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    City Rising 1: Green Careers: Find Jobs, Keep Employees & Future Workforce with Dan Smolen

    Episode 1 of City Rising is live!

    What is meaningful work? How do I set myself up for a rewarding career? Are robots going to take our jobs?

    This is what we’re talking about – AND MORE – during the season debut of City Rising. Brady Halligan chats about the climate action workforce with our guest, Dan Smolen.

    Listen to City Rising PODCAST Episode One: Green Careers with Dan Smolen

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    Episode One of City Rising – Transcript

    We’ve transcribed Episode 1 to make City Rising more accessible.

    Julie Hancher: Welcome to City Rising, a podcast that compares how different cities are working towards climate solutions. I’m Julie Hancher, Co-founder, and editor with Green Philly.

    Brady Halligan: And I’m Brady Halligan, the director of strategy and business development with the green program. Our goal is to chat with diverse stakeholders about our changing environment on how it connects people planet and creates future opportunities.

    Julie Hancher: Green Philly is a website that helps you live a more sustainable lifestyle by making sustainability simple, accessible, and fun. Find recycling tips, news about local changemakers and upcoming events by visiting www.greenphillyblog.com.

    Brady Halligan: Thank you all for tuning in. I’m your host today, Brady Halligan. During this episode of City Rising, we explore one of my favorite topics and actually what I focused’ most of my career on thus far, the climate action workforce and specifically the question, how might we prepare the current and future workforce to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges in sustainability. Through my work over the past nine years on the subject with The Green Program and through my education, I’ve had the privilege to learn from and engage with different types of stakeholders in this space, whether that be global universities, nonprofit organizations, quasi-governmental entities, public and private sector innovation is truly happening from new trends and employee recruitment, new career education curriculum for 21st century skills in the future of work and unique models for partnerships that are formed to address these challenges. On the first episode today, Dan Smolen, a Washington DC resident who will share a bit on the changes and trends he has experienced throughout his career as a green recruiter and workforce advocate. Dan, welcome and thanks for joining me today.

    Dan Smolen: It’s a pleasure, Brady. Glad to be on the show.

    Brady Halligan: Fantastic, and this is a little bit of a different scenario than I’m sure you’re typically used to being the interviewee on a podcast, but I know you and I have jammed on this topic a lot since we’ve been connected and talking about topics of climate action, sustainability, green economy workforce, and I’m definitely excited to pick your brain today and talk to you about some of the things you’ve witnessed through your career and recruiting and as you probably noticed some paradigm shifts. So, so Dan, would you, would you mind introducing yourself?

    Dan Smolen: It would be my pleasure, Dan Smolen. I am executive producer and host of the Tight Rope with Dan Smolen podcast. I’m also an author thought leader for 20 years. So I was an executive recruiter. I’m primarily in marketing business development, consumer insights, but also when the wide and deep green space and I just concluded that part of my life at the end of last year to focus entirely on podcasting, on writing a book next year, which has yet to be titled and other things.

    Brady Halligan: Fantastic. So this is our first episode of City Rising and so we’re excited to have a, a veteran to the podcast game to, to join us to kick this off the right way and I’m kind of this big overarching theme of the workforce and recruitment for climate action. But, I think we just start a little bit about your transition and through your career. So my first question to you is, throughout your career, what are some of the key paradigm shifts you’ve realized as it relates to so-called green jobs and careers in this space that we’re looking at?

    Dan Smolen: Well, it’s a really interesting question, and it’s one that I probably would not have given a lot of thought to if I was still recruiting, but now that I’ve had some distance from it, I really thought about the paradigm shifts, and they’re considerable. I would say the first one has to do with motivation. It’s what I used to call. Hey Brady, what gets you up out of bed in the morning? That’s a motivation. Well, you know, for a lot of people it was money, it could be status, it could be a host of other things in the, um, in the old days, going back 20 years ago, at the late nineties when I first started recruiting, I would have to venture to guess that most people were in some form or another motivated by money because why else would you work unless you want it to. Most people needed to. So, money and status and recognition would be leading motivators for people to go to work and do well at it.

    But in the aftermath of the 2008 great recession, when income levels tended to drop, even though we were getting increases in annual raises, our cost of living has gone up considerably. And so the money motivation really isn’t what it used to be. What has actually happened is we’re thinking more globally inner motivations. We want to make a difference. And surely, anyone listening to this podcast that will resonate, we want to make a difference. We want to make positive impacts on the world. We want to solve problems. We want to help people, so the motivation that I see more often is not mostly money anymore. I mean people still want to earn a good living through their work, but it’s getting harder and harder and I think out of just practicality and in one respect, um, we’ve actually been liberated to, to do work that we want to do because it makes us feel good because it makes us feel like we’re making a difference. And I think for you being in the wide and deep green spaces, we call it, that’s Nirvana, to be able to do something that is going to make the world a better place that’s going to empower people. So the biggest paradigm shift I’ve seen is in that area now by extension, there’s something really, really interesting when our motivations were mostly around money, the work that we did was highly transactional. So, Brady, I hire you, you do the job that I asked you to do. You meet the objectives that I set out for you. I pay you, and if you do it really well, maybe in the next year you’d get a merit increase. A bump up in pay if you don’t do it well, maybe you don’t work out, and you have to go get another job. What has happened is that we’re getting away from the transactional model of finding a job and it’s not just recruitment, it’s actually going out and getting a job. In the old days if a, if a hiring manager wanted to hire somebody that transactional model works like this, they’d call me up on the phone.

    I was a recruiter and my client would say to me, Dan, go find me somebody who looks like x, y, and Z. maybe they, you know, they would, they would fill all the checkboxes in the job Spec, perhaps an advanced business degree. In the case of sustainability, express knowledge and experience doing a corporate sustainability job, which a lot of people with MBAs didn’t have and, and often got frustrated that they didn’t get connected because it didn’t have prior experience. Um, and so what ended up happening is I would go find a bunch of people that look like what my client wanted and if we were lucky somebody a past the fifth check and then they got a job, that model tended to find people that look like the rest of the group and kind of perpetuated groupthink what is happening now Brady, is that the recruiting model is changing to something which I call relational.

    So what does that mean? I’m somebody from a company, perhaps a chief talent officer or somebody in the recruiting area or maybe even a hiring manager calls Brady up on the phone and says, you know what, I’ve heard really great things about you. One of the things that we’re trying to do in our organization is to find people who will expand our value proposition to our customers, but also perpetuate the sense that this is a great place to work. And so I might call you in before I even had a job to discuss with you. And what’s really cool about that is we’ll both see if we can work with each other. You know, is there a chemistry that we can build upon and if there is, I call you back in, hey Brady, you know, great meeting. I really enjoyed it. I think he would bring a lot to this organization. We may have a role for you. And what that does and why that’s important and why this is such a big paradigm shift is that it does a couple of things.

    Number one, it actually expands the retention rate of that hired individual. Once they come on board, you know, normally in a transactional situation, somebody will flame out after two years and then they get disgusted and then they go look for something else and they say, you know what, I I did a group. It was a great opportunity, but I want to try something new. That’s an indication that the fit check didn’t work out, but in a, in a transactional and a non-transactional relational model, because you’ve been brought into part of the family before, a job has even been discussed, in all likelihood that fit check is really solid. And so you might actually be able to build a career in that, in that organization. So that’s a really, really big shift and why it’s important and especially important in the green space is that it’s going to bring people in who, because their motivations have changed, are saying, I want to be in an organization where I can make a difference where my values and the company’s values align with their purpose to creating a positive needle movement in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. So those are the, that, to me, that’s the story of the paradigm shift in talent recruitment, especially as it pertains to the green space.

    Brady Halligan:   Fantastic. Dan. Um, and I agree with, with everything you’re saying, even in the nine years that I’ve been working with the green program with our students, I’m now entering entry level and mid-level career. They’re continuously reaching out to me and saying, you know, I’m in this job, you know, I’m doing because I need to pay off student loans, but I don’t see my life being here and the career I want to focus on something that I’m passionate about, that I’ve studied that involves, you know, a lot of the, the bigger global problems in which I can incrementally provide my career and in my work ethic towards. And um, you know, and a lot of times they’re willing to take a little bit of a pay cut if, if they’re working on something with a team that’s like-minded there, I’m, you know, eager to try out new things and test new thing and, and get to work in a culture that embraces them. And um, you know, I’m starting to now see companies who are finally to shift that model and even trying to find this talent, you know, the, the career fair, you know, set up. It is rapidly changing as well because, you know, young leaders are looking for companies in different ways. Not just to kind of the career fair. I’m in a suit, here is my resume, you know, there’s not that relationship building human connection and a, what the job and what the career might be. Um, so it’s, it’s, it’s interesting and I think a lot of the change has definitely happened after the, the, the great recession and in a lot of young individuals have seen what their parents’ careers, had kind of carpets of them pulled out from under them and you know, all their hard work and their retirement and long careers, you know, a lot of them have experienced the decline and say, well, what was this all for? So it’s interesting to, to kind of hear your perspective on that. And I want to shift a little bit gears of dive in a little bit more. So you’ve recruited talent for for 20 years for green assignments with the green suits, but also in other industries, it’s marketing, service and research. Why the move? Why did you leave recruiting and then what are you up to now?

    Dan Smolen:  Well, we got into a little bit about that before, but the why I left recruiting was a really interesting thing. I like to think that I got at the top of my game, I did 20 years. I would say that the big driver for me, why I got out was that when your recruiter, you certainly serve your talent and the hiring manager, but at the end of the day, the person paying the bill, it’s the hiring manager. So what they want goes. I got to a point where I was noticing something. My intuition was telling me that my talent as good as they were, were not necessarily bought into the opportunity that I was aligning them with. And it wasn’t the fault of the opportunity. It was the fact that their needs were changing. What they wanted to do.

    And this isn’t just millennials, this is GenX. This is a late baby boomers across several generations of talent in the workforce. The, what we wanna do is changing. And as a recruiter, I wasn’t really addressing the talent perspective very well. And the recent again, was that they weren’t paying the bill, so when getting out of recruiting and making a very public announcement about it and actually liberated me to do something that I’ve always wanted to do, which is to encourage support, empower our talent across several generations to do the work that they wanted to do what I call meaningful work that’s profound, that helps people that’s bigger than the individual, that solves or at least tries to mitigate societal problems, enable somebody to use a wide swath of skills that they’ve developed to solve problems, and live a life that they live a life that they actually feel really proud about. You know, used to be in the old days, the pay was good. We didn’t really notice the fact that if, if the job wasn’t particularly interesting, if we’re covered our expenses and actually left us a lot leftover for taking a vacation, buying a second car, maybe trading up on a brand new home. We didn’t really think about the stuff we did like about work. We tolerated it. But as I had mentioned before, as the money motivation waned, it actually liberated all of us to think about what could I do that’s not focused so much on the money, but I’m doing really great things. So I wanted to be a part of that. And so through my podcast, the Tightrope with Dan Smolen, we’re actually talking to people who have made transitions out of one line of work and into something else and we can learn from their experiences how to do it for ourselves, which is very, very exciting. So I get to bring that to a lot of people.

    Brady Halligan:  and it’s so exciting, Dan. And so necessary. And at that point, I think that’s when we got connected and kind of were jamming on that topic of that transition. And how do you find and seek motivational work and you know, me understanding the work that I do, I’m so passionate about it, I’m excited about it. I’m quite fortunate in that I have a great team. We have a great work, but I wanted to, to, to share how I did that and research and look into and, and chat with other people about they can do it too. And it’s just so exciting that you’re sharing your knowledge and experience about that. But, I wanted to dive a little bit in more on the, on the individual, especially as you know, the green program, you know, what we do is we hone in on, on career experiential education to accelerate, for the young leader, the critical transition from student to professional based in Philadelphia. The GREEN Program is an award-winning experiential education program for emerging leaders in sustainable development and climate action with university programs and locations like Iceland, Japan in Peru. The Green Program connects emerging talent with companies and organizations that are committed to advancing the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals. Check out the experiences and learn how to hire TGP alumni at thegreenprogram.com. We’ve worked with thousands of young leaders throughout the years and I’m always trying to advise on that transition from student to professional. It’s not an easy one, two step process to transition and then to even seek out meaningful work at that entry level position and career is even more difficult.

    So I wanted to, to ask you, what advice do you have for the young emerging professional who’s eager to translate their passion for Climate Action Sustainability, the green economy into a rewarding career? Are there any tips or, or kind of suggestions you can have being through the experiences and the people you’ve talked to on the podcast, the Tightrope that you could share?

    Dan Smolen:   Yes. I think the one thing that anybody can do who is looking to get into a green career is to find something that they can fix or address to create a project and it doesn’t matter how big it is, as long as at the end of it you can say, I identified a problem, I brought my skills, talents and passions to mitigating it or solving it, and at the end here are the positive results that we created. Be it large or small. That’s the kind of project management that I think threads through most green jobs. Even ones that are in corporate environments, we seek to solve daunting problems affecting the environment affecting society and if we can show that skill that’s a building block that you can take to an entry-level job that’s not necessarily green and turn to green or to a talk to a future employer about the kind of work that you would like to do in their organization. So that is a scaffolding step.

    We all are tasked with being problem solvers in the space. Even me, I’m my problem solving has to, revolves around helping others do this kind of work. And so everybody brings a different perspective, a different set of experiences and talents. And what I look to do is help to unlock the potential and we all have it. So that kind of problem-solving skill, be it for somebody who’s in a, a second act career change, maybe they’re in their late twenties or thirties or forties or even somebody who’s 13 years old and receiving stem knowledge in school starting early and merging your passion for environmentalism and sustainability and social responsibility with action. And the action comes through project management.

    Brady Halligan: It’s amazing, and you kind of touched on these things a little bit with project management, but you know, you constantly hear things about 21st century skills, you know, what, what’s necessary for the future of work jobs, you know, the, the onslaught of artificial intelligence, robots taking jobs and, you know, the, the skills now are not going to be what’s needed for tomorrow and all these things and you know, we’re talking about. And we harp on it on our programming, kind of that cross-disciplinary communication skills, industry, IQ, um, you know, entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial mindset. Um, and it comes down to just project management and being able to see things from ideation to completion and ideate and to continue prototyping. And it’s just. What I find a little bit interesting is that it’s hard to articulate that on a resume. Um, and even on LinkedIn and things. But I see that it’s an important role with trying to solve some of these complex issues that are ahead of us in terms of climate change and, um, you know, the United Nations sustainable development goals, things that we can work towards.

    Dan Smolen:   You know, um, I think a lot about the 20th century, 21st century skills because it’s a hot topic. We all know about teamwork and problem solving and critical thinking and a leadership. I mean those were all no brainers, so we should all be doing it, but a lot of the narrative, Brady, revolves around how we’re going to use those skills to offset the jobs we’re going to lose due to artificial intelligence. We’re building really big brains, but ai doesn’t have a heart and that’s really important. We need to have a heart, a robot doesn’t have a heart. It has a brain because we programmed it, but it’s the skills revolved around emotional intelligence. How do we work with people that we don’t normally or may not normally gel with? They have a different perspective. They have a different operating style. Learning how to unpack EQ, emotional intelligence is probably going to be, in the years and decades going forward, more important than IQ. And so we have to learn how to express our, our hearts, our compassion. Certainly our social responsibility, but emotional intelligence. I don’t hear a lot about, but it’s actually a topic that we’re going to dig into in a future episode of the Tightrope with Dan Smolen because it is important and it’s not just me saying it. I hear from a lot of other people.

    We have an opportunity, especially now where everything feels feel so oppositional. You know, you’re in a, you tell somebody you’re going into a green job and you’re in the wrong zip code and somebody looks at you and go, “Oh, you’re one of them tree huggers.” Well, no. Yeah, but no. I solve problems. I solve problems that the rest of the world hasn’t been able to solve. I’m trying to create better streams of energy production so that we’re not burning carbon and changing our environment and rising our sea levels. I’m trying to help people grow food better. I’m trying to bring more sustainable businesses into urban communities that are deprived of them. One of our guests this season is, is doing something that I had never even heard of. It’s called transportation equity. The idea behind it is to bring more and varied forms of transportation into communities like perhaps South Philadelphia or North Philadelphia that may be deprived of train stops or bus depots so that more people can get to work on time and actually be able to thrive in the communities where they live and not have to get up at 4:00 in the morning to get on a bus or two buses or a bus and two train stops to get to work. This is the work that we do. It involves using our hearts and our heads.

    Brady Halligan:  Wow, Dan. I’m going to just first thank you so much for spending some time with me and talking about this topic today. You have a book coming out shortly. You have the tight rope with Dan Smolen podcast, which is amazing. You know, I tune in, I was a guest and I love it. I listened to it in the morning every once in a while when you have a new guest on. And so for the visitors that are tuning in and love what you’re saying and want to learn more, where can they subscribe to the podcast or learn more about you?

    Dan Smolen:  If you’re on apple podcast, you can keyword the Tight Rope with Dan Smolen and you’ll find me and you can subscribe there. That’s the easiest way to do it. And when new episodes a pop up, you’ll get a notice on your iphone or device and you can just play and listen. If you don’t have that, we’re on a few other services, Soundcloud, Stitcher radio. The easiest thing is just go to dansmolen.com. That’s spelled d a n s m o l e n .Com. And you can go to the podcast page and click on the episodes that are arrayed there. And listen to that way. Before we conclude, I just want to say one thing, Brady, thank you so much for this opportunity to address your listeners. I think the thing that we want to all convey is that we have an opportunity to live our dreams of doing the work that we wanted to, meaningful work. You know, when we were little kids, we dream of doing something because it looks like fun and you know what? Green jobs are fun. We should be able to do them and if it means so we don’t make as much money. Well, we’ll adjust our lives so we don’t need as much money and that way we can do the things that our hearts tell us we need to do. So as I always conclude my podcast, I say our best days lie ahead. I truly believe that. And again, thank you so much for the software.

    Brady Halligan: Dan Smolen, the author, podcaster, and passionate advocate for meaningful work and workforce. Thank you so much for joining us today on City Rising. It was incredible. Thank you.

    Dan Smolen:  Thank you.

    Brady Halligan:  Thanks for tuning into city rising. We hope this podcast helps you understand how climate change is presenting opportunities in our urban environments. Check the show notes for links from today’s podcast, follow city rising by hitting the subscribe button on Itunes, Spotify, Google podcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you to our sound guru, Mike Mehalick. This episode was created and produced by us, Julie Hancher, and Brady Halligan. Thanks to my co-host, Julie, for helping to create this platform and making it a fun experience. You can find out more at www.greenphillyblog.com/podcast. We want to hear from you, email us at contact@greenphillyblog.com, or find us on social media on @GreenPhillyblog. This podcast is brought to you thanks to funding from CUSP, the climate and urban systems partnership. For more information, visit cuspproject.org.

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    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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