Growing Our Industry: What New Grads Want You to Know [4.5 Minutes Read Time]

Armed with a newly minted CAE and joined by some of my favorite fellow Alumni, I returned home to my Alma Mater – Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) – one chilly day this October to talk to Senior Students and New Grads as part of a panel : Careers in the Not for Profit Sector (video). We came prepared to talk about our journeys from Convocation to our current roles in Associations and Charities, but each of us also walked away with many lessons learned, from each other and from the students.

On a previous visit to the Laurier Campus to meet with Student Leaders, I had heard a recurring theme – “I want to work in the Not-for-Profit (NFP) Sector, but I don’t know where, or what my skill gaps are”. Working with the Career Services department at WLU, I assembled a panel of Alumni to help address the range of roles available in NFPs and some of the paths from graduation to fulfilling careers. From a Senior VP at a large National Trade Association, to a success story who worked her way into the Industry climbing the ranks at Free the Children, to the founder of an organization dedicated to bringing Solar Light to Africa, and yours truly – students heard of a variety of NFP experiences.

To grow our Industry and address the challenges of an aging workforce, we all need to work together; Associations need to think critically about their hiring policies, practices and priorities; and, students need to come equipped with some knowledge and transferable skills. Here are some lessons I learned from my fellow Alumni and from the next generation of Golden Hawks.

Lesson 1: Volunteerism Matters

To anyone familiar with Laurier, this will seem to be a bit of a biased point to make up-front, but I do so unapologetically – this summer LinkedIn found that WLU Students and Alum list volunteer positions on their profiles more than any other school in the World. I had more to say about that in a LinkedIn post and won’t delve too deeply here.

New Grads need you to know that Volunteerism Matters – it’s where they’re going to get those years of experience your job posting is demanding; where they’re going to prove the skill sets you’re listing; and most importantly in the world of NFPs, it’s where they’re going to learn how Volunteer and Service Organizations work from the inside out.

You can help bring new blood into our industry by acknowledging and weighing these experiences when you see them on a résumé – understanding the leadership and initiative that drove them; you can also provide students and new grads with meaningful volunteer opportunities within your organization, where they can learn and grow.

Lesson 2: Mentorship and Guidance

Many Professional Associations – perhaps even the one you work for – are developing formal mentorship programs to help connect young professionals with more seasoned practitioners. While well worth the effort, these programs can be resource intensive, and I want to encourage you to not think of every Mentor/Mentee relationship as something requiring a great deal of time and effort.

Years ago, I opined in a blog post about the idea of crowd-sourcing mentorship – at its core the idea was that small moments of thoughtful advice, encouragement and support can be incredibly valuable, but must first be recognized and internalized.

I challenge each of you with a call to action. Find ways to mentor and support students and new grads looking to enter our industry. When invited to speak to a college program or at your Alma Mater – look for ways to say “yes”; when approached by those interested in our industry, as much as possible give thoughtful responses and be generous with your time; and finally, be proactive – where you see talent and potential, speak up.

Lesson 3: Transferable Skills, Think Outside the Box

I’ve been really honoured to have been asked time and time again to speak with students at Laurier about my career path. Often, in small groups or one-on-one we end up talking about résumé building and skill-sets – what everyone really wants to know at the end of the day is “how do I get that first job?”

Often I start with a discussion about interests, but I also always ask about their experiences – Are you a student leader? What sort of employment history do you have (paid and volunteer)? Is there a course you are excelling at, what do you think are the skills that are helping you there?

I almost always find that each student has some accomplishments, some skills and some talents of note – the challenge then becomes framing them in the language of job postings, and selection criteria, etc. Remember that the student who has worked retail for 4 years likely has the chops to sell memberships or sponsorships. And the student who did data entry for an entire (seemingly unending summer) will take less training on database management.

So where is the lesson for the potential employer of a young professional, recent or soon-to-be grad? Think outside the box, take a deeper dive on what it really means to have worked your way up from stocking shelves to managing the weekend shift.

Lesson 4: Remember That You Will Benefit Too

Sure, I can use this space to explain to you again, what you already know about an aging population, Association leaders retiring in droves, or the need to fill entry level positions with entry level employees, but there is more to the story.

I’ve stressed this more than once, including in yet another blog post several years ago – but I think it merits repeating. Your membership is getting younger – younger staff are the ones who can relate. Growing the Association Industry is important for all of us, but where the rubber hits the road for you is likely your membership statistics and balance sheet.

In addition, young people bring energy, ideas and a fresh set of eyes. They can reenergize your organization, bring a native understanding of technology, and have the youthful stamina to keep going long after the rest of us have run out of steam.

Join Me – Let’s Take Action Together

For the growth and well-being of the Association Industry, I urge each and every one of you to consider these lessons and any others you can think of to help support New Grads entering our industry.

And, lest you think I’m an armchair quarterback I’d like to share with you some of the concrete steps I’ve taken in the last 18 months, with the hopes that they might inspire you:

  • As a member of the CSAE Trillium Board, I worked to secure support for the Young Professionals Task Force, and remain involved with the Task Force as Vice-Chair
  • I have participated in the CSAE Business Model Review working group on F10s and have lent my name, image, and thoughts to helping frame what an F10 is.
  • As a proud Laurier Alumni I have attended both the Leadership Summit and Arts Career Nights in Waterloo to speak to students about building a career in our Sector.
  • In answer to the needs I heard from Laurier students I worked with Career Services and my fellow Alumni to present a panel and Q&A on careers in the not-for-profit sector.
  • And, I’m not done yet, I’ve volunteered to meet with Laurier’s Dean of Arts to discuss how NFP issues can be added to the curriculum.

Let’s all work together to support the entry of Young People into the Association Industry.

Danielle S. Russell, CAE is a Senior Association Manager at Association and Events Management a Toronto based AMC (Association Management Company). She is an active volunteer within CSAE as well as the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association. In 2011 Danielle received the inaugural Emerging Talent (Executive) Award from the Trillium Chapter inspiring her to raise her voice on behalf of Young and Emerging Professionals. She holds a BA in Political Science from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Recognition in Achievement in French Conversation from Seneca College. Follow Danielle on twitter @dani__russell or connect on LinkedIn