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Job or Career – Who’s Responsible For What?

Water in Motion president Tim Malooly discusses how a career differs from a job and what is being done to promote green industry careers to the next generation of employees. Business owners across industries will find this examination valuable.

Job — (jab) — a regular remunerative position*

Career — (ka-rir) — a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling*

*Merriam-Webster, 2017

When thinking about operating a successful business, especially at the practitioner level, what is the one required resource above all others? Money? Tools? Office supplies? It’s people. Career people. People who are trained; are lifelong learners; who want to practice their training and who take pride in their practice.

How is a career different from a job? In a nutshell, a job in business is something to do to get money. Often, the focus of a person holding a job is to get money to do other things that she or he is passionate about. A career is something to do and enjoy in life – money being a handy, necessary byproduct, not necessarily the focus.

Can a person with a job demonstrate pride of position? Sure. Can a person in a career position prioritize remuneration over pride of practice? Of course.

So, when trading other people’s time for money in your enterprise, what should be the focus? That depends in part, how you define success.

For some, success in their practice is defined as top line totals, regardless of turnover, quality of delivery, employee or client satisfaction. “Top line” could mean gross income or total number of projects. Often, such companies treat the buyer of services as customers and employees as expendable; a transactional enterprise.

Others may define a successful practice as being a “hero” to its clients; striving to deliver such high levels of quality that profit seems a secondary consideration. Buyers are clients in a relationship with their chosen vendor. Staff is often held to the standards set by the founder with expectation that they have the same passion as the founder and just “get it.”

Somewhere in between is perhaps a more reasonable and practical-for-the-long-term definition of success. It often comes later in a business-founder’s life; whether by revelation, realization that old ways don’t work, sheer exhaustion or a desire to leave behind an operation that outlives its founder. That is, a business enterprise that values those who hold a job and aspires to promote job-holders into career-holders.

Such an enterprise delivers consistent quality to its clients at a profit and in a repeatable fashion without over-dependence on the founder.

Where do some operations find employees? All too often, anywhere they can! In the green industry, for example, there is not a substantial “student body” from which to hire employees who have learned horticulture, arboriculture, hardscaping, design or the many skills necessary to practice specialties like landscape irrigation or stewardship. Why not? Who’s at fault for the lack of trained employees to fill the many available positions throughout the green industry?

Each industry must claim sole responsibility for its care and feeding. In the green industry, the few schools remaining that offer horticultural degrees are starved for students for many reasons, including a lack of effective industry promotion above the din of competing industries and contemporary parental perceptions that our work is somehow “beneath” their children. We are also limited by our inability as an industry to see beyond the “here-and-now” to envision jobs as careers and transform our companies into career-based enterprises.

We must understand that our employees are not owners of our businesses, prepared to sacrifice exceptionally for “the cause” of our enterprise. It’s up to us to transfer our passion to others in a way they can process.

Careers can exist in the green industry – in any industry – if we choose to embrace the concept. What does not exist in the green industry is a consistent career path borne of years of tradition (and sometimes laws) curated and protected by the industry and on which, new practitioners can emulate and employees can rely. Also missing are necessary training opportunities from school-aged children to the adult learner.

The green industry is striving to change that. The Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) Foundation was founded in part, to promote green industry careers to the next generation of Minnesota employees. Lately, the Foundation has redoubled its desire to be relevant in influencing school-aged children to consider the creation and care of the outdoor living environment and ultimately, choose career paths. To succeed in its efforts, the Foundation needs support from the industry it serves in the form of definable career paths developed and supported en-masse.

Irrigation Hydraulics Classroom Training


One company that is doing just that is Irrigation By Design (IBD). Using proven, third-party educational tools, IBD is assembling a permanent training program in support of its commitment to employees to think of themselves as holding careers in the irrigation industry. Year-round training is delivered in-person and online. Its organization chart, position descriptions, pay and benefits supports IBD’s commitment to careers, not jobs. IBD’s goals include turning over the training program to the MNLA Foundation to enable competing companies to raise the level of service quality — and careers — throughout the landscape irrigation industry in Minnesota.

This could easily be replicated by practitioners in other industries.

The green industry is facing significant changes. For a number of practical and ethical reasons, future landscapes will use less ground water and more captured and repurposed stormwater. Future potential employees will have been recipients of training in environmental responsibility in ways that we have not. Young adults concerned for our environment are influencing policy that directly affects the design, installation and stewardship of the planted landscape and with more velocity and effectiveness than ever before.

Just as companies in the green industry face new challenges, you and your employees likely face new rules, practices and expectations that did not exist 10 years ago. The good news is, it’s not too late to adjust the perception of our industries by future employees as a viable, rewarding and relevant career option. Our challenge is to walk the walk.

Some businesses owners may not believe it necessary to adjust in the face of changing times and attitudes. Perhaps.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you worry how you’ll find and retain employees?
  • Do you wish for lower employee turnover than you experience?
  • Do you wish you could afford to embrace new technologies?
  • Are you trained in your chosen career? Are you certified in your specialty?
  • Are your employees trained as well or better than you?
  • Is your business set up to survive, prosper after your departure?
  • Are you working on your business or in your business?
  • Are you able to save sufficiently for your retirement?


Your answers to these questions might include mapping an approach to building career paths within your company and supporting more broadly available and respected industry training such as nationally-accredited certifications. If you yourself want training — go get it! Keep in mind that in an organization where roles are defined, your employees are the persons who should have the practical skills while you hold skills to operate a stable, profitable business. Whether we’re young dogs or old dogs, we can always learn new tricks.

The responsibility to transform jobs into careers lies with us; those who practice today. If we are to compete for employees over the next 20 years, we must change our approaches to the conduct of our businesses; beginning with hiring, training and retaining employees.

Tim Malooly founded and leads three green industry companies: Water in Motion, Irrigation by Design, and Dulcet Fountains and Aeration. Tim is a tireless advocate for efficient use of water in the outdoor living environment and is the current vice president of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. 

For more information about MNLA, visit their Facebook page or website.

MNLA Facebook

MNLA Website