A colleague on a board I serve on commented that he’s not sure how to keep millennials in their job for 18 months, much less get them involved in an association. It’s a concern I’ve heard echoed by numerous association executives and board members, but I think it is one that is largely misplaced. Certainly, employers need to worry about retaining their employees – millennials or otherwise – but the focus of associations should not be job retention, it should be career retention.
Indeed, I’d argue that, career retention should be a core part of the strategy of most associations – along with, of course, career attraction and career development.
Most adults these days are participants in what I have called the other 50 years (and more recently have started referring to as the other 60 years) – the period that stretches from the end of any higher education we obtain to the end of our careers. Just as importantly, the focus of those years has shifted. As a 2011 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce notes:
today, careers are based on occupation. Because of the emphasis on post secondary education — which generally means more specific occupational training — workers will be attached more to the occupations they will fi ll than the industries in which they work. In other words, workers progress up an occupational hierarchy, not an industry-based one. (Source)
This broader focus offers both the challenge and the opportunity for supporting workers as they move from job to job and industry to industry while still staying within the same general occupation – a role that is particularly suited to organizations that were created specifically to support specific occupations – accountants, nurses, plumbers, just to name a few our of thousands.
Really, any learning business can present a compelling career vision to align with its offerings – and most should – but arguably, associations are better positioned than most other education providers – more than colleges and universities, more than employers – to stay connected with individuals as they traverse the other 50-60 years. (See 3 Reasons Why Associations Should Lead Lifelong Learning for further thoughts on this.) The opportunity (and challenge) for associations is to show a road for career growth that – and here’s the kicker – the organization can actually support.
This is a perspective that, not surprisingly, jibes well with our view that organizations need to develop vision and a compelling value story using tools like the Value Ramp. Organizations need to clearly present what a potential career looks like, where the prospective learner fits in, and the educational opportunities the organization offers to support the career path.
“Clearly present” is a key action in that previous sentence: many organizations implicitly understand that a focus on careers is important, but offer nothing in the way of a career education roadmap on their Web site or other marketing materials.
I’ve noted before (in Leading the Learning Revolution, for example) that I think Raleigh, NC-based Catapult (formerly CAI) does this well with how it articulates and visualizes its Management Advantage program. Once you see the graphic for the program, you can’t help but have a reasonably clear view of career stages and the education CAI provides to support them.
Another, more recent example, involves the organization I referred to in the first sentence of this post – NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement. To its credit, the organization very much took to heart the idea that it is in the career business and that realization has driven the strategy behind the organizations new Pathways offering. Take a few minutes to view the brief video below and you will see a clear example of an organization that understands it is in the career retention business.
None of this isn’t rocket science, of course.
Very often organizations get bogged down in the possibilities and politics of presenting a career path. It requires a certain level of risk and the possibility – indeed, the certainty – that not every member perspective is going to be represented equally. In short, it requires leadership. But it is also more and more of a necessity. If you are unable to be clear and compelling in how you present career options, your product strategy is bound to be muddled, and enrollments will suffer.
One final, but critical, note: all of this goes beyond simply using terms like professional development or even offering a certification program.
The former is inherently vague, thus contributing to, rather than curing the problem, and the latter tends to be communicated and perceived as a stopping point. The same board colleague I mentioned at the beginning of this post also lamented that his organization “treats certification too much like a destination” – meaning it’s not clear where a member can progress to beyond certification, even though there is typically a lot of career to be traversed once certification is complete.
I plan to come back to the topic of the post-certification career path in a later post, but in the meantime, I encourage you to take a hard look at the career story your learning business is telling, how clearly you are telling it, and how well, overall, you are supporting career retention.
The original version of this article was posted on the Tagoras Web site on July 11, 2016.
Photo Credit and Copyright: ximagination / 123RF Stock Photo