Top Ten ways to interest young APWA members

Kaye Sullivan
APWA Deputy Executive Director
Staff Liaison, APWA Diversity Committee

We see "Top Ten" lists everywhere we another one won't surprise you. But first let's examine why APWA needs to pay very close attention to recruiting, retaining and keeping the attention of young members.

An old proverb says, "People resemble their times more than they resemble their parents." Each of us falls into a generation characterized by certain world events that occurred, the music of that era, the heroes who came to the forefront during our formative years, the technology/research and development that changed our lives and the way we do things, the slang and expressions used, the cultural memorabilia, and the core values of the era. We are all shaped by the era in which we grew up.

However, it is important to note that not one of us completely falls into one generational stereotype. We all have personalities formed by our heredity and our environment and we all have a value system formed by our surroundings and beliefs. This is what makes us all unique—and what creates this wonderful mosaic called "diversity." We need to keep in mind that no two individuals are alike—no matter in which generation they fall, in which area of the country they were raised, or even if they were raised in the same family. But we can draw some conclusions that are characteristic of an overall generation of people.

The generation on which this article is based is called "Generation Y." Hopefully this generation will rename themselves, as this title does not do justice to this brilliant generation. This generation was born between 1961-1980 (various sources differ a few years either direction), growing up in the wake of Vietnam; becoming politically aware during the Watergate scandal; experiencing their parents being laid off in the late '70s, their mothers holding full-time jobs, and nearly half of their parents' marriages ending in divorce.

Consequently, this generation became very self-reliant and learned to do things for themselves; they determined a balance was needed between work and personal life because their parents "lived to work" and didn't spend as much time with the family as they would have liked; they developed a casual approach to authority as they saw authority figures fall during their formative years; they became guarded about their loyalty and commitment as they were raised that it is a dangerous world out there and things don't always work out as planned; and they have a comfort level with technology that is envied by older generations.

This amazing generation has been in the workforce for the past twenty years and has entered the field of public works in various positions. These individuals are very valuable to the profession of public works and to APWA for a number of reasons. The memberships of most associations are comprised of a majority of "graying" Baby Boomers—who also hold most of the leadership positions in those associations. Baby Boomers are a huge generation that is very service oriented. With the first half of the Boomers nearing retirement, a large portion of the workforce and the membership in associations will be reduced. APWA needs to recruit younger people to the profession and the membership; retain them through servicing their needs; and interest them in leading the association. And the best place to start is at the chapter level. There are some very fundamental ways to attract this generation:

#10  — Make sure your chapter web page is updated and as state-of-the-art as you can get it; offer them list serves through the association so they can communicate with other professionals in their field.

#9  — E-mail them everything; they are averse to direct mail and they like to communicate via e-mail rather than by phone.

#8  — Goals are very important to them; ask them what their goals are and try to fulfill those training goals through various chapter programs.

#7  — Ask them to present a chapter program on technological proficiency or on a technological advancement.

#6  — Ask them to participate in diversity-related programs as they are a culturally diverse generation and they expect and want diversity. They believe that individuals should seek to uncover the ways that they are different and understand how these differences can add value to their professional association.

#5  — Talk with them about how volunteering can increase their leadership potential, provide them with a network of experts at their fingertips, and further their career at a faster pace.

#4  — Provide them with opportunities to serve on short-term task forces or technical projects as their view of standing committees is that the job never seems to be done.

#3  — Value their ability to learn and adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities where new problem-solving techniques would be useful to the chapter.

#2  — Value their independence and ask them to provide a service to the chapter that they can fulfill by themselves with the computer.

#1  — Make sure that APWA makes a difference in their career competitiveness and they will renew their memberships endlessly—once sold, they stay sold.

(For additional information on volunteer motivations by generation, see the APWA Diversity Resource Guide, Volumes I and II.)

Kaye Sullivan has been the Staff Liaison to the APWA Diversity Committee since 1996. In 2001 she held weekly diversity awareness sessions with the APWA headquarters staff. She can be reached at (800) 848-APWA or at