ENR Southeast recently reported on Georgia's "Go Build" initiative, which is aimed at promoting the skilled trades as a positive career choice to young people. Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channels Dirty Jobs program, got in on the act. Rowe will serve as Go Build Georgia's most visible supporter, by appearing in ads for the initiative. Gov. Nathan Deal even included comments from Rowe in his press announcement about the promotional program.

It turns out that Rowe is pretty significantly committed to the concept of promoting these gritty jobs. He was involved with Go Build Alabama's program, which was the first of its kind in the nation, and is now officially endorsed by the Construction Users Roundtable. His website, www.mikeroweworks.com, is focused on promoting the value of hard work. And Rowe has even testified before the U.S. Senate about the need for a national PR campaign for skilled trades -- which I thought I'd share with you.

You can find a video of Rowe's 2011 U.S. Senate appearance here, which I encourage you to do. He's an engaging and entertaining character, and that definitely shows. But here's an extended snippet of his comments. It sums up the concept behind the Go Build program fairly well. (Again, the video link provides the full testimony. Or you can read a full transcript of his written remarks here.)

"I believe that we need a national pr campaign for skilled labor -- like a big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce. Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions, I’m told. And there are 450,000 openings today in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap seems real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled trades are now over 55. They’re retiring fast, and there’s really nobody there to replace them.

"In general, people are surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. But they shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it. In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of higher education to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled as ‘alternative.’

"Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and really valuable on-the-job training opportunities as vocational consolation prizes best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still we talk about creating millions of shovel-ready jobs for a society that doesn’t really encourage people to pick up a shovel.

"In a hundred different ways, I think we’ve slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a ‘good job’ into something that no longer looks like work.

"I encourage you to support these efforts. Because closing the skills gap doesn’t just benefit future tradesmen and the companies that are desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air condition and of course, indoor plumbing."

Of course, as always, we'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. What do you think?