The pandemic has created challenges for professionals who wish to maintain their association certifications. What members need will vary across professions, but these five tips can help you assess how to help them.
Of the many things shaken up by the pandemic this year, a specific pain point is emerging for association members: professional credentials.
With in-person meetings on hold and job situations altered, certification renewal is more difficult now. But for associations that want to help members maintain their certifications, “there’s really not going to be one kind of blanket solution,” says consultant Mickie Rops, CAE.
She points out two examples: healthcare employees, who currently have jobs but little time because of the extra work they’re doing to fight this disease, and those who have lost their jobs and have the time to work on certifications but may not be able to financially invest in continuing education.
“I think that the biggest thing would be to find out what the members’ struggles are,” Rops says. “They may be obvious, but for some, I don’t know if they’re obvious.”
She offers a few considerations for associations as they move into 2021:
Explore whether you can change the rules for renewal. Right now, circumstances may cause members to miss renewal deadlines that they otherwise would have hit—particularly if their pandemic workload is unusually heavy, as in the medical and education fields. In such cases, it may be worth considering whether to extend renewal timelines. But Rops urges caution: “If you’re accredited and you have established policies and you’re held to those, you’ve got to be more careful about just changing things,” she says.
Offer a hiatus or grants to those with financial hardships. Rops suggests offering out-of-work members an inactive status for their certifications; once they return to work, they can become active again. Another option is to start a grant program to help cover member expenses. “I do have some clients that are seeking grants and being pretty successful in it,” she says.
Add flexible elements. Certain renewal requirements, such as attendance at in-person meetings, don’t make sense at the moment. Additionally, Rops notes that many people working remotely for the first time may find it difficult to focus, so virtual events may not be the answer for everyone. “Attention span right now is at an all-time low because of all the distractions and all the people that have both two adults in the house, working at home, and then the kids” that may need help with schooling, she says. While virtual learning events might make sense for some learners, others may do better with looser formats that allow them to learn at their own pace.
Look into microcredentialing. One way to reach members who may not have the time to invest in a full certification is microcredentialing. (One example is the National Education Association, which is highlighting microcertifications relevant to the current moment—on technology integration, cultivating socially just environments, and cultural competency.) Rops, a strong advocate for microcredentialing, says that this approach may be particularly effective in this environment. “Right now especially, you can’t be expecting someone to put 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10 years into something,” she says. “Break it down, so they can start getting some immediate learning and/or credentialing.”
Consider building or refreshing a program now. Rops says that despite the disruption that many organizations are facing, associations have an opportunity to make lasting changes to an existing credentialing program—or to start a new one. “In a time of recession and things like that, that’s when people need education and credentialing,” she says. “So if associations can afford it, now’s the time, because it really is when your members need to reskill and upskill the most.”