Workforces at the Crossroads: Thriving Associations in a Changing Professional World 

Unique pressures on professional workforces are changing the landscape for associations. Association leaders need precise insights into their own members to provide the right support. 

By Christine Saunders, CM

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New realities have emerged across professions such as medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, and engineering, and a new generation of workers are challenging traditional approaches to work. Young professionals are not willing to accept the status quo. And while the macro trends often sound similar, research demonstrates that they manifest in unique, complex ways for different professions. 

Issues Manifest in Profoundly Different Ways 

Burnout and worker retention are common points of discussion in associations. Let’s look at two similar professions to see how this manifests differently: 

  • 58% of respondents to a pharmacy association’s research agreed that staffing and human resources-related issues were their number one challenge, followed closely by burnout (53%), and reduced work-life balance (49%). 
  • 90% of a family medicine association’s research respondents agreed that workplace issues have negatively affected the number of patients they can see, and 70% had considered leaving or scaling back their services. 

Young professionals are questioning whether the value of professional designations is worth the cost and stress to obtain them. But again, the results of this questioning vary radically. 

  • 43% of engineering graduates in one research study had gone on to work in non-engineering professions rather than pursue licensure as a professional engineer. 
  • Qualitative research with members of a veterinary medical association found that many young veterinarians were drowning in debt. One interviewee noted about veterinary school: “…if I could go back in time, with all the knowledge that I have now, I would never do it again.” 

The data clearly shows the different challenges — and nuanced responses required — to these pressing professional issues. 

Many Examples of Nuanced Responses to Pressure 

Nuanced variations in professional workforce pressures were revealed in areas such as the following: 

  • Demanding clients: Public-facing professionals are facing skyrocketing demand and increasing complexity in their client interactions. 
  • Diversity: The importance of creating welcoming spaces for diverse professionals is increasing at different paces across professions. 
  • Scopes of practice: As scopes evolve, they impact career satisfaction, but how depends significantly on the profession. 

Solutions for Forward-thinking Associations 

Associations must bridge the gap between current member support models and new workforce pressures. Declining member numbers and reduced volunteer contributions are just two common symptoms of associations failing to meet evolving needs.  

Our research shows that associations should take the following four steps: 

  1. Own the problem for your profession. Be a convenor of solutions. 
  1. Conduct regular empathy-mapping exercises with your board to deeply understand the needs and wants of diverse member personas. Use these maps and insights to establish strategic benchmarking and innovative new programs. 
  1. Bridge generational gaps. Recognize, amplify, and accommodate diverse expectations across generations. Foster inclusivity and understanding to harness the collective wisdom of multi-generational membership.  
  1. Engage market research specialists. Don’t do the same old member benefits survey — examine your research strategy and insist it is forward-looking and focused on the trends impacting your profession and association. 

Want to Learn More? 

Every profession has unique challenges. Halmyre’s Voice of the Member research can help develop the solutions your members need. Visit https://info.halmyre.com/workforces-at-the-crossroads for more information. 

About the Author

Christine Saunders, CM, is an Association Forum member and the President & Founder of Halmyre, a marketing strategy firm serving association clients throughout North America. Contact Christine at csaunders@halmyre.com. 

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