Earlier this year, Millennials (those age 18 to 34) passed Generation X to become the largest segment of the American labor force. As more Baby Boomers retire, this trend will accelerate. In fact, Deloitte reports that Millennials will comprise a staggering 75% of the global workforce by 2025.
Unlike the young workers of the 1980s who were often vilified for being self-absorbed and status seeking, today’s young professionals are often described as smart, optimistic team players who want to make a difference in the world. Thanks to their desire to be connected and to serve a social purpose, Millenials are often called the “purpose-driven generation.” They believe that organizations should have a positive impact on society, so they have high expectations of organizations in terms of sustainability and social responsibility.
In light of those characteristics, the OSH profession should be a desirable career choice for today’s Millennials and young professionals who want work that is both fulfilling and connected to a larger purpose. Yet, while the average age of an ASSE member is slowly declining, 42% of current members are at least 50 years old. Do we have what it takes to attract, retain and nurture this dynamic group of young professionals?
Arthur Brooks, a Syracuse University professor of public administration who studies nonprofit organizations, has evaluated association membership from a generational standpoint. Brooks says that smart associations “will be moving away from the one-size-fits-all-members model of the past.” What associations cannot do, Brooks advises, is simply build bigger and better products or tweak their service offerings. Today’s young professionals expect tangible benefits from their associations. Gone are the days when people join an association out of a sense of duty to their profession. Associations must offer appealing choices and provide new opportunities for people to participate in the process.
ASSE is no exception. We must understand that the rules of engagement have changed. We must recognize that the need to interact and socialize ranks high on the list of expectations our young members bring to the table. Young professional groups in the U.S. are thriving because they offer opportunities to get together, meet people and have fun. While business networking remains important—especially to young adults who will change jobs multiple times in their life—it often takes a back seat to social networking.
At ASSE’s Future Safety Leaders Conference last year, I had the chance to sit down with several student members who were enjoying the opportunity to come together with their peers to learn how to begin a successful safety career. This was an intelligent, highly motivated group of young people who were actively involved with their student sections. When I asked what they valued most about their section experience they mentioned two things: 1) social events and 2) community service. That’s quite a departure from traditional responses such as technical meetings or conferences.
ASSE’s Board of Directors recently spent time discussing mega trends and challenges facing associations, including generational differences. It is clear that we need to better understand this powerful group of future leaders, learn how they operate, get to know their preferences, and create offerings that attract their participation. We must engage today’s young professionals at different levels by tapping into their collaborative lifestyles and satisfying their needs for innovation and immediacy.
For some of us, that will mean stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new concepts. It will take patience, persistence and planning to gain the necessary understanding. But as Pablo Picasso said, “It takes a very long time to become young.”
It is also going to take some help. Perhaps there is no better group to guide and mentor us than our own Young Professionals in OSH Common Interest Group. Led by Thomas Loughman, this enthusiastic group of safety professionals is poised to make a difference in ASSE’s future and in the OSH profession. These young members are less interested in being along for the ride than in being active participants in the process of improving the membership experience. They love connecting through social networks and other communities.
Syracuse’s Brooks recommends creating opportunities that bring the generations together in mutually beneficial ways. Whether through enhanced mentoring relationships or other means, it is our duty to engage both younger and older members as we work to improve the member experience for all.