I’m assuming everyone knows who the guy above on the right is? Good. It wasn’t the first time Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” had testified before Congress, but what he had to say to them on Wednesday sure was fresh.

Rowe and Discovery Communications are starting an initiative to promote skilled labor, in an effort to help narrow the gap between the demand for skilled manufacturing labor and people who have the right skills to fill those jobs.

Rowe noted in his testimony that manufacturers in the United States can’t fill 200,000 jobs, and that “there are 450,000 openings in the trades, transportation and utilities.”

A lot of U.S. skilled tradesmen are only about a decade from retirement, and there aren’t young people coming up behind them to take their places, Rowe noted.

“In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled ‘alternative.’ Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree,” Rowe said.

I hadn’t actually seen those numbers before, and it was an eye-opener. So was Rowe’s description of his grandfather as a “magician” who just seemed to know how to fix and build most anything.

Rowe’s testimony got me thinking that if we’re all pursuing the “dream” of higher education and the supposed rewards it brings, what happens to a nation that doesn’t have the person power to maintain its basic infrastructure, let alone build the computers we’re all using to scream into the future?