A Little Something About 20-somethings

smartphoneFor over a decade, I have been attending standards and technology-focused events sponsored by client associations as well as forums hosted by venerable U.S. and global standards-focused organizations. These meetings are by and large fairly homogenous gatherings of standards professionals with deep experience in standards and who are skilled at representing their companies’ interests in industry alliances and consortia. For most, it’s definitely not their first “rodeo.” 

In talking to these individuals, I’ve found many who share a deep concern that standards-focused organizations are “graying” and that in order to sustain and grow their groups, they need to attract a younger, more diverse membership.  At Virtual, we are often asked by our clients “what can we do to attract younger members and get them more involved?”  In looking at how to attract younger members, it’s useful to take a look at what drives millennials (who are primarily in their mid- to late 20’s and 30’s) and how that might affect their participation. 

  1. In general, millennials are not “joiners” in the same way that baby boomers have been, either socially or for business purposes. Traditional “clubs” don’t appeal to them (be they “Unions” or “Lions”).  They are, however, highly social, both electronically and in person. They actively want to stay connected to their peers and extended groups of acquaintances. 
  2. They have grown up with technology, they’re comfortable using it and they expect it to work flawlessly.  They have no patience with old school applications that are cumbersome, awkward or haven’t been optimized for mobile. 
  3. They have positive attitudes toward collaboration in their personal lives and generally believe that problems can best be solved collectively. 
  4. Millennials generally have high ideals; they get behind products and services that they feel will make a difference in their lives and others’. They are more globally centric and inclusive than their predecessors: diversity is an assumption. 
  5. They have grown up in a time when jobs were hard to find; they appreciate their work environment and the need to continue to grow and advance their careers.

In looking at how millennials see the world, there seems to be a natural synergy with the development of technology standards, which requires extensive collaboration and strong technical skills, with the goal to provide a more consistent experience for companies and consumers of commercial products. That being said, to interest and attract younger members can be a daunting task.

Here are some thoughts and recommendations for technology and standards-based organizations interested in taking up the challenge. 

1. Take a Hard Look in the Mirror  

  • Would YOU find your group a stimulating and welcoming organization if you were a 28-year-young engineer or marketeer?
  • Are you using state-of-the-art tools for collaboration work and member communication? If not, are you due for a refresh?
  • Are your website and infrastructure optimized for Mobile?  Are Social Media a part of your communications infrastructure?
  • If your website has photography and/or video content, is there a mix of ages, genders and culture backgrounds represented?
  • Are your board and committee leadership committed to recruiting new younger members? And then getting them integrated into the fabric of the organization (offering opportunities for leadership, join a committee, etc.)?
  • Is there budget available for special programs or new member events that you could invite prospective members to attend? 

2. Set Reasonable Goals 

  • Based on where you are, if your group’s age averages 50+ it may not be feasible to immediately attract 20-somethings. Start by reaching out to prospects in their 40’s and move down the age curve as appropriate.
  • The objectives should be focused on keeping younger members by providing them opportunities to get involved and in creating an environment that would incent them to invite peers to participate. 

3. Reach Out  

  • Host a prospect night or special event and have existing members do outreach to more junior members in their organization – younger people with appropriate skills or job responsibilities who could bring value to the effort. Use this as a chance for prospective members to get a good feeling for the organization and to network with age-appropriate peers from other companies. It’s a great opportunity for younger members to grow their personal networks.
  • Offer introductory training session(s) for members new to participating in a standards organization so they feel comfortable with the process, tools, etc.  If someone hasn’t been involved with this type of organization before, it can be daunting.
  • Encourage member companies to raise the issue internally in their own companies about how to attract new talent to work on standards initiatives.
  • Explore opportunities for mentorship and encourage younger members to participate in helping to proliferate the standards and gain exposure to global standards-setting organizations.  

One example of an industry outreach program is the IEC-sponsored Young Professionals Workshop designed to attract young engineers to get more involved in standards work.   

If you are intrigued by these ideas and would like to investigate putting them into action, Virtual can work with your leadership team to assess your current organizational composition. Then we can help you develop an action plan to start attracting new and younger members, so that your organization can take advantage of the energy and new ideas that a diverse membership brings.

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Andy Freed
President & CEO

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