I generally dismiss the relevance of tired adages, but there’s a timely truth to the saying that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks (and let’s face it—that somewhat unflattering descriptor applies to most professionals who’ve reached the executive tier in major organizations). In days like these, however, a little reinvention is key to survival. Or, for that matter, a lot of reinvention.
Barack Obama swept into the White House last month with a grandiose (albeit still somewhat undefined) vision for rebuilding the American economy. A major component of Obama’s stimulus proposal is, of course, a sort of Green New Deal—a massive government investment into the development of America’s alternative energy markets. At face value, this alone may provide little solace to the legions of unemployed executives whose backgrounds lie in seemingly unrelated industries—banking and retail, for example. But it should: Put simply, Obama’s plan to heavily subsidize the development of green technology is designed to spawn a rash of new industries. And this time, the government’s disbursement of taxpayer dollars—unlike its bailout of Wall Street or its delay of Detroit’s demise—holds the potential to attract entrepreneurial-minded executives from across the layoff spectrum.
With this in mind—and with the most optimistic prognoses predicting the recession will stretch well into the summer—experienced professionals currently on the dole should consider two aggressive alternatives to merely “waiting it out”:
1.) Go back to school: If you’ve just recently discovered the meaning of the phrase “greenhouse gases,” a stretch of re-education might be necessary if you want to capitalize on the looming green boom. Many executives boast 10, 20, even 30 years of experience in their former field—once-valuable training that became infinitely less so when their industries started to shrink. While it’s certainly true that professionals can transfer many leadership and problem-solving skills between disparate industries, it’s also true that now-obsolete habits can be hard to shake. Graduate schools of all stripes report significant increases in applications when the economy sours, with would-be workers opting to build their credentials and skills rather than risk enduring long periods of unemployment in volatile job markets. Additionally, even with an impending infusion of government cash, the green industry is still subject to the same reluctant lending market as are other industries. And while much Earth-friendlier innovation—residential solar panels, for example—is already becoming mainstream, many more projects are still years, even decades, away from being marketable. As more products evolve from the experimental to the consumer-ready, investors will look to hire professionals with executive-level skills to lead them into profitability. When that time comes, you’ll want to have green-savvy qualities to showcase—and for many of you, that means a trip back to the classroom.
2.) Strike out on your own: If you feel that you already possess the passion, knowledge and intangibles to help lead a green company, scour your Rolodex for contacts who work for—or partner with—such outfits. Study the details of the stimulus package and identify which sub-industries stand to benefit most, and closely follow the bill’s progress on Capitol Hill. Focus on existing companies that seem to be in line for a windfall courtesy of Uncle Sam, and tailor your résumé to highlight any achievements that display an appreciation for innovation and an ability to adapt. And if you detect a vacuum in the market—an area of green industry primed for government investment but lacking in established companies—perhaps it’s time to draw up a business model of your own. After all, given the present state of the U.S. economy, chances are you’ve got a qualified friend or two who’s looking for a new endeavor of their own.
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