5 ways your trade association can help with recruitment and retention

Giles Sutton, Senior Vice President Success & Sales, CEDIA

Finding and retaining talent has never been so challenging. Quit rates are the highest they’ve ever been, and McKinsey reports that 40% of workers are considering leaving their current job in the next three to six months. Everyone is looking for greener pastures in all sectors, functions and education levels. In turn, many entrepreneurs fear a personnel crisis or are already dealing with a personnel crisis.

Companies often rely on industry associations to help develop their workforce. They want to see training programs in schools, flyers in career counseling offices and youth counseling programs. These are crucial activities, but they are long-term games. Entrepreneurs now need help hiring and retaining people — and their industry association is one of their best sources for immediate help.


There are two sides to staff development: attracting talent and retaining people once they join. The latter is arguably even more important than the former: Replacing lost employees is expensive, and the more experienced and productive an employee is, the more it hurts to see them leave.

You can’t buy employee loyalty. According to Gallup, intention to look for a new job is better predicted by engagement than pay. Trade associations are designed to help companies build relational benefits, such as a sense of belonging and mindshare opportunities, in addition to transactional benefits such as rewards and bonuses. It turns out that employees value this much more than most employers think. Here are five ways companies can use their industry associations to find new talent and retain the people they have.

1. Raise the bar and lower costs with club training.

Most small and medium business owners do not have the resources and bandwidth to develop documented training programs. Employees are expected to ‘learn on the job’. That’s true, but it’s not particularly scalable, replicable, or consistent.

Your industry association is a shortcut to consistent, vetted training. Association programs work as a complement to internal and other industry training. While they don’t address individual company policies or brand-specific processes, they do have a few unique benefits:

• Availability: Your association almost certainly has globally accessible online training opportunities and may also offer regional in-person training of departments or members.

• Validity: Associations gather input from hundreds of industry experts and professional curriculum designers to turn that raw information into effective training.

• Where the: Your membership of your association probably includes large discounts on training. If you use these resources well enough, they often pay the costs of membership of an association themselves.

• Cultural capital: By enrolling your employees in third-party training, you show that you are investing in their success.

That last point is essential. How your employees experience the professional development opportunities you provide is a big factor in whether or not they stay.

2. Make professional progress personally meaningful.

In-house training and product training primarily benefits the company: the things the employee learns makes them better at their job, but they don’t necessarily translate elsewhere. Association training benefits the individual by giving the employee skills that are applicable throughout the industry. Ironically, this increased mobility means employees are more likely to stay where they are.

Training that focuses on personal development increases employee engagement significantly more than training that focuses on the specific needs of the company, resulting in a longer tenure. Employees too value training they choose compared to compulsory courses – another advantage for the relatively large course catalogs of associations.

3. Crowdsource your job design.

Workforce evolution also requires companies to evolve the roles they hire to meet the demands of a changing industry. How you define your job roles matters greater role in staff development than most people realize. It is difficult to attract and retain quality candidates for jobs that are not satisfying and do not have a clear path for progress.

If your association offers certifications, they may have performed a “job task analysis” (JTA) for your industry that you can use as a spec sheet to develop job descriptions. Better yet, if those certifications are accredited to ANSI/ISO standards, the JTA is updated every three years so it can help you assess what new skills or roles you may need to hire.

4. Give employees the opportunity to connect.

Encourage employees to participate in volunteering and other association events. These in-person events help employees deepen their connection to the industry and your company. As they gain confidence and experience, there may be opportunities for your employees to: offer training under the banner of the association, giving your company more exposure – and not coincidentally, making it easier for you to recruit.

5. Show top recruits what they’re missing.

Many associations have an annual event – a conference, trade show, or membership meeting – that is the industry’s most valued opportunity to connect. While coveted for current employees, these events can also be powerful recruiting tools.

At the annual meeting of your association, the full breadth of your industry is discussed. If you have a hot prospect you’re eager to bring in, bringing them to this event can seal the deal. With the entire industry in front of them, they may find that a career with your company looks very appealing indeed.

Bonus perk: build a bigger tent

Building the best workforce possible means making your company and industry attractive to any qualified candidate. It can help to use your association’s training and certifications as a benchmark in the promotion process. Third-party training allows employees to develop in an environment of psychological safety, where success is always rewarded, but there is no danger of being judged for not knowing everything already.

A well-trained, highly engaged workforce benefits the entire industry. Partnering with your association to invest in your own workforce will give you a head start in recruitment and retention. If your association thinks globally, you win locally.

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