It’s well documented that one of the biggest current challenges for Unions (aside from those presented by Covid19) is recruiting and engaging young workers. The TUC have recently released the report ‘the missing half million, which is the result of a 3 year research project into this very thing. From this discussion we’ve concluded that there are 5 key areas for Unions to consider.

1. Look and sound like the people you want to represent.

Consider your brand, not just your logo but your tone and means of connecting with your target audience, are they appropriate? Consider change/re positioning to become more representative where necessary.

Consider who’s on the front line representing you, do they look and sound like the ‘new breed’ of member you are wanting to attract? What could you do about that? What could you be doing to engage differently with young workers? Would they be more inclined to engage if you were to provide an digital means of connection (online or via an app), are your events relevant and of interest to them or could you make some adjustments? Would your Union consider running another stream of events specifically targeted at gaining their attendance?

Telling relevant good news stories about how you’ve supported and helped members is a great way to promote the value of membership to those you’re reaching out to, selecting stories of people who look and sound like them will help with the identification and message resonance.

2. Provide value beyond the membership fee

Identify where you are losing people and why wherever possible. Some Unions find that the majority of their drop-off occurs where members graduate from the free student membership to paying professional subs. The question of how to keep them connected is likely linked to representing the value you bring in helping them to establish their career. Providing tools and resources for those early years professionals can help to underpin your position as a source of essential support. You may find it appropriate to set up an ‘ask the expert’ forum or a mentoring scheme where you can buddy those starting out with more seasoned professionals.

Free membership in and of itself can present no end of complex issues, it is often the case that ‘People don’t value what they don’t have to pay for’ (Nancy Hale). Attaching value to membership is an important consideration. For young workers it may be worth attaching a low level fee which they can see an instant return on, for example, receiving benefits worth in excess of that amount (these may be through corporate partner discounts etc). Creating a culture of membership being valued from the outset can really help to sow the seeds for longer term relationship. Providing support in career progression, CPD, online training etc helps to forge that connection as a long-term partner in their success.

Where you are looking at outreach schemes to prospective members, consider carefully what level of advice and support is appropriate to offer them. Whilst wanting to represent the value of membership to entice them to join, it’s important to not give too much value away. Doing so could alienate or cause resentment from existing fee paying members, and could result in a mentality of ‘why pay for what I can get for free?’ Getting that balance right is fundamentally important and sometimes it’s as simple as ‘show don’t tell’. For example, using stories of how you have helped members can resonate with prospects with similar challenges.

3. Enable your members to organise themselves

Empowering your members can enable you to achieve greater things at greater scale. Getting them more actively involved in representing your Union will grow their sense of belonging and believing, which can in turn be harnessed in recruitment through member get member schemes and outreach to new industries.

Practically empowering your members can take many forms including; enabling them to administrate their own details online through self-service functionality, automating email distribution of renewal notices and providing online direct debit facilities for ease of payment. There are also more progressive tools to enable connection and mobilisation such as member apps which can incorporate member forums, or online branches utilising geo-location tools to coordinate an online/offline community experience with proximity prompts for impromptu meet-ups. Tools such as these can also empower reps to manage members they’re responsible for in a more tangible way, forging closer links through more personal and immediate communication.