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

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.

Trade school leads to more success than 4-year college: Contractor

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.”

College will cost up to $95,000 this fall. Schools say it’s OK, financial aid can numb sticker shock

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.”