The fusionSpan Blog

Bridging the Education to Employment Gap

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By Justin Burniske |September 29, 2016
Best PracticesStrategic Consulting

newedparadigmWith many millennials having challenges finding the right work opportunities, associations are uniquely positioned to support them by offering education opportunities. By offering industry specific education opportunities, associations are able to address the workforce needs of their current members while also providing the knowledge to their newest potential members. A recent white paper by Shelly Alcorn, CAE, Principal, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO & Chief Strategist, Spark Consulting LLC called, “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm,” addresses this issue, and they were kind enough to answer a few questions.

What are the two main takeaways of the white paper (in your opinion)?

Shelly Alcorn
Shelly Alcorn

Shelly: First, the educational system as we know it is a system that evolved to meet the social and economic needs of the time in which it was designed. It was initially a creative act. Now that times have changed again, we can give ourselves permission to engage in a process of reinvention. Not only can we put our heads together and reimagine a better educational system for children and adults alike, but I believe we have an ethical imperative to do so.

Second, the problems are real. We took an evidence-based approach and the data seems clear – we are in a time of major transition. There are scores of knowledgeable, talented educators working every day to retool these systems but it is going to require an “all hands on deck approach.” Associations can help and we have the opportunity to expand our efforts to solve problems in the ways only we can.

What should associations be thinking about with regard to their education offerings?

Shelly: We have been lost in a morass of self-doubt for entirely too long. Our value is timeless – we have the capacity to provide every individual in every industry and profession with a platform to develop specific skills and competencies designed to advance their careers, discuss important issues, solve critical problems and meet the people they need to meet. We have a responsibility to engage and an opportunity to establish a strong foothold in a trillion-dollar learning market. We have spent 150 years building these muscles and we are ready. It’s time to believe in ourselves and make great things happen.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel
Elizabeth Weaver Engel

How do associations that do not currently offer education build that into their offerings? What role does technology play?

Elizabeth: If you’re not currently offering education or professional development, the place to start is to learn what the needs are in your profession or industry. Talk to employers and find out what new professionals coming into the field lack (whether they are new graduates or people changing careers). Talk to new professionals and find out where they’re struggling in their new careers. Look ahead to the next five or ten years and see where your profession or industry is going. Are you going to be impacted by AI and automation? Globalization? Other major socioeconomic factors?  Find out what’s missing from current professional development and training, and make plans to fill those gaps.

When considering the role of technology, I would strongly advise associations to read the 2015 Association Learning+Technology Report we reference in the white paper. It provides an outstanding overview of the technologies available to associations and how associations are currently using them to provide critical learning to their audiences.

Several of the examples talk about education around soft skills – can that be done in an online learning environment?

 Elizabeth: Absolutely. In fact, that’s the model one of our case studies, the Maryland Association of CPAs, uses for their Business Learning Institute and their Student Leadership Academy.  Although the do offer in-person events, much of their professional development takes place online through webcasts, webinars, and even on-demand courses. While some of that training is technical, much of it is in that “soft skill” category: business writing, effective communication, leadership and management, how to coach staff, etc.

If I’m a millennial reading this report, what would you want me to know?

Shelly: You have personal power and more options than you have ever had. You are just at the beginning of an exciting and accelerating lifelong learning process. Focus on developing competencies required by a new employment sphere. (See IFTF Future Work Skills 2020) Mix and match educational opportunities. Maybe a formal degree will give you the competencies you desire, maybe not. Maybe a certification can get you working while you pursue other educational avenues. Try MOOCs or coding camps. Try it all. The most important thing is to find and maintain a balance between education broad-based enough to help you build the transdisciplinary muscle you need to understand the interplay between systems, and education designed to help you develop a deep expertise in an area you find compelling or personally rewarding.

For a free copy of the whitepaper – no strings attached – go to

Justin Burniske
Bridging the Education to Employment Gap

Justin serves as the Director of Enterprise Solutions at fusionSpan, bringing his experience implementing and overseeing an association management system for an education nonprofit. Additionally, he brings his positive, can-do attitude to any project on which he is working. Justin graduated from University of Maryland’s MBA program, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining fusionSpan, Justin taught middle school math and worked with education nonprofits. Also, he wants you to know he loves his family.

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