The recent whitepaper, “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm”, has generated significant conversation online about how associations need to lead change with education programs, as associations are uniquely poised to help bridge the growing gap between academic training and employers needs. One particularly insightful commentary from Eric Lanke, the CEO of the National Fluid Power Association, highlighted the importance of creating connections, to enable members to successfully transfer learning to their place of employment - bridging the "education-to-employment gap".
In his blog, "Education is not Enough", Lanke describes how his association has attempted to address this gap over the years with association education programs, but also emphasizes the need for new terminology and new initiatives to move beyond "education programs" to "connection programs":
"We must support and deliver "education programs"--courses, curriculum and certifications meant to educate more people in the competencies and soft skills required by our industry. But we can't stop there. We must also support and deliver "connection programs"--websites, career fairs and conferences that are designed to bring hiring managers from our member companies in contact with the people being impacted by our education programs."
In a follow up post, Lanke outlines three issues in the transition from education to employment that highlight why these "connection programs" are essential, and how if your association can figure out a way to fix the issues, it can help you to succeed in bridging the "education-to-employment gap" and increasing your membership. Here we look at Lanke's issues and explore some potential resolutions for both the association and its members.
Associations don't control the flow of new entrants to the industry.
Lanke outlines how his research has shown that it is often a contact in the academic world that influences a student to enter their chosen industry. Therefore, making connections with the academics or institutions that will be the primary influence on the future workforce is a good idea for your association.
Working with academics or educational institutions may help your association to identify the potential knowledge or experiential gaps in training for new graduates entering the workforce for the first time, and allow you to design more focused seminars, conferences, or introductory courses for people joining your industry. Making connections with these academic institutions also creates potential to raise the profile of your association with future members.
Perhaps you could design a seminar or webinar series to highlight different careers within your industry, and how your association works to help advocate for and develop the industry. You could then work with the academic institution to promote it directly to their students - and your future members. Make sure that you clearly outline the learning objectives and details for the seminar, conference or course in your course catalog and promotional materials, to help these learners to quickly recognize the value of these connection programs.
Company employees are busier than ever.
Lanke points out that many companies are highly focused on running their businesses and may not be aware of education programs offered by academic institutions or by associations for their industry. Whether your association offers organizational membership or provides only individual membership programs, there could be several companies in your industry that are just not aware of how to connect with future employees.
This is where the association can help to create additional value for members and for your industry with connection programs. Creating career fairs or networking events for local or regional organizations to meet with potential employees that have successfully completed a relevant academic or association education program, could help to raise the profile of your association education programs in the eyes of the employers in your industry. By acting as liaison between the academic institutions and these companies, your association could provide information that will help these organizations to identify the future employees with the required skills and knowledge for any vacancies they may have, while eliminating the need for these companies to maintain relationships with multiple institutions. This time-saving service will be highly appreciated by companies that are already over-stretched by market demands. These activities will also provide additional value to your learners and members, by helping them to make connections that could secure future employment.
Employers validate that the education programs are actually working.
A recent trend for employers to work with online education providers such as Udacity and Coursera to create education programs to address the skills gap created by traditional academic programs, shows there is a growing need for a new approach to industry-specific training. Even though companies in your industry are more strapped for time, the rewards of successfully creating connection programs with them to define and shape the content of your association education programs will be significant.
By successfully connecting with the organizations in your industry, your association can create programs that focus exclusively on the precise skills graduates need to be immediately employable, ensuring that your association will be able to lead the change needed in education, creating both satisfied employers and members. Lanke notes, "Only by getting industry into a position where they can evaluate the quality of the candidates being produced by your education programs, and then giving them a mechanism to actually change your program's content, will you find yourself on a pathway towards success."
Implementing these "connection programs" could have several positive effects for your association including raising your profile and relevance in the industry and increasing member satisfaction. These connection programs could also help you to increase your membership as both organizations and learners more readily recognize the valuable services your association provides. As one of the authors of the original whitepaper pointed out in an interview, "The kind of member loyalty that you have always said you wanted to create? I don’t know of any better loyalty than 'They helped me get a job, keep a job, and get a better job'."
WBT Systems has been working with associations for more than 20 years to deliver successful association education programs through our award-winning learning management system, TopClass. If you would like to learn how you could use our flexible learning platform to help you to connect and engage successfully with your members and organizations in your industries, contact us today and we will be happy to answer your questions.