Why (and How to) Design Association Education for Young Professionals

Millennials will make up nearly half the U.S. workforce by 2020. Generational definitions vary but most characterize millennials (or Generation Y) as 21 to 35 year olds. Generation Z, usually described as those who are 21 and under, is already a bigger group than the millennials or the boomers.

Their numbers alone are enough to compel associations to pay attention to the educational content and delivery methods these generations need and seek. Generations Y and Z are your existing and, hopefully, future members and customers. Your association will want to develop relationships with them, prove your relevance, and provide what they need to excel in life.

But you’re not the only one who needs to prove your value to young professionals. Your members’ companies do too—and your association can help them do that.

Association Education for Young Professionals

Millennials in the workplace

Boomer and Gen X executives have been reading and talking about millennials for the last decade at least. Myths about millennials have been spread, debunked, resurrected, and debunked again. Fortunately, this generation has been studied like no other so we can confidently act upon what the research tells us, for example:

  • When applying for a job, 59 percent of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them. (Gallup)
  • 87 percent say the growth and development opportunities offered by their current job are important to them. (Gallup)
  • Employers dedicate 2.7 hours per week on average to professional development, but millennials would prefer 4.5 hours per week. (Deloitte)
  • 40 percent of millennials are likely to change companies because they aren’t given the opportunity to learn and advance as quickly as they’d wish. (Express Employment Professionals)

This generation feels more strongly about professional development than any other. Why? Possibly because they came of age during the recession. They graduated with lots of debt. They’re not yet financially self-sufficient but want to be. The job market is rapidly changing. The future is, as always but seemingly more than ever, uncertain.

Do your members know how important professional development is to their younger staff? If not, it’s time to educate the employers in your profession or industry about how your association’s professional development programs can be an extension of their own training and development efforts. Consider offering bulk pricing to company members so they’re incentivized to register employees in your eLearning programs.

Affordable Association Education for Young Professionals

The affordability issue

Before we discuss how millennials and Generation Z prefer to learn, let’s examine one of the biggest obstacles between young professionals and your educational programs: money. Young professionals with full-time jobs aren’t always given a budget for professional development. If they have a professional development budget, they can’t always afford to travel or take time away from work to attend in-person educational events—which is why online learning programs are so critical.

But, many ambitious millennials aren’t working full-time. They’re either patching together a mix of part-time jobs or have gone out on their own into the freelance market or gig economy. Freelancers now make up 35 percent of U.S. workers.

Freelancers don’t have an employer’s professional development budget to spend. Everything comes out of their own pocket. Can they afford to register for your professional development programs? You can lessen the financial burden by:

  • Offering scholarships.
  • Encouraging affiliate/associate members to sponsor young professional education.
  • Offer a young professional membership that includes free monthly webinars.
  • Give young professionals a discount on online education.

The educational norm for Generations Y and Z

Like any generation, you can’t stereotype millennials and Generation Z, but one thing is certain: most of them grew up using the Internet. For Gen Z, technology has always been a part of life: “As digital natives, they expect technology to play an instrumental role in their educational experience.”

On-demand, self-directed learning

Millennials spend a good deal of time every day on their phones—one study says 3.1 hours a day. “Generation Z has been looking at the world through the lens of their mobile device, so much so that when they think of education, for example, they think of YouTube just as quickly as they do the school they attend,” says Inc. contributor Nicolas Cole, a millennial himself.

For the YouTube generation, learning takes place anytime and anywhere—preferably on their phone. Think bite-sized learning that’s easily digestible. Understand the value of spaced learning. Offer short lessons (reading, audio, and video) that allow them to feel a sense of measurable progress and achieve small goals on the way to a bigger accomplishment, perhaps a digital badge.

Young professionals have flocked to self-service digital platforms, for example, the many Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools that have become office favorites such as Slack and Asana. Show them how to find your online learning resources and they’ll pursue an education on their own.

“Gen Z students flourish in any learning environment where they can flex their aptitude for self-reliance and their ability to self-educate.” They just want to have a say in what and how they learn—relevance and personalization of the learning journey is critical.

Collaborative, social learning

Millennials and Gen Z grew up with collaborative technology like Skype, Google Docs, and online forums. They’re comfortable learning in community, especially if they have opportunities to contribute to projects for a good cause.

Take advantage of your learning platform’s online community where students can discuss materials and share ideas. Give students the opportunity to put learning in context by recreating real-world scenarios, solving problems, or working through exercises together.

Capability development

Many employers are finding that a college education is not providing the skills their employees need to succeed on the job. A study by PayScale identified the top skills managers found missing in job applicants:

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Attention to detail
  • Writing proficiency

Employers also are concerned that new hires don’t know how to initiate and develop sales, customer support, and client relationships. Help your young members develop the skills they need no matter where their professional path takes them, for example, in addition to the soft skills already mentioned, project management and data analytic skills.

Several reports identified skills that many millennials lack which are critical for success: curiosity, focus, conscientiousness, resourcefulness, goals-driven behavior, team player mentality, humility, and grit. Association online learning programs don’t typically teach these skills but millennials and Gen Z will flounder professionally without them. Perhaps it’s time for associations to expand their educational focus by helping young members develop skills that will help them grow as a person and as a professional.

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