Why Closing the Skills Gap Is a Huge Opportunity for Associations

The need for professional development and programs to acquire new skills jumped during the pandemic. However, there is still a significant skills gap in the workforce. Now is an excellent time to help members and boost nondues revenue too.  

Drastic changes in the workforce, exacerbated by the pandemic, have led to an expansive skills gap, which is a key business prospect for associations. The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Upskilling for Shared Prosperityreport [PDF] estimates that addressing the skills gap has the potential to boost the gross domestic product (GDP) up to $6.5 trillion by 2023.

“How our members sustain their businesses equals a huge business opportunity for associations to design the professional development programs now—quickly—in order to accelerate that learning for the fields that our members represent,” said Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies CEO Debra BenAvram, FASAE, CAE. It’s a pivotal time in the way associations must strategically approach their businesses.

Customize Programs

As we all know, the Great Resignation is happening, and members are struggling to attract and retain talent. “This is a golden opportunity for associations,” BenAvram said. Associations have long been known for offering quality professional development programs and the need for them has never been more competitive than it is right now. For example, Marketing General Incorporated’s 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report found there was a 57 percent increase in members attending professional development programming.

Associations are well-positioned to shift into growth mode and customize professional development in new and intentional ways. That means the previous approach of educating members in a broad, annual meeting format needs to shift into programs that are designed for segments of members—and members’ staff.

It will be key to understand what members need help with and what pressure points associations can alleviate so members can step up their training programs, workforce development, and do the work that will sustain their businesses. “We have to accelerate our data collection,” BenAvram said. “And get more comfortable thinking about the voice of the customer as a critical data element to help shape programs and opportunities that meet those needs.”

Quick Turnaround

For example, AABB’s members are struggling to get enough workers to accept blood donations in the United States. That means BenAvram’s team must find ways to attract those potential employees, who are not AABB members, and put training programs for them in place.

Right now, AABB is preparing to roll out a new certification program in the cell therapy field. “It’s very different from what we’ve done before,” she said. They had to price it competitively, design it fast, and get it to market quickly. Which is not the way associations have typically operated in the past.

Ten years ago, that whole process might have taken seven years and the board would have been comfortable with that. “Now, if I don’t get that to market in an eight-month period, I may as well not even bother trying,” BenAvram said. “We’re competing with the Amazons, Googles, and other groups like that, and we’ve got to compete. That’s what our members are expecting from us.”

(z_wei/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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