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Training For Association Professionals: New Asae Certificate Program In Association Management

In 1998 I started my first job in association management as a meeting planner for a start-up association management company. At the time there were only four employees, so I had to quickly learn not only what a meeting planner’s role was in the association management industry, but I had to learn the ins and outs of everything a good association manager would need to know because with a small staff you inevitably ended up filling all roles at some point in time.

At XYZ University, we talk a lot about talent recruitment and succession planning. We also focus on ways associations can implement new strategies in marketing and membership recruitment. The following is a guest post by Maria Huntley outlining a new ASAE University certificate program for association professionals interested in expanding their own professional development and leadership skills:

In 1998 I started my first job in association management as a meeting planner for a start-up association management company. At the time there were only four employees, so I had to quickly learn not only what a meeting planner’s role was in the association management industry, but I had to learn the ins and outs of everything a good association manager would need to know because with a small staff you inevitably ended up filling all roles at some point in time.

I had great mentors around me and was not afraid to ask questions, but I wanted to know more and I struggled to find a place to go to that could teach me the basics and provide me with tools to develop into a successful association management staff person.

Being an ambitious young professional, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be the best at what I did. I immediately wanted to become a CAE (Certified Association Executive) so I could give my clients and my company the best service possible. It was a little deflating when I learned that I needed five years of experience before I could qualify for the program.

I did some searching around and found a local university that offered a graduate degree in nonprofit management so I dove into that program. I certainly learned a lot about nonprofit management and the program helped me become a great contributor to the association community. I can’t say enough good things about that experience, but there were some challenges.

First, I was the only person in any of my classes who focused their work on associations, so many of the discussions and examples were focused on the more traditional nonprofit charitable work. I was able to apply situations to my own work, but it was unfortunate that I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with others working in associations during that course of the program. I was always jealous of the connections and support that my classmates were about to make because they were all working in similar charitable nonprofits.

Second, going through a graduate program was a huge time and financial commitment for me personally and for my organization. I am forever grateful that I was able to give the time and financial resources but I am very aware that most people and their employers do not have that luxury.

After completing this program I was then able to go through the CAE process and became the president of the company I had started with back in 1998. This was a great personal accomplishment. Quickly I found myself running into the same challenge with my staff. I had a team of incredibly smart, talented and experienced professionals who needed training in basic association management. I did my best to provide this training and support to my staff myself, but it was never quite enough. I had four key staff ready to go through the CAE process who were looking for comprehensive training to prepare for this program.

You can only imagine my reaction when I learned about the new Certificate Program in Association Management that was developed by ASAE University specifically geared towards staff with five years or less experience working specifically with associations. I have to admit, for a moment I felt a little sorry for myself that I didn’t have the chance to go through this program back in 1998. I quickly got over that when I was presented with the opportunity to teach this course. For the first time in a long time, I could feel the blood pumping through my veins with excitement about what I could give back to an industry that gave so much to me.

If you are interested, or if you know of someone who could benefit from going through this program, please contact me or visit the ASAE’s Certificate Program in Association Management website.

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.

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