Skills Gap and AssociationsThere’s a huge skills gap problem facing our nation today, but this crisis represents an opportunity for associations to reinvent themselves and compete with traditional suppliers of higher education.

I was recently asked to present on the skills gap issue and the opportunities it creates for associations at the ASAE Great Ideas conference in Orlando.  There are many facets to the problem. First, while a majority (56%) of the overall labor force is 44 or younger, 53% of all skill-trade jobs are held by older workers.  And as these workers are retiring, the younger generation is not ready to fill these skill-trade positions.

College may not be the answer. While college graduation rates are at an all-time high, a college degree alone may not be the solution.  In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that two-thirds of the 30 fastest growing occupations through 2022 will not even required postsecondary education for entry. So even as this next generation is graduating with record high financial aid debt, they still lack the skills needed to get a job.

Skills gap isn’t a “someday” problem. Already, according to the “2013 Talent Shortage Survey” by the Manpower Group, 39% of employers report hiring challenges caused by talent shortages.

How do these problems represent an opportunity for associations? Digitec has been talking about our vision for the ””  What’s that mean? In this post, I wanted to paint the picture for how associations can help close the skills gap and how it can lead to a revival of the association. With association membership declining in many industries, it’s time to leverage the value of associations to answer the educational needs of members.

Private institutions recognize the opportunities that skill gaps offers.  While traditional colleges have been unable to provide some of the technical trade type training that industry is asking for, these for-profit institutions have been popping up like weeds to provide programs. Yet, these institutions are often diploma mills, turning out graduates who emerge with financial aid debt and low job placement rates.  It’s not difficult to understand why. These institutions may not have the qualified staff to provide the right instruction. They lack the industry knowledge, the real-world content and the networking opportunities that lead to jobs.

The concept behind the is to launch online association universities, with course offerings that results in certifications and actual jobs their industries need.  By leveraging association volunteers working in the industry, the association can provide expertise, the content and the connections. This model could harken back to the successful apprentice, journeyman, and master style of learning that is so needed in professional development today.

How to…

Building an association university is a long-term vision, certainly not an endeavor that will manifest overnight.

I’d recommend surveying your existing membership to identify the most critical skills gaps. Then assemble a committee to create specific learning outcomes to answer those needs:

• What would the graduate need to be able to know or do as a result of the learning experience?
• How will you measure acquiring these skills? Portfolio? Examination? Practical observation?
• Where does the content reside to create this course?
• Who are the Subject Matter Experts within your association?

In our experience, it’s best to go for a quick homerun. Rather than design an entire curriculum, start with a more scaled down certificate program that you know is critical to your members. Then, work with an instructional designer who can help pull the pieces together, designing and creating the courses, assessment tools and evaluation measures. Then present the results to your board. Once they see these successes, they’ll be more likely to buy into the vision.

The shifts happening in industry today are causing great disruption. Some associations are seeing this disruption as a real problem for a consistent membership-based model that has served them well for many years. But it’s time associations recognize that change is inevitable. It’s time to recognize these challenges as the opportunities they represent for a rebirth in associations. If associations can respond, this disruption could be good for the industries they serve, good for this lost generation of the un- and under-employed, and good for the economy as a whole.

Want to know more about filling the skills gap and offering member continuing education, check out our resources page. 

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