Jim Huston: Looking long term

Columns - Industry Voices

Jim Huston on the future of the green industry.

February 21, 2011
Jim Huston
Jim Huston

Someone once told me that you shouldn’t “go” into business, you should “grow” into business.

The point was that there should be a process by which to train up or mentor an individual and to prepare them to be an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, there really isn’t an explicit process by which an individual can learn how to be an entrepreneur and effectively run a green industry company. In order to help prepare the next generation of green industry entrepreneurs, here are some ideas that might facilitate this process and make the green industry stronger.
Education is key: Colleges and technical schools are doing a great job teaching many of the skills needed in the green industry. However, the skills needed to run a company and to be an effective entrepreneur are often “caught,” not necessarily “taught.” Too often we fragment and compartmentalize learning. A holistic curriculum based on entrepreneurial studies is needed. Such a program should focus on showing students how to create and run a business.

The career path concept: The green industry needs to identify what it has to offer to someone considering it for their career. Such a career path should not only explain what the key job positions are but it should also explain the requirements and steps to get there.

Licensing and certifications: I don’t like to force people to do things. If they do not see the need and are not motivated to take action, so be it. However, I don’t recall my mother asking me whether I wanted to go to grade school or not. I guess some things you just have to do.

In order to have contractors meet and maintain minimal professional standards (as required for CPAs, doctors, nurses, attorneys, etc.), certifications, licensing, and continuing education units (CEUs) seem to make more sense than ever. Unfortunately, business and entrepreneurial skills are not usually covered by these programs. They need to be.

Internships: Associations and manufacturers should implement and coordinate an extensive international internship program. Interns could work for any number of participating companies around the country (and around the world) for three, six or 12 months. This would be very appealing to someone considering a career in the green industry.

Continuing education: The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University has an excellent program for educating future and current green industry professionals. Classes such as those at NJAES help contractors keep current with both business and technical trends. We need more programs like NJAES.

It takes an industry: Associations, contractors, manufacturers, distributors, vendors, legislators, consultants, colleges and schools should all work together to create a mentoring program specifically designed to entice the next generation to consider a career in the green industry and to develop them in a wholistic manner to meet the challenges that they and the green industry will face.

Succession planning: Too many contractors do not have a clear plan as to what to do with their company once they reach the end of their careers. Associations need to facilitate the succession planning process.

They should: 1. Help match buyers and sellers. 2. Provide classes on the evaluation process, and the legal and accounting ramifications for the same process. 3. Help families transition through the succession planning process. 4. Establish qualified mentors to assist in this process. And guess who might just be the individual interested in acquiring such a business – the next generation of green industry entrepreneurs.

These ideas would not only help the next generation of green industry entrepreneurs, they would also help the present generation as well.

JIM HUSTON runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. See www.jrhuston.biz; mail jhuston@giemedia.com.