The Career Retention Business

BY Jeff Cobb

15071397 - businessman walking on a great career path

A colleague on a board I serve on commented recently that he’s not sure how to keep millennials in their job for 18 months, much less get them involved in an association. It’s a concern I’ve heard echoed by numerous association executives and board members, but I think it is one that is largely misplaced. Certainly, employers need to worry about retaining their employees – millennials or otherwise – but the focus of associations should not be job retention, it should be career retention.

Indeed, I’d argue that, career retention should be a core part of the strategy of most associations – along with, of course, career attraction and career development.

Most adults these days are participants in what I have called “the other 50 years,” the period that stretches from the end of any higher education we obtain to the end of our careers. Arguably, associations are better positioned than any other institution – more than colleges and universities, more than employers – to stay connected with individuals as they traverse this time span. (See 3 Reasons Why Associations Should Lead Lifelong Learning for further thoughts on this.) The opportunity (and challenge) for associations is to show a road for career growth that – and here’s the kicker – the organization can actually support.


The Other 50 Years

This is a perspective that, not surprisingly, jibes well with our view that organizations need to develop a compelling value story using tools like the Value Ramp. Organizations need to clearly present what a potential career looks like, where the prospective learner fits in, and the educational opportunities the organization offers to support the career path.

Clearly present” is a key action in that previous sentence: many organizations implicitly understand that a focus on careers is important, but offer nothing in the way of a career education roadmap on their Web site or other marketing materials. I’ve noted before (in Leading the Learning Revolution, for example) that I think Raleigh, NC-based CAI does this well with how it articulates and visualizes its Management Advantage program. Review the graphic on CAI’s site, (also – smartly – available as a downloadable PDF), and you can’t help but have a reasonably clear view of career stages and the education CAI provides to support them.

This isn’t rocket science, of course. Very often organizations get bogged down in the possibilities and politics of presenting a career path. It requires a certain level of risk and the possibility – indeed, the certainty – that not every member perspective is going to be represented equally. In short, it requires leadership. But it is also more and more of a necessity. If you are unable to be clear and compelling in how you present career options, your product strategy is bound to be muddled, and enrollments will suffer.

One final, but critical, note: all of this goes beyond simply using terms like professional development or even offering a certification program. The former is inherently vague, thus contributing to, rather than curing the problem, and the latter tends to be communicated and perceived as a stopping point. The same board colleague I mentioned at the beginning of this post also lamented that his organization “treats certification too much like a destination” – meaning it’s not clear where a member can progress to beyond certification, even though there is typically a lot of career to be traversed once certification is complete.

I plan to come back to the topic of the post-certification career path in a later post, but in the meantime, I encourage you to take a hard look at the career story your organization is telling, how clearly you are telling it, and how well, overall, you are supporting career retention.


Photo Credit and Copyright: ximagination / 123RF Stock Photo

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