Expand Your Market with Introductory Industry Education and Credentialing Programs

Most associations focus their education and credentialing programs on their primary market: the people working in the profession for which the association was founded, for example, in ASAE’s case, association management professionals. But what about co-workers who serve the company in support or operations roles? Or industry partners who sell products and services to these professionals and companies? Wouldn’t they also benefit from learning more about the industry?

How support, operations, and shared service employees benefit from introductory industry education

In most organizations, you’ll find individuals whose work supports the business, for example, employees in finance, accounting, purchasing, inventory, payroll, HR, legal, compliance, IT, data management, and administrative support. The professional development they pursue is usually focused on their existing role and provided by an association or for-profit serving that occupation.

But these professionals would benefit from learning more about their company’s industry. Introductory industry education could help them speak the same language as their colleagues and understand why their co-workers behave and make the decisions they do. What they learn can help them better support their colleagues, anticipate their needs, and spot opportunities for improvement.

HR staff who would benefit from introductory industry education

How do companies benefit from employees pursuing this education?

Since their skills are usually industry-agnostic, professionals in these departments can easily move from industry to industry. But if they get the chance to really understand what goes in the industry and what their colleagues wrestle with every day, they’re more likely to become more invested in their job and industry.

These employees become more valuable because they’re no longer isolated in their own professional world. They develop a more useful perspective—informed but not embedded—and can offer a fresh set of knowledgeable eyes to their colleagues. This investment in education helps to erode the traditional bifurcation of staff into professional and support camps.

By offering access to these programs, the employer shows their commitment to all their staff’s growth and development—and that’s exactly what employees are seeking now. Talented employees can also learn what it takes to rise from within into positions requiring more industry knowledge, reducing the cost of recruitment for the employer.

What do these introductory programs look like in real life?

Your association should offer online, on-demand introductory programs that teach employees what they need to know about the industry to better perform in their role. We found a few non- and for-profit examples to show you what we mean.

•    Southern Gas Association’s four-course Career Onboarding & Refresher (CORE) Training program
•    North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers’ Introduction to the Food Service Industry
•    Vixio Regulatory Intelligence’s Introduction to the Gambling Industry
•    Medical Device HQ’s Introduction to Working in the Medical Device Industry

After they complete the introductory training course or program, award successful graduates with a certificate and digital badge, which would be especially valuable to them when seeking promotions.

Design learning pathways and programs for career progression. For example, show a receptionist what it would take to become an insurance agent—what knowledge and skills they need to develop to cross over into the profession. Allow them to combine these courses (and stackable badges) into a certificate.

The National Restaurant Association’s ServSuccess certification program has three levels for people entering and advancing in that industry: Certified Restaurant Professional, Certified Restaurant Supervisor, and Certified Restaurant Manager.

With introductory programs and pathways, your association becomes more valuable to industry employers and makes connections to new audiences—professionals who might become members one day.

young salesman on laptop pursuing introductory industry education

The benefits of introductory industry education for industry partners

Some of the most knowledgeable industry leaders are supplier and consultant members. But these companies are also filled with people who don’t know nearly enough about the industry they’re serving, which is especially unfortunate when they’re sales and marketing professionals joining the industry association.

Introductory industry education would benefit these industry partners in the same way it benefits support, operations, and shared service staff. They’ll gain a greater level of knowledge about what their clients and prospects do for a living and the challenges they face every day. Pursuing this education shows they care enough to make the effort. It shows their professionalism and commitment to the industry. Plus, it sets them apart from their peers—their competitors.

What does industry partner education look like in real life?

The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Certified Graduate Associate (CGA) program is part of the Certified Graduate Builder credential family. ‘Associate’ refers to the NAHB membership tier for companies selling supplies and services to home builders: associate members. The National Apartment Association has a similar program, Certified Apartment Supplier.

In the CGA program, associate members “gain a better understanding of the industry they serve from the best source possible: builders and remodelers with years of field experience.” They must take two six-hour required courses—Basics of Building and Business Management for Building Professionals—plus two three-hour elective courses. After earning their CGA, designation holders must complete four hours or credits each year and pay an annual renewal fee.

Employers on both sides of membership—professionals and industry partners—need help retaining staff. Introductory education and credentialing programs help their employees find their way in the industry and feel better about their role in it. These programs also help your association develop ties with all kinds of professionals in member companies—a benefit for you at renewal time.

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