickly than a four-year degree.”

Another factor fueling the move from white-collar to blue-collar: jobs. Lots of jobs, according to Rowe.

“For every five tradespeople who retire, two replace them. And it’s been that way for over a decade. I talk to people every day who are making close to $200,000 — plumbers, steamfitters, pipefitters, electricians.

Also contributing to the shift: future white-collar job insecurity. Unlike past waves of automation, Generative AI doesn’t simply mean a faster way to accomplish tasks. It has the potential power to create content and ideas — the kind of things that millions of people sit in front of a computer screen and do today.

And it’s not just about making money. Rowe says it’s also ignoring traditional ideas about belonging to the “credentialed class” or the “working class.”

“It’s a rung,” Rowe says. “It’s not a bottom rung. The stigmas and the stereotypes that keep people from exploring these careers have been a huge problem in our country. And they’re starting to erode.

“The idea that that diploma on your wall is something other than a receipt is starting to take root.”