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Professional development for millennials (and everyone else too)

This guest blog post is by Sarah Sain, 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 or follow her on Twitter at @ssain7.

Millennials: 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 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. Millennials want to be in a job where they are challenged and can learn and experience new things.

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:

• Encourage continuing education. Make learning a top priority in your organization. Be supportive of millennials who seek advanced degrees, industry certifications, in-person training and webinars. Allow them the flexibility in their schedule to attend classes or cover a percentage of the cost. If the budget for continuing education is tight, pass along magazine articles, books or videos, 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 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 industry leaders, find a mentor and network with colleagues 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. Not only does volunteerism allow millennials to share their passion and make change in their world, it also allows them to hone leadership and problem-solving skills. Plus, they’ll expand on their network with leaders who also have a deep connection to your industry and value serving others.

• Offer a speaking part. Many people find public speaking to be a nerve-wracking ordeal. The best way to get more comfortable in front of a crowd is practice. Start by having millennials give presentations at staff meetings or a company event. Give them the opportunity to introduce a speaker at your next annual conference or lead a roundtable discussion. These experiences will teach millennials how to speak confidently about your industry and your association’s mission.

• Test new technology. Technology has been an integral part of millennials’ lives. Create an open door policy when it comes to millennials and new technology. 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. 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 industry knowledge, you’ll ensure your association has the leaders it needs to succeed in the years to come.

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