Mike Rowe is known for his show Dirty Jobs but he39s also become a leading advocate for the concept of quotworkquot He39s headed to the 2015 Farm Progress Show to discuss that concept at an event sponsored by Syngenta called notafraidtowork Photo Alex Wong Getty Images

Mike Rowe is known for his show Dirty Jobs, but he's also become a leading advocate for the concept of "work." He's headed to the 2015 Farm Progress Show to discuss that concept at an event sponsored by Syngenta, called #notafraidtowork (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Talking about the value of work

We're blogging daily from the 2015 Farm Progress Show. In this installment we share a chat we had with a special guest heading to Decatur, Ill.

This week at the Farm Progress Show you can find special guests everywhere, and one we're looking forward to seeing is Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" fame. The show ran for 300-plus episodes on the Discovery Channel and had this "perpetual apprentice" doing all kinds of interesting jobs. We got to connect with Mike ahead of his speech on the show site and discussed the idea of "work" and what it means.

In 2008, Rowe created an organization - the mikeroweWORKS Foundation. His founding theme is that not everyone needs a four-year college degree to succeed; and that we've kind of lost touch with what work means.

"This is a conversation the country wants to have and it touches on a lot of political issues," says Rowe who notes he tries to avoid political issues; although he has testified on the issue before Congress. "There's no getting around it, the definition of a good job is open for debate and up for grabs."

He notes that the key lesson he learned from his work on 'Dirty Jobs' and now on his show 'Somebody's Got to Do It' is that he found people without degrees that were a whole lot happier and better balanced "than people in my industry and those in the white-collar world."

Rowe explains that over the last four or five decades we've changed the definition of work and shifted away from skilled labor to "slowly define it as something my grandfather wouldn't recognize," he explains.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame is traveling to the 2015 Farm Progress Show to meet with farmers and talk about work. His foundation is focused on reviving the concept of work and what it means. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When asked about his speech at the Farm Progress Show, Rowe jokes that he often doesn't know what he's going to say 10 or 15 minutes before he speaks. He's making his presentation, at an event which sponsor Syngenta has named #notafraidtowork, and Rowe notes that falls in line with his at-work message. Yet he adds "that there's not much I can tell farmers and miners about work. These are the only two industries that fundamentally matter - every other job evolves around growing things from the ground or pulling material from the earth. I'll be in a room full of people who get it."

One topic we discussed with Rowe, which is part of his foundation website is the SWEAT Pledge, which stands for Skill and Work Ethic Aren't Taboo. The pledge has 12 points, which we likened to a specific 12-step program, but Rowe refines the idea by noting that actually it came from his work as a Boy Scout - Rowe is himself an Eagle Scout.

"Scouting had a big impact on my life," he notes. "And the Boy Scouts also have a 12-step program, a code to embrace when you're young." He chuckles that for the SWEAT Pledge the aim was to get somewhere between AA and the Boy Scouts - and he came up with a statement of belief that applies to work.

This pledge, which includes statements like: "I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them."

Or: I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is."

Those are just two of the 12 but you get the idea, and you can check out the entire SWEAT Pledge online. Rowe notes that "this is a macro issue and I'm a micro guy, it's the small things for me and I try to add one small personal thing," he explains.

The Pledge is also part of the process for earning one of the Work Ethic Scholarships available from Rowe's foundation as well, and you have to sign to be considered. He explains that some people may have a problem with a few points of the pledge, but that's their choice: "If they don't want a chance at the pile of money we're offering, that's fine," he points out.

Last time Rowe spoke to an ag-focused audience was in 2008 when he talked before the National FFA Convention. "That was the year they decided to become FFA instead of the Future Farmers of America and I asked the organizers why," he recalls. "They told me the organization was about recruiting young people and the word 'farmers' was an impediment to that."

He says that's when he started to connect the dots about skilled trades and the need for better public relations around the idea. He realizes that the average consumer still sees a farmer in overalls as a hayseed, but the bottom line is "1.5% of the population is providing 300 million people with a meal three times a day, we are a beneficiary of that work," he says.

I'm going to enjoy his talk. I'll give you a recap later this week.

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