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Professional Development for Millennials (and Everyone Else Too)

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Give Millennials the Continuing Education Opportunities They Crave

Sarah Sain

Sarah Sain, Naylor Association Solutions

Millennials: You know them well, those 73 million professionals born between 1980 and 1996 who are now an integral part of the American workplace. They’re working their way up the career ladder in organizations across the country and becoming members and leaders in your association. Yet, they still get a bad rap.

It’s a myth that millennials feel entitled to a better title and more pay for simply doing their jobs. Yes, they have expectations – they expect for a job to present them with opportunities for growth, they expect to be able to learn and gain valuable experience, and they expect to make a difference in the world.

According to a 2016 Gallup survey, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” 87 percent of millennials say professional development is important to them in a job. Millennials want to be in a job where they are challenged and can learn and experience new things – even if they have to seek out those opportunities themselves.

And while some associations may worry about the frequency with which millennials change jobs, that alone shouldn’t prevent you from offering them new opportunities. In fact, when you invest in millennials and their professional development, they are more likely to be engaged in their jobs and loyal to their company or association.

Below are five ways in which your organization or association can offer professional development to millennials – but don’t just offer these opportunities to the young professionals on your staff. After all, learning is a lifetime endeavor, which means your colleagues of all ages might appreciate the chance to grow and learn a new skill.

Encourage continuing education

Make learning a top priority in your organization. Be supportive of millennials who seek out advanced degrees, industry certifications, in-person training and online webinars. Allow them the flexibility in their schedule to attend classes. Cover a percentage of the cost. If the budget for continuing education is tight, pass along magazine articles, books or videos that include industry trends, best practices and advice from experts in the field with a note on what lesson they might take away from the piece.

Attend events

Face-to-face events are important, not just for the unbridled education they provide, but also for the chance to build and nurture a professional network. In the ASAE Foundation’s research brief “Pathways to CEO Success: How Experience, Learning, and Networking Shape Association CEO Careers,” 90 percent of the association CEOs surveyed said a professional network was key to obtaining their first association CEO role. Events are where millennials are most likely to have the opportunity to talk to leaders in the industry, find a mentor and network with colleagues who are walking the same path. Many associations offer scholarships or grants for young professionals to attend their conferences and events; pass those opportunities on to millennials and encourage them to apply.

Volunteer for a leadership role

Whether it’s on an association committee, board of directors or local community organization, encourage millennials to take on volunteer roles. Not only does volunteerism allow millennials to share their passion and make change in the world around them, it also allows them to hone leadership and problem-solving skills. Plus, they’ll expand on their growing network with leaders who also have a deep connection to your industry and organization, and who value serving others.

Offer a speaking part

While there are some people born with a talent for public speaking, many people still find it to be a nerve-wracking ordeal. The best way to overcome those feelings and get more comfortable in front of a crowd is practice. Start by having millennials give presentations at staff meetings or speak at a company event. Give them the opportunity to introduce a speaker or lead a roundtable discussion at your next annual conference. These experiences will teach millennials how to speak confidently about your industry and advance your association’s mission.

Test new technology

Technology has been an integral part of millennials’ lives – they don’t know a world without it. Use that to your advantage. Create an open door policy when it comes to millennials and new technology. After all, they may be the ones to bring the next big thing to your attention. Because millennials aren’t afraid of the speed with which technology changes, they can play a key role in gaining buy-in on new tools for your staff and members. You could even have them take the lead on testing out new technology on a segment of your membership, including training and gathering feedback.

Millennials are the future of the workforce, and they’re here now. By offering them the opportunity to expand their skills and gain essential industry knowledge, you’ll ensure your association has the leaders it needs to succeed in the years to come.

About The Author

Sarah Sain is a senior content strategy and development manager with Naylor Association Solutions, working exclusively with society of association executive and meeting professional clients. Email her at
ssain@naylor.com or follow her as @ssain7 on Twitter.

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