How long does it take you to get up to speed at a new job?
Think about the terminology you have to learn, the names of colleagues that you have to memorize, and the campaigns you need to become familiar with. What about company policies and goals? There may even be a few new skills to learn, too. It's a lot of work and can be challenging to say the least, even for those of us who have been in an industry for years. Just imagine how difficult it is for new college graduates (many of whom are millennials and their successors, gen z, who have little to no real-life experience. That's if they get a job at all, which is nowhere near guaranteed. Because let's face it, colleges don't always teach the skills that today's workplace needs.
That's a major disadvantage for new jobseekers, but a huge opportunity for associations. Want to provide more value for younger members? Give them the job training they didn't get in college and help them get a career-boosting job.
An insightful new whitepaper, The 2016 Association Role in the New Education Paradigm, coauthored by Elizabeth Weaver Engel and Shelly Alcorn, explores this subject in detail. It even identifies job training as one of the biggest opportunities for associations today.
The whitepaper describes the opportunity as a skills gap between education and employment. The gap stems in part from the fact that most of today's college degree programs focus on abstract abilities like "critical thinking" instead of the actionable job skills that employers want. As a result, large portions of new graduates are having trouble landing jobs.
For millennials and gen z, your current and future audiences, this skills gap is a major problem that your association can solve. You have access to your industry and its top employers. You know exactly what skills and technical competencies companies and managers are looking for. If you can bridge the skills gap by providing applicable job training that helps new graduates successfully break into your industry, then you'll gain your next generation of members.
Here are four ways you can deliver value to your members through job training.
Certification programs qualify someone to perform a job or task. Most associations develop and implement certification programs based on their industry knowledge. According to the whitepaper, certification programs are also typically more flexible than traditional postsecondary degrees. This is because associations understand that members don't want to put their lives on hold for education, so they design programs around members' full-time positions to make participation easier.
Additionally, certifications need to be flexible so they can be regularly updated to reflect current industry standards and professional skills, which are constantly changing. This is one of your association's competitive advantages. You can adapt your programs faster than a university can.
One association featured in the whitepaper, the National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (NALPN), has developed just this type of program. NALPN created multiple certificate programs to fit different nursing fields, including IV Therapy and Gerontology. Each program helps members advance their careers in that specific field. NALPN's certification programs fill a need for both associations and members.
As stated in the Alcorn's whitepaper, "Industry-based certifications address several problems that postsecondary credentials currently face: relevance, accountability, consistency, and portability." Develop your own certification program using the same principles and ensure that it meets your members' needs by teaching the skills they need to succeed in your industry.
According to Engel and Alcorn's whitepaper, in additional to certifications associations can create precertification programs to help develop their members' professional abilities. Usually, these precertification courses determine your members' eligibility to get a full certification and teach the skills necessary for that certification.
Some exams, certificates, and programs require precertification. For example, before you can become a community association manager (a professional who manages a homeowners association or condominium complex), you have to complete the Community Manager Preparation Course. Only after the precertification are you eligible to earn the Community Management Preparation Certificate.
You can develop your association's precertification program to more accurately prepare candidates for a formal certification. You can even provide the option for members to work with a one-on-one certification expert so they receive a personalized experience focusing on their specific strengths and weaknesses.
Educational programs are a form of professional development that teach your members the skills they need to perform better at work. Often, they fulfill specific needs that universities don't address, such as industry software competencies. For example, an accountant might come to an association for a deep dive into Excel so they can use the program to complete job tasks more efficiently.
Educational programs should be run by people who understand what abilities are needed in your field and should provide excellent experiences that help your members grow and advance their careers. Specific learning areas can consist of learning and understanding anything from individual skills like SEO optimization or EXCEL to developing organization-wide strategies.
Your association can administer these programs at your own events or by using your membership management software. To make your educational programs more widespread you can also partner with third parties such as universities or businesses to train students or staff. For example, The American Heart Association partners with schools to teach students how to perform CPR.
Credentialing programs, another job training tool mentioned in the whitepaper, vary between industries and organizations. Typically, they provide the individual skills your members need to be successful and may also seek to instill a deep understanding of the abilities needed in your members' career path.
Some credentialing programs are designed to meet licensing requirements and determine competencies, others may ensure that professionals understand industry regulations. A few examples of professional credentials include everything from academic credentials like a degree and to the mastery of a specific skill.
Credentials can also be stepping stones to full certifications. You could have your members complete three separate credentials to earn a certificate, for example. The HR Certification Institute (HRCI) used this technique. They have a certification path that "includes a total of seven credentials designed to fit different types of experiences, career stages, and locations around the world."
Your credentialing programs should provide value to members and show future employers that your members have the skills needed to succeed. If your association uses credentials as part of a larger certification program, then you can also consider giving self-motivated learners the ability to create their own educational pathway by completing credentials in any order.
Your association has the power to revolutionize the gap between education and employers by providing graduates with the valuable skills and certifications that companies are seeking.
Your main advantage is that you're already a part of the world of employers. You know what they're looking for in new hires. This allows you to directly address the employment gap by identifying the specific skills new professionals in your industry need. You can then develop programs that provide value by teaching members the top job skills they need to enter the workforce.
By creating these types of professional development programs, you help millennials and gen z start successful careers. That, in turn, demonstrates your association's value and motivates younger members to join.