LAS VEGAS — A first-of-its-kind partnership with Mike Rowe, the creator and executive producer of CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” and Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” was announced last week during One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and Mister Sparky’s annual convention in Las Vegas.


Besides making an appearance at the annual convention to talk about this new partnership, Rowe talked with CONTRACTOR’s senior content editor Candace Roulo about the partnership and how it will help promote the skilled trades, specifically in the plumbing, HVAC and electrical industries, while empowering potential trade professionals. Roulo also interviewed Mark Baker, president of franchise for the three Direct Energy Services brands.    

Home Service Companies & the mikeroweWorks Foundation

One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and Mister Sparky will  donate $100,000 in scholarships to the mikeroweWORKS Foundation as part of the partnership, Rowe is appearing in several television commercials, radio ads and in printed material alongside real technicians from each brand.

“It is a great step for the trades to be partnered with Mike Rowe, it elevates the conversation to a national level about what we are going to do,” said Baker. “There is a lack of skilled trades people out there and we recognize the fact that we need more good people to join the trades and this will help us do that.”

“The goal of mikeroweWORKS is pretty simple — help close the skills gap by encouraging men and women to get the training they need to pursue good jobs that actually exist,” said Rowe.

How the mikeroweWorks Foundation began

According to Rowe, in 2008 mikeroweWORKS was created, and the foundation began as somewhat of a PR campaign to remind people that a lot of good jobs exist, however, many people aren’t interested in pursuing these jobs — plumbing, HVAC, electrical, pipefitting, steamfitting, etc. — in the trades. 

“The reason I created the foundation was because Dirty Jobs was doing so well, and the industries that allow me to do this show all seem to be facing the same issues with recruitment,” said Rowe. “Since 2008 I’ve been working with dozens of companies that on one level or another struggle to find people willing to learn a [trade] skill that is in demand. Once Direct Energy Services’ companies became aware of what the foundation was working on, we had a basis to sit down and talk about what we could do together, and we found out we are closely aligned.” 

The donation of $100,000 by One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and Mister Sparky  will go to scholarships and to provide jobs.

“For the past few years we have given away $3 million and $4 million dollars in scholarships,” said Rowe. “We do this in partnerships with various trade schools, NTI, UTI, etc., and we administer our own scholarship internally — I raise money for that by auctioning off stuff in my garage.” 

This all goes back to rewarding the behavior we want to encourage and that starts with work ethic and authenticity.

“These are work ethic scholarships — these are not for everyone — we want to reward work ethic here, and the Direct Energy Services companies really understood this. After we initially talked, they called me and pledged $100,000 to the scholarship immediately and wanted to talk about ways to make it bigger. This all goes back to rewarding the behavior we want to encourage and that starts with work ethic and authenticity.”

“What we are trying to do is create an opportunity for people willing to work hard, to get a foundational base in the trades and a scholarship will help them,” said Baker.

Moving beyond blue collar stereotypes 

As a longtime advocate of equipping Americans with technical and critical thinking skills, Rowe will also work with the three companies to highlight the benefits of careers in the plumbing, electrical and HVAC industries. No other home services provider has embarked on a partnership of this kind to help promote the skilled trades and those who work in it serving customers every day.

For Rowe and the Direct Energy Services’ brands, it was important that the ad campaign feature real plumbers, electricians and HVAC techs front and center. The ad campaign will begin in May 2015. 

“We shot 24 commercials last week,” said Rowe. “The stars of the commercial are the guys who actually do the work. This was not a time to be slick or polished, this was a time to be authentic and honest, and that is what we are trying to do with these commercials.”

Rowe noted that there is a tendency for companies to get in their own way when it comes to recruitment.

To me there is an image of a plumber that people have… fat, pants too tight, butt crack showing, etc.

“The way to change the public perception about opportunities that exist in your own space is to make a case for the jobs by highlighting the people that do them,” said Rowe. “That is why it was so important for me to have the actual trades people involved in the commercials. I didn’t want to hire actors or write scripts. The industry needs to be authentic and needs to make a case for itself by highlighting the people that are prospering in it.”

According to Rowe, part of the reason people don’t consider a career in the trades is because of stereotypes that have been created.

“Part of the trick is this pre-existing idea that you need to be cut from a certain cloth to prosper in this part of the workforce,” said Rowe. “What I like about the Direct Energy Services’ companies is that the franchise model is very different than other direct employment paradigms. You are talking about bosses and employees at the same time. The best way to present these opportunities to others is not through the lens of a job, but through the lens of a career and an entrepreneurial aspect.

“To me there is an image of a plumber that people have… fat, pants too tight, butt crack showing, etc.,” continued Rowe. “But you know that’s not true... You can make a fortune plumbing. For example we just talked about an HVAC guy in Vegas that made over $300,000 last year. And he did it not just because he’s good at installing systems, but he can go to a home and make suggestions and sell things.”

People who are willing to look at a job as an opportunity to grow the job as much as they want are great candidates.

Who are the perfect candidates for jobs in the trades? “People who are willing to look at a job as an opportunity to grow the job as much as they want to are great candidates,” said Rowe. 

“On “Dirty Jobs” we shot 300 jobs (in all 50 states), and people are surprised when I tell them that between 40 and 50 of the people we profiled are millionaires,” explained Rowe. “They are surprised about this because these people don’t look like millionaires, so that is part of the problem. You have to cut through the stereotypes and portrayals that typically define theses industry. And hopefully by doing this, we will be able to move the needle in that direction.”

Joining Forces with Mike Rowe

According to Baker, the people working in these trade fields for all three brands are like superheroes [a great analogy to use to move past stereotypes about the trades].

“We are pleased to join forces with Mike and appreciate his commitment to the trades,” said Baker. “The men and women with careers in this field power all three of our brands. We are excited to support them and share the message of how our trusted technicians, plumbers and electricians are like superheroes to our customers, often saving the day when they encounter a problem and helping to protect their homes and families.”

It’s also imperative to remember and point out how important the trades are to the nation as a whole.

“On one hand I’m working on a simple, straightforward marketing campaign spearheaded by a successful company [Direct Energy Services] here, yet on the other hand we are talking about themes and issues that are frankly a matter of national security,” said Rowe.

“Our civilization is held together by people who keep the lights on, pipe connected, and who keep it warm in the winter and cold in the summer… Our relationship with these people is critical and that part of our workforce is fundamental to society," added Rowe. "Hopefully this relationship and others like it will help tighten up the skills gap. Civilization is held together by pipes. The thing is if we had two days without lights coming on or broken pipe systems throughout the country you would end up having two days of riots, two days of revolution, or two days of ‘Lost.’ As you can see we need to keep plumbers trained! We need them all – the plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs, and the carpenters and welders too!"