The Lighting Industry's Next Generation
How can lighting retailers — and our industry — attract and retain young talent?
 
Mayerson Group Intl. CEO Sy Mayerson helps a Linden High School student place his EMAP project, a LED night light called “Light That,” during the program’s graduation and awards event.

As a student in interior design school, Jodie Orange hated lighting.

“The lighting course that was part of our curriculum was not technical enough, and it left me feeling very confused,” Orange says. “I got the idea that it was really important, but in class, we just grazed the surface.”

Despite her negative experience, Orange knew she needed to learn more, so she took a part-time job at a local showroom. She got to know lighting from the ground up, and in the process, she fell in love. Now, the owner and founder of Toronto’s Living Lighting on King is encouraged by the growing number of young people who are embracing the business; but, as an industry, we can and should do more to entice the next generation.

“Bringing in fresh, young talent to push the envelope and to learn from industry veterans is important to any business if it wants to move forward,” Orange says. “Young people tend to have a lot of enthusiasm. They’re free thinkers, and they’re not afraid to make mistakes because they’re still learning. They also know how to make use of social media and new technology, and they’re comfortable with the rapid changes that are currently taking place in the lighting world.”

When Orange has an opening on her staff, she taps local design schools.

“I’m not as concerned with sales skills,” Orange says. “Those can be taught. A lot of times, I hire people who are talented interior designers, or maybe they’re artists, or they’re really great at using social media. Those are the people who are going to help me grow my business.”

Lisa Dixon, Showroom Manager at Pace Lighting in Savannah, GA, has a similar strategy. “We’re working on it, but as an industry, we still haven’t figured out how to make lighting as important as [a fancy kitchen appliance] in the minds of the general public,” Dixon says. “[As a result,] young people don’t automatically think of lighting as a career path. But if we can bring in someone who has a background in interior design or architecture, we can teach the lighting detail and the sales skills. More often than not, when they learn more about lighting, they get really into it.”

For six years, the Entrepreneurial Management Achievement Program (EMAP) has enrolled a highly motivated group of high school students from Linden High School in Linden, NJ, in an intensive two-semester program, where participants develop a company while actually creating a related product or service. Students can choose from several focus areas, including lighting and design.

“The goal of the program is to arm students with practical information and the confidence to set goals, develop strategies and successfully execute their ideas,” says Sy Mayerson, CEO of Mayerson Group Intl. and the founder and Program Director of EMAP. “[The lighting and design track] also serves to open students’ eyes to the importance of lighting and the opportunities that can be found within the industry.”

Through initiatives like its Young Executives Committee, the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) encourages young people who are already part of the industry to play a more active role in shaping the future of the lighting business, encouraging retention.

“There’s no doubt that we’re an older industry,” says Eric Jacobson, ALA’s Vice President of Membership. “But it’s been exciting to see some of the younger members of the industry step up and really start to get involved through the Young Executives group. Our numbers are growing, and that’s very encouraging.”

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