Dave Franks was enjoying a relaxing retirement in Brighton, Colorado after a 50 year career in the construction industry, when his wife Sherry suggested he become a volunteer football coach for their local middle school, Vikan Middle. Realizing he deeply enjoyed working with youth (and had a lifetime of knowledge about the skilled trades industry that he could impart on students), he asked the principal if he could voluntarily teach shop class. She happily agreed but there was just one problem- there was no shop class.
Like thousands of other middle and high schools across the country, Vikan Middle and the surrounding district had long abandoned vocational ed classes at its schools, believing the myth that the future is in STEM related careers and that status and dignity could only be found via a four year college degree and white collar job.
Classes like shop, woodworking, welding, and other transitional skilled trades certification programs that used to be a staple among middle and high school education are nowhere to be found, leaving an entire generation of students who are not suited for a four year college degree with little opportunity for training, apprenticeships, certifications, or even a smidge of insight and experience in the skilled trades industry.
But Coach Franks was undeterred, and when told there was no funding available for shop class and the tools available to him were decades old and mostly unsuitable, he didn’t hesitate to pick up the tab, and went forward with his plans to bring shop class back to Vikan. And he did just so, but students enrolled in the public school class were required to pay a $50 shop class fee, to help Franks defray some of the costs of wood and saws. Still there was so much Franks wanted to be able to teach and show his students, all of which his small classroom space and limited resources simply couldn’t allow for.
Enter Mike Rowe, and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation.
Ever since his stint on the show Dirty Jobs, which highlighted the less than pretty but vitally important jobs that make up the backbone of this country, Rowe has become a champion of the skilled trades industry. His foundation aims to be the positive PR arm of the industry, reinvigorating the interest in, and reminding this country of, the crucial role skilled trades play in our everyday lives, and the massive error we’ve all made as a society in devaluing them. It also provides scholarships for youth who are going into the trades, and in Coach Franks’s case, well, it provided a bit more than a scholarship.
On his widely popular Facebook series called Returning the Favor, Rowe travels the country in search of everyday heroes doing amazing things for their local communities, and Coach Franks’s selfless efforts to bring back shop class (and bring with it a positive view of the industry), caught the eye of Rowe.
And then this happened.
For Franks, a humble guy who professes he just wants to teach his students that trade work is “noble, important and lucrative,” being the star of a streaming social media show appeared to be something he couldn’t process. Upon receiving over $30,000 from Rowe to help renovate his shop class area, and additional thousands of dollars in new hardware and tools, he gracefully addressed the student body and reminded them that among them sat future plumbers, carpenters, fitters, and electricians. And as he spoke those words, he never made it seem like those careers were a consolation prize, or what unmotivated or lesser driven people did. Rather, it was spoken with encouragement and the positive expectation that they can and will be able to make something of themselves if they choose one of those career paths.
Thank you, Mike Rowe, and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, for helping remove the stigma and negative stereotypes that surround our skilled labor force. And a huge thank you to heroes like Coach Franks who know our country and its infrastructure simply cannot survive (or even get built for that matter) without a fleet of highly skilled tradesmen there to construct and maintain all the environments in which we are lucky to call home, AND who are proud and honored to teach the next generation of them.