Bridging the Education to Employment Gap: Where Can I Learn More?

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn a little bit about the disruption affecting education, the changes in the employment market (both in the US and world-wide), the “wicked” problem that perfect storm has created, and how Shelly Alcorn and I think associations are uniquely positioned to respond, what if you’d like to learn more?

We’ve got you covered.

  1. Download The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm white paper. Remember: it’s free! In addition to delving deeply into the various topics I’ve raised on the blog this week, it’s also includes association case studies, an extensive bibliography, and questions and discussion ideas you can use with your team or volunteer leaders.
  2. Listen to the Tagoras Leading Learning podcast, The New Education Paradigm, we recorded earlier this month with Celisa Steele, where we discuss the crisis impacting education and how associations could and should respond.
  3. Join us on Monday, September 12 at noon ET for a free webinar, Bridging the Education to Employment Gap, sponsored and hosted by Comm Partners, where Shelly and I will share highlights from our research into the dramatic changes affecting the realms of both education and employment, why we believe these changes represent such a tremendous opportunity for associations, and real stories of associations that are fully embracing their role in nurturing the next generation of professionals and members. The webinar also provides 1 CAE credit.
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What Should Associations Do to Bridge the Education to Employment Gap?

If you’ve been persuaded by the information I’ve shared about The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm the past few days that we do have a large-scale problem that associations are uniquely equipped to address (and I hope you have), the next question is: where do we start?

(fourth post of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm release week)

Shelly and I have some advice to offer:

  • Adopt a strategic approach (which is generally good advice for just about any problem)
  • Conduct ongoing and in-depth workforce analysis (and we have some specific tips how to do that)
  • Clearly define actual competencies needed (stop the “degree as proxy” madness!)
  • Clearly define career pathways
  • Familiarize yourself with new learning technologies
  • Professionalize content delivery (no, it’s not OK to rely on volunteers for everything all the time – you may have to pay some people)
  • Consider certification
  • Create effective alliances (you don’t have to go it alone)

Not sure what that would all look like? Remember that we also provide case studies of associations doing good work in these areas:

  • HR Certification Institute
  • Maryland Association of CPAs
  • National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses
  • Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants

Find out more about how to do good while doing well in addressing this critical socioeconomic issue by downloading your free copy of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm at, no divulging of information about yourself required.

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The Association Advantage

Yesterday, I mentioned that associations have some inherent advantages in bridging the education to employment gap for the audiences we serve. What are they?

(third post of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm release week)

  • Direct connection to employers
  • Experience with certification and credentialing
  • Market opportunity provided by our non-profit status
  • Experience with non-traditional students and learning environments

You can find out  more about how Shelly Alcorn, my co-author, and I think associations can leverage these unique skills by downloading your free copy of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm at, no divulging of information about yourself required.

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Disruption in Education

What are some of the forces impacting education in 2016?

(second post of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm release week)

  • Incorporating technological advances in the classroom
  • Decreasing public funding
  • Increasing class sizes
  • High-stakes testing in K-12
  • Exploding student debt
  • Decreasing on-time college and university graduation rates
  • Scandals in for-profit education
  • Skills gaps and lack of agreement on the purpose of higher education
  • Disconnection between learning outcomes and required workforce KSAs

These forces combine to produce the statistics I cited yesterday: while more than 73 million young people, worldwide, are unemployed, in the US alone, 32% of employers can’t find qualified workers.

Shelly Alcorn, my co-author, and I believe associations are uniquely positioned to help address this gap. I’ll share more about how later this week, or you can find out now by downloading your free copy of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm at, no divulging of information about yourself required.


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The Perfect Storm

I’d like to share some sobering statistics about higher education and employment:

  • In the United States, students graduate from college with an average debt load of nearly $29,000.
  • Total student debt in the U.S. is $1.23 trillion and rising.
  • 47% of college-educated workers under 25 work in jobs
    that do not require a college degree.
  • Worldwide, 73.3 million people under the age of 25 are unemployed,
    representing 36.7% of total global unemployment.
  • In the United States in 2015, 32% of employers reported
    struggling to find qualified workers.
  • By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the United States will require some
    form of postsecondary education or training.
  • By 2020, the shortfall of postsecondary-educated Americans will
    approach 20 million.
  • 47% of jobs in the United States will be significantly impacted by artificial intelligence and automation within the next decade.

Over the next week, I’ll be blogging about and sharing excerpts from The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm, the eighth white paper in the ongoing Spark collaborative series.

Written with Shelly Alcorn, CAE (Alcorn Associates Management Consulting), the white paper reviews research on the disruptions currently affecting both K-12 and postsecondary education, talks about the future of a workforce impacted by skills gaps and automation, and details what Shelly and I believe to be inherent association advantages in being part of the solution to this significant global socioeconomic problem.

The white paper also features sidebars by Tracy Petrillo, EdD, CAE, Chief Learning Officer, EDUCAUSE (and recent recipient of ASAE’s Professional Performance Award), discussing Competency-Based Education, and by Polly Siobhan Karpowicz,MBA, CAE, ASAE Research Committee, on new research the ASAE Foundation is undertaking in this area.

We also share case studies of organizations doing excellent work preparing their audiences for the future of employment:

  • HR Certification Institute
  • Maryland Association of CPAs
  • National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses
  • Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants

The white paper concludes with practical advice for associations that are eager to get started reshaping education, the employment market, and lifetime learning for the professions and industries you serve.

I’ll be blogging more about the white paper this week, but in the meantime, download your free copy of The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm at, no divulging of information about yourself required.

And don’t forget to check out the other FREE Spark whitepapers, too:

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What REALLY Drives Success for Your Association?

Information overload – we all experience it personally, every day, with our emails and Signal versus noisesocial media feeds and online media and print media and broadcast media, and that’s hard enough to manage. But in 2016, our associations ALSO struggle with information overload. We have many rich sources of data about our members, our other audiences, and our operations that we can mine in a dizzying variety of ways, so many, in fact, that it can be almost impossible to separate the signal from the noise.

On July 19, Trevor Mitchell (American MENSA) and I had the opportunity to address this topic for DMAW’s Lunch and Learn series, presenting “Defining and Using KPIs for Measurability and Success.”

We started the hour-long webinar by talking about the importance of discovering what REALLY drives success for your association. It’s not always the most obvious thing. For instance, in associations, we often focus on member count, and up is always good, right? But if you have a limited universe of potential members, or you’re recruiting marginal members that lead to a lot of churn, maybe constantly increasing membership isn’t actually a KPI for your association – maybe something like market share (that is, what percentage of your overall universe is involved) or member share (that is, how involved are your existing members) would be a better choice.

We also covered the four key categories of KPIs, the siren song of vanity metrics (and how to avoid it), and the importance of measuring what really counts, all illustrated by Trevor’s stories of MENSA’s journey toward identifying their KPIs and using them to drive decisions and create change.

The full recording is now available for free download, so you can learn how to make sense of your data options and identify the levers to push that will genuinely move your association forward.


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Catch Spark at #ASAE16

I’ll be presenting two sessions at the upcoming ASAE Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City in a I'm Speaking ASAE 2016 Annual Meetingfew weeks:

  • Unsession: The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm, Sunday, August 14
  • Deep Dive: The Lean Startup Changes Everything, Tuesday, August 16

For the unsession, join me and Shelly Alcorn (Alcorn Associates) for a town hall-style discussion of how associations are being impacted by and can in turn impact trends in education and employment. Both of these sectors are undergoing profound disruption, and we believe associations are uniquely positioned to play a vital role in helping our current and future stakeholders adjust and even thrive in this rapidly changing environment.

In this unsession, we’ll share a preview of our soon-to-be released whitepaper, The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm (yep, the next Spark white paper is about to drop, y’all!). We’ll highlight some of the latest research on this topic, identify what we see as association advantages in these areas, and share the stories of associations that are doing good work preparing their audiences for the future.

We plan to challenge your thinking about the role associations can play in bridging the education to employment gap. We’ll have some questions for you, and we hope you’ll have some for us. Our goal is to have a productive dialogue that opens all of our eyes to some new possibilities for benefitting our members, our other stakeholders, and society at large.

We’ll be in one of the pop up session pods, probably around 3:30 Sunday afternoon.

For the Deep Dive session, join me and Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) for a full 90 minute session on lean startup methodology.

There’s no bigger waste than investing resources working on the wrong thing. Lean startup is a development approach that requires articulating and testing assumptions, favors rapid experimentation over elaborate planning, relies on customer feedback over intuition, and encourages iterative design, all in the service of ensuring you’re investing in the right thing.

It’s based on our October 2015 white paper Innovate the Lean Way: Applying Lean Startup Methodology in the Association Environment, and because we have a deep dive session, we’ll have time to work through a multi-part exercise, using the lean canvas, where attendees will get to work with lean concepts like the MVP, The One Metric That Matters, and the Pivot, so you can learn to apply this technique in your own organization to eliminate waste, validate your learning, and innovate faster and more successfully.

The deep dive session will be in Salt Palace room 255E from 9 – 10:30 am on Tuesday.

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2016: An Association Blogging and Podcasting Odyssey

I’ve been blogging about association management since 2008 – and I was far from the first one into the pool. I remember participating in my first bloggercon at ASAE in a sunny plaza in San Diego in 2008, shortly after I’d launched Thanks For Playing, the precursor to the Spark blog, with about 30 other association professionals, sharing our thoughts about how to use this new platform to strengthen our industry and our community.

Eight years later, association professionals are STILL blogging – and podcasting – to help our organizations be the best they can be at helping our members and other stakeholders achieve their most important goals and solve their most pressing problems, serving the needs of the industries and professions we represent, and providing public benefit.

On Tuesday, July 19, KiKi L’Italian gathered a who’s-who of association bloggers and podcasters to #Assnchat about how things have changed in the past decade, how the platforms themselves have morphed, how the ways we use them have shifted, how our audiences and their goals have grown, and how to be effective in creating and sharing content.

Topics of debate and discussion included:

  • How do you create posts that go viral (which included a major debate about PDFs: Evil v. Really, Really Evil)?
  • What about the reverse: what happens when you love a story and no one else does?
  • How do you market and promote posts successfully?
  • How do you create good writing habits?
  • What are your favorite tools for creating content?
  • Why did you start creating and sharing content? How has that changed – or remained the same – today?
  • How do you deal with on-the-spot tech glitches and problems (particularly relevant for podcasters)?
  • How do you cover the cost of content creation? (Do you cover the cost?)
  • How do you manage guest bloggers and other outside content contributors?
  • How does content creation evolve over time?
  • What impact have you had?
  • Where do you get your inspiration?

Missed it? No worries: you can watch/listen to the whole thing online.

Participants included:

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Is Growth Necessarily Good?

For membership associations, total membership count tends to be one of the key pieces of data we report to our senior leadership, our Board, and often publicly. And up is always better, right?

Not necessarily.

First of all, to quote the Spark/Mariner Getting to the ‘Good Stuff’: Evidence-Based Decision Making for Associations:

More members may be better up to a point, but beyond that you risk bringing in marginal members whose commitment to your mission is incidental at best, whose contribution to your community will be minimal, and whose acquisition and renewal costs will exceed their marginal revenue. In other words, they’ll be a drain on your association’s resources.

(Joe Rominiecki talked about this concept recently in Associations Now, too.)

This is all focused on growing your market share, that is, getting more customers.

But there’s also the concept of growing your customer share, that is, getting your customers to have a larger relationship with you – to buy more stuff and be more involved.

Harvard Business Review recently highlighted this same trend in looking at “super consumers.”

“But my most involved members already are, well, really involved. They aren’t going to buy more, are they?”

Actually, they will. To quote HBR:

…superconsumers represent 10% of a category’s customers but account for 30% to 70% of sales and an even higher share of profits.

Admittedly, their study focused on consumer brands. But it reiterates a message associations would benefit from, one that I’ve written about before:

Assume you have 10,000 members. Your annual meeting regularly sees 500 attendees, at $500 a pop. Based on past attendance, your actual number of prospective attendees is about 1,000. And you have a $10,000 marketing budget.

Most of us proceed to blast undifferentiated messages out to the entire 10,000 members. Which means we can spend $1 per member trying to get people to our conference. What if, instead, we focused that $10,000 and our staff time ONLY on the 1000 prospects who are likely to attend? All of a sudden, we’re only managing 1000 contacts, not 10,000, and we have $10 per prospect to market the conference. What if those focused, high-impact messages aimed only at truly likely attendees could increase conference attendance from 500 to 700? At $500 a head, that’s an additional $100,000.

In other words, pay more attention to your super consumers, who are, again according to HBR:

…defined by both economics and attitude: They are a subset of heavy users who are highly engaged with a category and a brand. They are especially interested in innovative uses for the product and in new variations on it. They aren’t particularly price sensitive. (emphasis added)

These are the people who aren’t just members or attendees or readers – they LOVE your association and are willing to offer their time, expertise, and innovative ideas to make it better.

What are you doing to find them, to nurture them, and to let them know you appreciate them? Maybe if we all got off our “growth in (marginal?) membership, no matter what” hamster wheels, we could find out.


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Do You Know How to Be A Member?

YAY! You just got a new member! Hopefully, she’ll acclimate and find her place and stay Welcome Matwith you forever.

Wait: “hopefully”? We can do better than that.

Here’s the question you need to ask yourself: does your new member know how to be a member of your organization?

Of course not, right? She’s new. She knows enough about you to have been willing to invest her money in joining. Now you need to help her learn how to make the most of that investment. You have to welcome her, make her feel at home, and show her how to be a member.

  1. Make it personal. Someone who’s not on staff (i.e. another member, aka one of her peers) needs to call her or drop her an email welcoming her and sharing some insight from a member perspective on what membership means and offers. (This, by the way, presents a GREAT opportunity to engage ad hoc/micro-volunteers.)
  2. Get her started right. What’s the first most important thing she needs to know right away? That should be the SOLE focus of the first communication from staff (well, other than the confirmation of her membership, of course). Related to that…
  3. Don’t drop everything on her all at once. What does your “welcome to Association XYZ” communication look like? Is it a long list of “member benefits” (too often presented as features and from the association’s perspective) that she’s supposed to plow through? Try introducing one thing at a time with concrete examples of how other members use it, explaining why they like it in their words (testimonials, examples, case studies).
  4. Benefits not features. “Association XYZ produces the leading annual conference in our field…”? No. “Earn free continuing education credits when you come to our annual conference. We’re excited to feature speakers and topics like:…” Yes!
  5. Don’t ask her for more money – at least not right away. She just joined – the first thing she hears from you shouldn’t be “now spend MORE with us on our book/webinar/conference/whatever.” She’s still figuring out if her initial investment is going to be worthwhile. Don’t try to get her to sink more money in before she’s even sussed that out. It’s just rude.
  6. Ask about her. What’s the main reason she joined? You need to know that so you can focus on delivering it to her, and then remind her that you did deliver it when it comes time to renew. What are her most important professional goals for the year? What are the biggest challenges she’s facing? What do you offer that can help her achieve those goals and resolve those challenges?
  7. Pay attention. As you’re doing your drip campaign introducing benefits, what does she respond to? Did she ignore your email about your new book but click immediately on a link to a webinar? That gives you some valuable information about what she might be interested in. Oh: and don’t just assume “she likes webinars and hates books.” Maybe it was the topic of the book versus the topic of the webinar. That’s something else you can try to find out.
  8. Stay in touch. You’re trying to develop a relationship here, one that you want to last over the long term. You don’t do that by ignoring the other party for a year (or, worse, bombarding her with tone-deaf marketing messages about things she’s not interested in), and then asking her for more money. You need to stay in touch on a personal and non-financial basis throughout the year. Ask her how things are going. Check in to see if she has questions. Remind her of what’s included in her membership. Get volunteers to reach out. You know, actually develop an actual relationship as if you’re an actual person and so is she. Then, when that renewal invoice does arrive, her decision will be an easy one, and you’ll have a successful renewal.

Thanks to and one of my clients for inspiring this post.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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