“Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” – Louis Armstrong
As I enter my 28th year in association management, I have been thinking about the future of this sector, particularly its workforce.
Are we preparing adequately for the skills shortage that is likely to evolve due to the pending departures of colleagues who will be either retiring or leaving the not-for-profit world to seek other opportunities? Have associations implemented appropriate strategies to accommodate experienced professionals transitioning out and new professionals moving in?
I cannot say with conviction that our sector is ahead of the curve when it comes to outreach and recruitment to attract a younger cohort to careers in association management. Do young people even know or understand that association management can be an immensely rewarding vocation?
Like many of you I began my association management career more or less by chance. Armed with an arts degree from a Canadian university, little did I know that working for a not-for-profit was a career choice, let alone a way to make a decent living.
When I attend CSAE events, I look around the room and see mostly people like me who are in the last third of their formal working years. Through conversations held during networking breaks, I learn about those who will be retiring soon or moving into a new stage of life, including consulting or working part time. Regrettably, while attending these same events, I don’t see a lot of representation from the next generation who are waiting in the wings to take over. Where are they?
Perhaps we have been faced with this critical human resources challenge since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, but I feel compelled to ask, “Where is our next generation of workers coming from and will they be prepared to manage the associations of the future?”
So, what can association executives today do to ensure that associations are well-equipped to meet the needs of their members and stakeholders in the future?
- Identify the hard and soft skill sets required by your team.
- Envision the various roles that members of your team may play within your association.
- Think about cross-functionality and train accordingly.
- Promote association management as a professional career to your friends, family and kids.
- Partner with community colleges and/or universities to find emerging talent (Seneca College’s Non-Profit Management program is a place to start).
- Tap into recruitment resources provided by CSAE.
- Provide professional development opportunities including the CAE designation.
- Create a workplace that values employees.
My plan over the next few years is to replace myself by recruiting, nurturing and preparing the next generation of association executives. It’s the least I can do after spending nearly three decades in a career that I love.
And by the way, just so we’re clear…I still have lots of music in me!
Constance Wrigley-Thomas, CAE
Chair – CSAE Trillium