Gen Next at PCMA: The kids are more than alright

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After listening to a panel of generation next students and young professionals talk about how they learn, what they do and don't get out of meetings, and what they want from their associations -- and after meeting several students at the various receptions -- I have now confirmed an impression I've had for quite a while now. The generations coming up now have it so much more together than mine did! Maybe the sample that comes to PCMA isn't representative of the whole, but these young people are smart, driven, inquisitive, bold, and really seem to know what they want. Which is amazing considering that, according to session moderator and University of Las Vegas professor Curtis Love, the generation just now hitting the work force will have five different careers -- not jobs, but entirely different careers -- over the course of their work life.

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Pictured left to right, PCMA's Generation Next panelists: Curtis Love, Associate Professor, University of Nevada Las Vegas; Christina Brown, Exhibitor Services Executive, Global Experience Specialists; Kwangbok Lee, Student, University of Nevada Las Vegas; Bobbie Barnes, Director of Career Services, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Travis McDermott, Associate Veterinarian, Tropicana Animal Hospital; Brian Benitz Operations Manager, Quest Drape

And they were honest about how they saw themselves, acknowledging that they want instant rewards, and a firm sense of "what's in it for them" when it comes to both attending meetings and joining professional associations. Associations need to reach out to them if they want to attract the next generation of members, the panelists said. One joined an association that offered free membership in return for bag-stuffing duties at the annual conference; another said his organization traveled to the veterinary schools to let students know what they had to offer. Bobbie Barnes, Director of Career Services with UNLV, said it helps if the association has a strong mentor program. This means a structured pairing that will allow the mentor to really can help the mentee develop instead of "just slapping two people together" and hoping they'll hit it off. A young audience member also reminded us that the relationship can and should go both ways, with the mentee having fresh insights to offer the mentor (and perhaps some technical help with the latest gadgets).

And while they do love technology, once they come to a live event, they see the value of networking face to face, meeting with peers and mentors and subject matter experts, and just exposure to new places. As one of the young panelists said, "Some don’t see the value of joining this type of organization, or coming to this type of conference. That's because they don’t know what they don’t know." The challenge for planners will be somehow making them aware of just what they could be missing.

Here's more on gen next at PCMA from the Las Vegas Sun. It sounds like it was a different panel from the one I attended, but the message was pretty similar.

Update: Here's an interesting take on Millennials as a generation of dreamers, by Josip Petrusa, who I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet last week in Las Vegas (though not to attend his sessions, unfortunately). Fascinating stuff.

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