Four Ways Associations Can Boost Their Industry’s Future Workforce

With many industries facing a shortage of workers and a skills gap, associations can play a critical role in addressing workforce development.

Future workforce is a hot-button issue in many industries, with associations looking to boost the flow of talent into their respective fields. Last week, at a Cue Career lunch and learn session called “Associations’ Role in Education and Workforce Development,” experts discussed ways associations can help ensure a steady flow of current and future talent to their organizations and industries.

“Associations have to be out there so young people—and not-so-young people—as they are transitioning in jobs, know who they are,” said panelist Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation and a former Department of Labor appointee. “With the exception of big ones, people don’t know they exist.”

The three panelists, led by moderator Kiki L’Italien, concentrated on four areas associations should focus attention on to help their industries find, train, and keep talent.


The way people get hired and advance in careers is through networking, the panelists agreed. Associations, which have members layered throughout their industries, are an ideal place to foster networking.

“Given that an estimated half of jobs come through personal connections … for students, being in a relationship with perspective employers is incredibly important,” said panelist Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute and author of Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks. “For associations, it’s not just partnerships or better pamphlets about who you are, it’s about being in relationships with schools and students—authentic relationships.”

Oates agreed, noting that schools often form relationships with local employers or businesses, but associations are ideal partners for schools. “If you do a partnership as a school with one employer, the chances today are 50-50 that that employer will not be there in three years,” she said. “If you build your competency-based instruction on what a trade association is telling you, you’ll be able to meet the needs of the next employer that comes in.”

Lauren Harley, assistant director of education and certification at MCI USA, said that networking was crucial to her success, with a mentor helping connect her with multiple people in her field.

Understanding Training Needs

Associations can also help newcomers understand the training needs of the field. “I think [associations] should talk much more openly about credentials,” Oates said. “I think they should talk about what credentials their [industry’s] employers recognize and value in hiring.” She also recommended telling students the top few credentials they might need or could earn even while in high school or while pursuing a degree.

Harley agreed. “Credentialing is such a big thing right now, but there is that disconnect, and students are not hearing about these opportunities,” she said.


Panelists also agreed that diversity and inclusion are crucial to a thriving future workforce, and it’s important for associations to help member organizations improve their D+I.

“Diversity is hard,” Oates said. “If you are a white man leading the company as a CEO, it is uncomfortable to talk about. The association can give you some help about how you talk about it.”

Even when diversity improves through hiring, more may be needed. “The harder part is inclusion,” Oates said. “You know right away if they’re not including you, and not inviting you to the table.”

When people aren’t included, they leave the company, causing retention issues. Oates offered an example where a company touted that 8 percent of its new hires were men of color. “Where are they 18 months later?” Oates said she asked. “‘Oh, we don’t collect that data,’ they’d say. I think the role of associations is really to educate their membership.”


Finally, associations should be open to different employment models for their industries, including apprenticeships.

“An apprentice is an employee,” Oates said. “You’re an employee that your employer makes a real commitment to, because I’m going to start you here, you’re going to get all of these new skills, and I’m going to move you here. I think there will be more of them, mainly because it’s a business imperative. Retention is becoming a bigger problem than recruitment.”

Harley agreed that apprenticeships can help. “I think there is a lot of value in them and a lot of opportunity,” she said. “Using the insurance industry as an example, they take advantage of apprenticeship. They train them, so they can go out in the workforce and excel.”

Oates said apprenticeships help people get a feel for the industry. “It is a great place for me to get my feet wet—to see, ‘Do I like this business?’ before I go and get a degree to keep me in this business,” she said.

What is your association doing to address workforce development in your industry? Please share in the comments.

(monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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