The Role of Associations in the Educational Landscape

By Aaron Wolowiec • August 16, 2019

This article originally appeared on Association Success.

In the educational landscape, associations have an important role to play in helping learners become job-ready. By learners, I don’t just mean those at the start of their professional careers, but also those at a later stage looking to make a change in career paths. We can find them in our staff, our members, and just about everywhere. We never stop learning, do we?

While higher education is the traditional medium to develop skills and to advance in your career, associations provide a different solution. In some ways, we even compete with higher education institutions.

How can associations cater to learners?

First, let’s look at gap analysis. What is it? In its simplest, most purest form, it’s about understanding the actual performance against the potential or desired performance. Basically, associations want to spray some association foam to fill that gap, to fill every crevice and nook and cranny between where learners are and where they want to go.

They need to identify what knowledge, skills, and abilities learners need in order to:

  1. Get a specific job, or
  2. Advance in the career ladder or get a promotion.

For example, there seems to be a gap between theory and practice; what’s being taught in the classroom isn’t necessarily the skills that are needed for candidates to actually be placed and be successful in jobs. Associations can fill that gap. If we look at training for event planning, I know about places that are training the next generation of event planners with professors who aren’t actually planning meetings and events. So they’re not teaching things like negotiating difficult contracts, navigating the wide disparities in hotel WiFi, overcoming room block poachers, and incentivizing attendees inclined to book on Airbnbs rather than in the hotel room block—mainly because those professors haven’t encountered these situations in the real world.

Evaluate your education portfolio

To cater to your learners, it really starts with evaluating your current education portfolio, and then adding programs, products, services that could support learner growth and development, to fill the gaps and to be job-ready. But then, be really clear and intentional about sunsetting programs, products and services that are past their prime. I think we hang on for far too long to things that are no longer a good fit for us and our members. Like Marie Kondo in Tidying Up on Netflix, associations need to fold up some of those things that aren’t serving them well. Thank them, say goodbye and put them in the pile to be donated, and be open and prepared to welcome something new into your space.

Marie Kondo
Like Marie Kondo in Tidying Up on Netflix, associations need to fold up some of their educational activities that aren’t serving them well, thank them, and say goodbye. This gives your staff and members the space to welcome new educational resources to your association.

Provide an accessible mix of education options

The accessibility and the number of ways that associations can provide learning are abundant in terms of delivery platform, model, cost, and content. I like to think that our education portfolio is broadly a mix of not just face to face programs and online learning options, but also resources that communicate value and that help teach our learners and our members. These include learning vehicles such as blogs, newsletters, websites, magazines, podcasts, and the like.

However, this comes with a word of caution. Lately I’ve seen firsthand this overabundance of information and content—we think more is more. But ultimately our learners lose when we adopt this mentality. We challenge them to make sense of the various communications we send or events we hold. To be successful, associations need to become the guide to help learners and job seekers navigate the myriad ways to learn within our organizations. It’s almost like an institution of higher education having an advisor lead learners through the development and implementation of a systematic curriculum plan.

Using gap analysis will help us develop and deploy a more realistic education portfolio that our members actually want (and need!). So instead of taking a stab in the dark in terms of the content we should be offering, let’s leverage this approach. It will help us provide learning opportunities that we know they need and we know they’ll be interested in.

Aaron spoke in the “Mind the Gap: Advancing the Workforce Through Association Education’’ session during SURGE Co-Creation, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on May 1-3, 2019.

For a more in-depth discussion about closing the education gap in associations, watch the recorded session on demand by visiting AssociationSuccess.org, signing in or creating a free account if you don’t have one already, and selecting the “Mind the Gap” session from May 3.

About The Author

Aaron Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA is a learning strategist and meetings coach for leading trade associations and individual membership societies across the United States. Committed to the latest research and trends on learning, intentional networking environments and meaningful transfer exercises, he launched Event Garde, a professional development consultancy, in 2011.