Since my college days, I’ve always been an involved member of professional development groups – specifically in public relations since that’s my field of expertise. I was never prompted by someone else to join these organizations – I just figured it would help me be more prepared for my career. I just made sense to me to be a member.
Fast forward to now, last week I hosted a full-day student conference as part of my service to my chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). While I found the experience rewarding, I definitely encountered more obstacles than I would have thought. The primary obstacle being that membership in our affiliated student chapters (Public Relations Student Society of America) is significantly less than where it was event 5-6 years ago, which made communicating to potential attendees more difficult.
Despite having to work more diligently to reach students, our committee was able make the right connections and we ended up having great attendance for a successful event. But it raised – in my mind – a very important question. Do people see value in being members of professional development organizations?
Motivational speaker Shannon Oleen speaks at the PRSSA Summit on generational differences in the workplace.
Through planning the event, I heard from peers and educators across various communications fields that membership in professional and student organizations is down. Some attribute it to a sluggish economy in which companies are less willing to pay for memberships and events. But some attribute it to a change in how students and professionals develop their careers. I think it can in part be attributed to organizations not properly communicating the value they bring to the industries they serve.
The truth is organizations like PRSA (or other membership-based organizations) do bring value to their respective industries and here’s how:
They serve as an open source for industry knowledge.
Need advice or insight into a problem? Ask your industry peers if they’ve faced similar issues. Most professional development organizations are filled with members who are willing to help out a fellow peer.
They provide opportunities for mentoring of upcoming professionals.
Right out of school, the mentoring I received from more experienced members was invaluable to me as I navigated the first few years of my career. It helped me to hear from others who had gone through similar experiences before.
They provide support for independent practitioners.
In the public relations industry at least, there is a large segment of freelancers or independent PR practitioners. Within our chapter membership, we have a solid Solo Pros group that lean on each other for the type of support a larger company would offer.
They provide professional standards for industry professionals.
Professional organizations truly earn their spot in industries by setting the bar for standards and ethics within the industry – answering the tough questions of how certain situations should be handled correctly.
They provide training opportunities for further education.
Whether it’s webinars, monthly lunch and learns, one-day workshops, or multi-day conferences, industry organizations are the backbone of continuing education for their members. This is where those who can’t go back to school continue to learn more about their trade.
They serve as an outlet for members to volunteer and give back.
If you hadn’t noticed, the human species likes to volunteer their time and give back to the communities in which they reside and work. The same can be said about an industry community. For example, I am passionate about helping students transition from graduation to their first career stop. So I volunteered to host a student event about that specifically. PRSA provided that opportunity.
Aside from the benefits for individuals and their careers, companies can also benefit from encouraging employees to become involved with these organizations. For starters, it can keep your employees up-to-date on the latest industry trends. But beyond that it demonstrates that your company values employees who want to grow and expand their knowledge base. Supporting professional development is great way to develop and retain highly-talented employees.