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Ranching Requires Working Smart AND Hard

I recently read an interview on The Blaze featuring Mike Rowe from the TV show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe appeared on the Glenn Beck Program to discuss his thoughts on “the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

Rowe told Beck, “We’re lending money we don’t have, to kids who will never be able to pay it back, for jobs that no longer exist. Today, skilled trades are in demand. In fact, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling.”


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Rowe was inspired to begin his campaign after he saw a poster in his high school guidance counselor’s office that encouraged students to work smart not hard. It encouraged everyone to go get a four-year degree, and as a result, fewer and fewer young people pursued technical degrees for skilled labor jobs.

His advice -- work smart AND hard.

“I’m not against a college education. I’m against debt,” he said. “That was the only four-letter word in my family.”

According to Rowe, of the roughly 3 million jobs that companies are struggling to fill, only 8-12% require a college degree.

I graduated from South Dakota State University in 2009, and I greatly value my college experience. However, I do believe I’ve learned more practical knowledge in my last four years in the “school of hard knocks” on my family’s ranch than I did in university classrooms.

Of course, 2009 offered a huge wake-up call to many of my peers, as the national recession was in its full fury. I was lucky to be able to continue my freelance relationship with BEEF, which was an outgrowth of a summer internship I did with the magazine. During this internship, I helped research and develop the concept of BEEF Daily, which launched that fall of 2008. I also was fortunate to have the opportunity to join our family cattle operation when I graduated in spring 2009.

Some of my classmates weren’t so lucky, however. It took many of my peers a few years to find jobs in their chosen field. Even then, many of them were forced to live with their folks in order to make ends meet. Others found jobs that were totally unrelated to their major study of choice. And some opted for graduate school as they waited for the job market to improve. However, even after acquiring advanced degrees, many found they couldn’t command the starting salary or the advancement potential they had hoped for. Plain and simple, with the recession, there just weren’t many jobs out there.

I tend to agree with Rowe that while college is a great choice to expand your horizons, gain a great network of friends and colleagues, and explore new interests, it isn’t the only path to success. And, the idea that we only need to work smart and not hard is simply ludicrous. The best ranchers I know are those who work tirelessly on their craft day-in and day-out. I really like Rowe’s campaign to help reward kids who are willing to work hard and smart.

“Why don’t we reward kids who are willing to learn a new trade, a useful skill, and prove that they’re willing to get up early, stay late, and volunteer for every crappy task there is? Let’s reward the thing we want to encourage,” he said.

What do you think about Rowe’s comments? What did you do after high school? How have your choices helped or hurt your success in your operation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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