In the educational landscape, associations have an important role to play in helping learners become job-ready.By learners, I don’t just mean those at the start of their professional careers, but also those at a later stage looking to make a change in career paths. We can find them in our staff, our members, and just about everywhere. We never stop learning, do we?

While higher education is the traditional medium to develop skills and to advance in your career, associations provide a different solution. In some ways, we even compete with higher education institutions.

HOW CAN ASSOCIATIONS CATER TO LEARNERS?

First, let’s look at gap analysis. What is it? In its simplest, most purest form, it’s about understanding the actual performance against the potential or desired performance. Basically, associations want to spray some association foam to fill that gap, to fill every crevice and nook and cranny between where learners are and where they want to go.

They need to identify what knowledge, skills, and abilities learners need in order to:

A) Get a specific job or,

B) Advance in the career ladder or get a promotion.

For example, there seems to be a gap between theory and practice; what’s being taught in the classroom isn’t necessarily the skills that are needed for candidates to actually be placed and be successful in jobs.Associations can fill that gap. If we look at training for event planning, I know about places that are training the next generation of event planners with professors who aren’t actually planning meetings and events. So they’re not teaching things like negotiating difficult contracts, navigating the wide disparities in hotel WiFi, overcoming room block poachers, and incentivizing attendees inclined to book on Airbnbs rather than in the hotel room block—mainly because those professors haven’t encountered these situations in the real world.

To cater to your learners, it really starts with evaluating your current education portfolio, and then adding programs, products, services that could support learner growth and development, to fill the gaps and to be job-ready. But then, be really clear and intentional about sunsetting programs, products and services that are past their prime. I think we hang on for far too long to things that are no longer a good fit for us and our members. Like Marie Kondo in Tidying Up on Netflix, associations need to fold up some of those things that aren’t serving them well. Thank them, say goodbye and put them in the pile to be donated, and be open and prepared to welcome something new into your space.

The accessibility and the number of ways that associations can provide learning are abundant in terms of delivery platform, model, cost, and content. I like to think that our education portfolio is broadly a mix of not just face to face programs and online learning options, but also resources that communicate value and that help teach our learners and our members. These include learning vehicles such as blogs, newsletters, websites, magazines, podcasts, and the like.

However, this comes with a word of caution. Lately I’ve seen firsthand this overabundance of information and content—we think more is more. But ultimately our learners lose when we adopt this mentality. We challenge them to make sense of the various communications we send or events we hold. To be successful, associations need to become the guide to help learners and job seekers navigate the myriad ways to learn within our organizations. It’s almost like an institution of higher education having an advisor lead learners through the development and implementation of a systematic curriculum plan.

Using gap analysis will help us develop and deploy a more realistic education portfolio that our members actually want (and need!). So instead of taking a stab in the dark in terms of the content we should be offering, let’s leverage this approach. It will help us provide learning opportunities that we know they need and we know they’ll be interested in.

Aaron spoke in the “Mind the Gap: Advancing the Workforce Through Association Education’’ session during SURGE Co-Creation, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on May 1-3rd. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.

Aaron’s obsession with learning traces back to preschool, where a knitted purple people eater taught him important life lessons (like cleaning up after yourself). All these years later, Aaron’s honed his craft and now designs engaging, multisensory learning experiences for association learners, resulting in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, the forging of new relationships, and the application of new ideas and perspectives in the workplace. A serial learner and entrepreneur himself (with an alphabet soup of letters trailing his name), Aaron is nationally recognized for his professional development work with boards, learners, staff and volunteers. Having launched four successful brands – Event Garde (coincidentally reprising his early fascination with purple), Healthy by Association, Review My Speakerand FacilitateMI – Aaron’s equal parts practitioner and theorist. While the hours are long, Aaron ensures there is no shortage of fun amidst the Slack notifications, email pings and video chats – from the personal connections he shares with each client, partner and colleague to the precious moments of free time spent stalking the latest episodes of his favorite true crime podcasts.

Aaron’s obsession with learning traces back to preschool, where a knitted purple people eater taught him important life lessons (like cleaning up after yourself). All these years later, Aaron’s honed his craft and now designs engaging, multisensory learning experiences for association learners, resulting in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, the forging of new relationships, and the application of new ideas and perspectives in the workplace. A serial learner and entrepreneur himself (with an alphabet soup of letters trailing his name), Aaron is nationally recognized for his professional development work with boards, learners, staff and volunteers. Having launched four successful brands – Event Garde (coincidentally reprising his early fascination with purple), Healthy by Association, Review My Speakerand FacilitateMI – Aaron’s equal parts practitioner and theorist. While the hours are long, Aaron ensures there is no shortage of fun amidst the Slack notifications, email pings and video chats – from the personal connections he shares with each client, partner and colleague to the precious moments of free time spent stalking the latest episodes of his favorite true crime podcasts.

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