November 27, 2018
It’s an exciting and challenging time to be in the association community. Industries, professions, workplaces, and technology—change is everywhere.
Associations benefit from the impact of positive trends, like nearly full employment. But, you also feel the effect of negative trends. Millennials and Gen Zs are carrying a heavy burden of student loan debt. Boomers can’t afford to retire. The competition for jobs is heating up, as is the need to learn new skills. As The Economist predicted last year, “Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.”
It’s no surprise the interest in certifications is growing. Professionals are seeking ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. Certifications allow them to show their mastery of in-demand skills and knowledge—and they give your association a steady stream of non-dues revenue.
Before we go any further, let’s get a few definitions out of the way. What’s the difference between certifications and certificate programs?
A certification is a validation of a professional’s experience, knowledge, and competencies. For example, the CAE certification is awarded to those who meet education and experience requirements, and have passed an exam proving their competency in association management. Certifications usually must be renewed every few years by showing proof of additional continuing education.
A certificate program provides instruction. The student is awarded a certificate upon successfully completing the educational program and proving mastery of the skills and/or knowledge taught.
Get to know the competitors in the lifelong learning market for your members’ attention, time, and money. Associations have traditionally been the first place members look for professional development but other non- and for-profit organizations have discovered your market’s potential.
Colleges and universities are under fire for producing graduates who don’t have the skills employers want. The viability of expensive and time-consuming degree programs is being questioned. Higher education institutions have realized they’re out of step with the new lifelong learning model. They now offer professional development programs, such as bootcamps and credentialing programs, that focus on specific skill sets.
When MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) entered the market, everyone thought these free courses were a cool idea. But now, Udemy, Udacity, LinkedIn, Coursera, and EdX, to name a few, are a big business. These online learning providers offer cheap certificate, nanodegree, and other credentialing programs.
As young professionals try to break into the workplace, they’re discovering their college education didn’t provide the skills they need to get their first “real” job or to get promoted. They need to build the professional skills and soft skills required to succeed in their industry.
Associations have the opportunity to provide what these young professionals value:
Be there now for young professionals, and you’ll lay the foundation for deeper relationships and loyalty throughout their career.
But don’t ignore your GenX and Boomer members. Many of them need your help as they transition from one life phase to another. Parents return to the workforce. Laid off employees seek new jobs and new careers. People shifting their careers need to enhance their skills so they remain employable as their jobs and industries change—a growing trend with the increasing impact of AI and automation.
Employers have skills gaps to worry about. They need an educational partner in their industry who can help them identify professionals who have the necessary skills to fill those gaps.
Certificate programs and certifications are the answer to many of the challenges facing young and seasoned professionals, as well as employers.
Your association already has a reputation as a provider of information and education. Your members, attendees, and customers have chosen to have relationships with you. You should have the advantage over higher education and MOOCs when it comes to your professional community’s lifelong learning needs.
You are in the best position to help your members manage their lifelong learning journey. You can help them track their educational history and credits. Even better, you can provide the certifications and certificate programs they (and their employers) need.
You’ll solve their challenges while tackling one of your own too: the non-dues revenue challenge. Certifications bring in application, prep course, exam, and renewal fees. Plus, certified professionals need to find their education somewhere—why not from you?
People who earn certificates and certifications will have a deeper connection to your association. Professional development is empowering. It engages members on an emotional level. Your association should be the one who facilitates this transformative experience for your members and others in your professional community.