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Save the Associations

Personalization & Customization: Appealing to young professionals

Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers – Save the Associations Vol. 9

It’s widely known that society is changing more rapidly than ever before and in completely new ways. This has led the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers (MnSPE) to reassess not only what they provide, but also how they provide it and how they communicate the value of being a part of MnSPE.

When Mary Detloff, Executive Director of MnSPE, and her team reassessed what they were doing to make MnSPE attractive to young professionals, part of the process was coming to terms with the fact that associations do not mean the same thing to the younger generations as they did to generations past. “There used to be a mindset that you owed it to your profession to join an association, but that is no longer what we see. Now people are interested in an association more so because of what it can do for THEM, not what they can do for the association or the profession,” shared Detloff.

To determine what the young professionals wanted and needed from their association, MnSPE did the simplest thing. They asked the young professionals.

A Targeted Approach

After working with a passionate group of young engineers, MnSPE discovered that young professionals want to be involved with their profession and have an opportunity to give back, but they do not like a one-size fits all approach. “They want to be involved in something targeted to them,” said Detloff.

This feedback from young engineers fits perfectly with what we already know about the younger generations; technology has made them accustomed to personalization and customization.  They grew up being able to customize products online to fit their needs, and they turn to online communities for tailored support. MnSPE decided to replicate this sort of personalization in their young professional programs to attract more participants.


Starting in August 2018, MnSPE is offering two categories of subscriptions designed to increase engagement and provide subscribers with programs to meet specific needs. Subscriptions differ from a membership in that they offer access to only select association benefits, not the whole package that comes with a membership, and are available at a lower price point more accessible to many younger professionals.

The “Basic” subscription is for professionals 1-5 years into their careers. Specific young professionals events, communications, and leadership programs have been created for these subscribers, and there is also an expanded career center with employment resources.

The “Plus” subscription is for more experienced professionals who are 5+ years into their careers. This offers similar programing to the “Basic” subscription but with a greater focus on sustaining a career versus starting one.


Personalization will not end with picking the right subscription. MnSPE wants each new subscriber to know that by signing up they have joined a group of like-minded people. “We want to put faces on these groups,” said Detloff.  “We want to create a sense of community.”

During the onboarding process, new subscribers will receive a personalized welcome video from the young professionals they will soon get to know through the association.  

Advice for Other Associations

“Stop talking and start doing something,” advised Detloff. “Talk to younger professionals, find their need and build on it. Doing so creates value and gives younger professionals a reason to get involved with your association.”

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.

XYZ University - Save the Associations Blog Series

All summer long XYZ University will be sharing inspiring stories of associations that are doing something exceptional to 'save' their association and their industry from an untimely demise. XYZ U exists to help organizations engage younger generations of members, talent, and marketshare. We offer unparalleled generational expertise, coupled with an in-depth knowledge of future economic, membership, and marketing trends, to advise clients on the best strategies for long-term growth, relevance, and market engagement.

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