Mike Rowe is the rock star of the Skills USA world. Everyone of the 10,000 students and educators at the weeklong event know of and love Mike. And for good reason. He, more than anyone else is raising awareness of the US Skills Gap challenge and is the cheerleader for successes and solutions. And the “best kept secret” as he calls it, SkillsUSA, is America’s best short term solution to the skills gap “national security” issue. He leverages his star power across the country: on TV, social media, providing scholarships, in front of Congress in Washington DC, and here in Louisville.
At the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville June 17-23 Mike is present and popular. But at the same time he assiduously avoids being mentioned in the program. He likes his appearances to be a surprise -- announced only at the last minute. At the opening ceremony on Tuesday night the Executive Director of Skills USA, Tim Lawrance introduced a “friend of SkillsUSA” and played up the fact that he “really wished he could be here tonight” at which point we hear Mike’s distinctive voice from backstage admonishing “well why don’t you just introduce me and I’ll come out” to the enthusiastic roar of the 10,000 advisors and contestants filling the arena. This is classic MIke. He walks out onto the stage in his worn jeans, untucked, unbuttoned blue polo shirt and ball cap -- having provided an exciting, fun surprise and teased the establishment (in this case SkillsUSA) in the process. His blue-eyed twinkling tease is always present. But so is the well placed compliment, the self depricating humor, and the genuine honoring of the people in our society who work hard at demanding, often physical jobs with pride and often, a great sense of humor.
Make no mistake, Mike is a master at his craft of communication. This is no show for the sake of show. He is a performer, yes. He has the voice, the lines, the easy manner, the perfect stage presence, the confident presence, the quick wit...it is all there. But in addition he has thought through these issues carefully and has wrapped profound issues into beautifully crafted packages and very disciplined messaging. Some examples: Mike...
Uses social media very effectively. His opening comments featured a bargain with his admirers...if they would “like” his recent post thanking Forbes for publishing a ranking of technical schools he would come back to SkilllsUSA next year.
Uses motivational language: “It’s so simple: It’s a matter of national security. We have 6 million jobs that need to be filled and 75% of them don’t require a 4 year college degree.
Is modest -- does not make it about Mike Rowe: On Fox and Friends clarifies that these are not his ideas: “No original idea in this space...part Horatio Alger, part work ethic”
Has a clear, positive recommendation: SkillsUSA is the best kept secret -- we have 400,000 kids in the program across the US. But in a room of 100 people ask them who has heard of the Boy Scouts 100 hands to up. Ask them about Skillls? 5 hands go up. Supporting this program...these kids in red blazers (the uniform of SkillsUSA) is our best short term hope to close the skills gap.
Emphasizes a strong work ethic: Has created a S.W.E.A.T. pledge that must be signed by all MikeRoweWorks scholarship applicants. This reinforces the idea that working hard is essential to success -- even or especially with skilled - non 4 year college - careers.
It appears that Mike is going to be working very closely with SkillsUSA, the Charles Koch foundation and others to continue to draw attention to the skills gap and concrete, positive solutions.