Koch Industries Teams Up with Mike Rowe to Improve the Skills Gap

(Mike Rowe / Photo: mikerowe.com)

Among private American citizens, one would be hard pressed to find any two more vilified in the press, Hollywood or in politics than David and Charles Koch. Indeed, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has seen fit to mention the Kochs in various uncomplimentary terms well over 100 times on the floor of the Senate. One time, Reid actually claimed they were “un-American.”

The Koch brothers and their corporation, Koch Industries, participate actively in the political process, to affect outcomes that adhere to what they see as promoting a better America and thereby a better life for Americans. They also invest directly in people by consistently giving generously to charitable organizations that span a wide range of social and cultural issues.

Koch Industries’ giving arm focuses on partnering with local and national nonprofits that focus on removing barriers and providing opportunities for people to improve their lives. They believe that simply handing people money can help in the short-term but does nothing to assist in improving people’s lives in the long term and as such, is the wrong approach to true charity.

One way they’ve worked toward that end is through their partnership with Mike Rowe and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation. Promoting trade work, job skills and apprentice-style training is at the core of what Koch via Mike Rowe and his foundation are trying to achieve. Both believe that the skills gap in the United States is something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. That gap stems from the result of trade work not being appropriately presented to young Americans as a viable and even desirable path as opposed to four years or more of college.

Promoting trade work, job skills and apprentice-style training is at the core of what Koch via Mike Rowe and his foundation are trying to achieve

The Kochs helped mikeroweWORKS this year in the run-up to the national SkillsUSA competition. SkillsUSA is a national organization that focuses on job skills and employability through leadership and skills training at the technical and professional level. More than 300,000 students and teachers are active in SkillsUSA programs every year. Competitions are held in 54 regional areas and the winners of these competitions are invited to participate at the national level.

As a proponent of SkillsUSA’s mission, mikeroweWORKS has sponsored high school and college student state champions in the various skilled trades, such as building management and carpentry. The recipients of the Competitors Scholarship are students who normally would be unable to attend the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky, because of economic hardship. The foundation pays for travel, lodging, food as well as various incidentals.

Mike Rowe said recently on his podcast, The Way I Heard It, that the Kochs were instrumental in allowing his foundation to distribute double the number of Competition Scholarships to the SkillsUSA competition in June. A total of 90 scholarships were awarded this year to students around the United States.

Several of these students went on to earn medals in their skills competition, such as the team sponsored out of Adairsville, Georgia. They won the bronze in the in the four-person TeamWorks competition. Another scholarship recipient, Joseph Camacho, won the gold in Mobile Electronics Installation at the college level. These students likely wouldn’t have been able to compete at the national level, or have the future opportunities afforded them without their participation at SkillsUSA.

Another Koch charitable partnership with mikeroweWORKS is close to Rowe’s heart and directly helps those living and working in his hometown of Baltimore.

Project Jumpstart helps men and women of all ages who have a high school diploma or GED gain needed skills to enter the construction field. Low-income city residents can apply for the pre-apprenticeship program and gain the knowledge and skills to advance beyond entry-level positions. Project Jumpstart also works as a liaison between construction companies looking for experienced workers. Applicants go through the same screening that employees must pass and upon completion of the 87-hour program are placed in a job where there is opportunity for growth and advancement.

In places like Baltimore where inner city strife has meant not only racial tension but also destruction of property, Project Jumpstart offers a welcome solution for those who want to find a way to improve their lives and neighborhoods through work and leadership. To date, Project Jumpstart has helped hundreds of people on their way to being successful in the workplace and because of the Koch brothers and mikeroweWORKS partnership, will continue to grow its influence with Baltimoreans.

While the Koch name continues to be trotted out as synonymous with Dr. Evil-level intentions by the Left, the reality is that Charles and David Koch and their business help people in real terms and where it matters.  

Jay Caruso is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @JayCaruso.