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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.


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