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Generation Y
Talent Development

Keynote Urges Associations to Solve Global Workforce Crisis

Sarah Sladek issues up a call to action to the global association community to solve the workforce crisis at the Association World Congress.

Yesterday, I was in Vienna for the Associations World Congress. I had the incredible honor of being an opening keynote presenter, and I took the responsibility quite seriously, issuing up a call to action to the global association community to solve the workforce crisis.

The following are excerpts from my speech, which was largely based on my new book, Talent Generation, scheduled to hit shelves in June.

I spent the last year researching the trademarks of the most successful organizations today, and just authored a book on my findings. And it really boils down to this. The 21st century organization does two things exceptionally well; they put people first and they remain future-focused.

Putting people first means prioritizing your talent more than anything. Even profit.

About 20 years ago, as Generation X came of age, associations started to report declining membership.

What happened with membership associations was a preview into what would happen in the workforce. In recent years, there have been countless articles written and studies conducted to try to pinpoint why employee turnover among Millennials is skyrocketing.

There’s a reason why disengagement is happening. Disengagement is happening because younger generations feel like they don’t belong. 

Belonging, by definition, means you have a sense of ownership and a secure relationship.

Successful organizations disregard age or years of experience, to ensure everyone feels empowered and an important and valued part of a team.

People first.

The arrival of the Millennial generation is closely aligned with many powerful economic transitions.  In fact, they came of age alongside six trends that were so influential, they were called economies: Experience Economy, Gig Economy, Knowledge Economy, Sharing Economy, Impact Economy, Digital Economy.

I seriously doubt the arrival of a single generation has ever ushered in this much transition.  There is much to learn and much untapped potential.

Now consider all the developments on the immediate horizon: artificial intelligence, robotics, DNA technology, self-driving cars, the move toward working fewer hours or part-time, the need to revamp education, and so on.

Some people are not made for this pace of change. They get annoyed, they start blaming each other. Others avoid the subject altogether.

But the organizations succeeding in today’s world are those that stay focused on the future, constantly asking: How do we stay relevant? Where do we need to be next? How can we be a generation better rather than a generation behind? 

Future focused.

People first. Future-focused. That’s how we will solve the workforce crisis.

Regardless of where you live or what industry you work in, talent generation (or a lack thereof) is influencing your life. I can pretty much guarantee there’s an organization within 10 miles of your home struggling to find, keep, or train talent.

That presents a lot of challenge, yes, but also a lot of opportunity for your association.

Solve the workforce crisis, and your association will become the most valued resource in its community and industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, now is time to think about talent. Without talent, society fails. Without talent, we have no purpose, no future, and no hope.

As associations, you have the power and the influence to create a better future for us all. So don’t avoid disruption. Own it. Solve the workforce crisis. Make work work again.

If you do that, I guarantee it will be the best decision your association ever made and the most important job you’ve ever had.



To learn more about the Associations World Congress, visit or search #AWC17 on Twitter.


What’s your association doing to solve the workforce crisis? Please share your stories below.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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