The mikeroweWORKS Foundation has earned the 2023 Gold Key of Service for the wonderful things it has done for the trade industries. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and more have had help from the Foundation in the form of the scholarships they have provided to these professionals when they were students of their respective trades.

Considering how short the workforce is on workers, this is no small feat. We asked Mike Rowe about this shortfall of workers and he gave us the number: 10 million. That’s 10 million jobs that are unfilled in America today; 3 million specifically in the skilled trades.

That number is not an improvement; it has grown.

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation’s Mission

“The Foundation started in 2008 as a PR campaign for about 2½ million good jobs — jobs that didn’t require four-year degrees that nobody seemed to want,” Rowe said. “Back then, Dirty Jobs (a show in which Mike Rowe works in a variety of jobs as an apprentice for a day to the folks who actually do the jobs) was the #1 show on cable, the country was going into a recession, and there was a lot of talk and headlines about the number of unemployed. The surprise on Dirty Jobs was the number of opportunities employers couldn’t seem to fill while people were talking as if we could get more people working if there were more opportunities. Yet it seemed that the opportunities were there. They just weren’t the opportunities people were trained for or excited about.”

Rowe realized that if he could share the stories of people who had trained, entered the trades, and felt their lives were better for it, it would speak volumes to people who might not have considered entering the trades. That’s when he began putting together scholarships. He started “CRAP” (Collectibles, Rare And Precious) Auctions, selling mementoes from his years on the show that he had stored in his garage.

The scholarship opportunities are still available through the Foundation. They just closed their application period, but for the first time they will be offering a second scholarship application period in one year! 

The Scholarship Application Process

Rowe says that thousands of people will start the application process, but hundreds will not finish. Some people will say that it’s hard, but it’s really not, according to Rowe. “You have to answer some essay questions, make a short video, provide some references, and sign a S.W.E.A.T. (Skill and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo) Pledge. It just takes some effort; you have to make a case for yourself.” He added, “We ask questions people aren’t used to answering.”

mikeroweWORKS Foundation Scholarship Applicants are required to sign the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge.

Rowe is referring to questions about work ethics. The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge requires scholarship applicants to take responsibility for their own pathway, asserting such ideas as the best way to be successful in the workplace is to volunteer for every crappy job that comes up, do it with a smile, and be grateful for every opportunity.

“We want to identify the people who have the traits that we believe are needed to be successful in the trades, which is why we offer work ethic scholarships rather than purely needs based, academic, athletic, or artistic scholarships,” Rowe said.

The Light Comes On

In the first few years that the Foundation offered the scholarship, they had a hard time finding the applicants they sought, but it has gotten easier. That’s for a number of reasons according to Rowe, including realizations brought about by the COVID pandemic.

“With the lock-down, people began to realize that the plumbers, the electricians, the HVAC people were not only busy, they were making a lot of money and they were setting their own hours. Perhaps this made our Foundation more relevant to people.”

Who Makes This Possible?

Of course, the Foundation doesn’t do this alone; it takes a lot of donations

from a lot of organizations and a lot of individuals. The donations range from $10 to very hefty sums. Who are these people who donate money to help people get an education and a job, you may ask.

“People who are addicted to smooth roads, indoor plumbing, and electric lighting. People who realize their own civilized life is made possible by the trades, that’s who makes our scholarships possible.,” Rowe said.

Advice For Employers

To employers who are struggling to find employees, he has this to say: “Are you making use of the most persuasive elements you have?”

Rowe relates that when he and his crew have conversations with people who received scholarships five years ago, they unearth stories of workers who are making six figures welding. They have no debt and they are 28 years old.

“If you have happy employees, let them tell your story,” Rowe said.

Telling stories is what makes change, Rowe stated. He expressed gratitude to Rural Builder Magazine for telling the stories of people who prospered by learning a trade. In turn, we thank Mike Rowe, Chuck Klausmeyer (Rowe’s right-hand man), and all of the Foundation members and supporters for helping to rebuild the trades. RB

Scholarship Opportunities:
If you or someone you know could use a little help in getting trained for a job in the trades, check out mikeroweWORKS Foundation work ethic scholarship. The Foundation application process opens August, 2023. Go to: