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November 17, 2020 What Members Want From Their Society: Career Support or Education? Guest Blog Post: Dr. Jonathan Roscoe - Senior Manager, Partner Engagement at Wiley

What Members Want From Their Society: Career Support or Education?

Over the course of six surveys, Wiley has attempted to chart the waxing and waning of society membership. What are the concerns of academics, researchers, and professionals? Which ones turn out to be one-offs and which issues return year after year? 

The Wiley Society Member Survey has become the largest survey of its kind and has built into a body of society membership trends and data unrivaled in academic publishing, yet three things remain consistent - the value of scholarly and professional societies to their members continues to be based on access to: 

  • Valuable content
  • A sense of community
  • and ongoing career support

However, when considering careers, it may not be as straightforward as it first seems.

For example, is education the same as career? On first consideration they seem to be the same thing. After all improved education is vital for improved career prospects, isn’t it?

Not necessarily, and that’s just one of the things the Wiley Society Member Survey tries to clarify. Firstly, what do we mean by career support?

What does society support for careers look like?

69% of researchers engage with the services societies offer. Amongst those services are:

  • Engaging with career networking events (21%)
  • Attending educational programs (38%),
  • and utilizing a society’s careers service option (10%)

They may not be the top activities members join in with, that would be reading the society’s publications (69%) and utilizing webinars (45%). But, when we consider a holistic view of providing value for members, taken together as a whole they are a significant driver of membership. So clearly career support is vital for society growth and development.

Why should societies offer careers support?

The latest survey tells us that 62% are currently members of a learned society and a further 12% have been in the past.

Similarly, 67% are members of a professional association. Over the last six years these numbers have stayed fairly consistent, but that does mean that 19% of researchers have never been society members. For continued survival, societies need to reach out to that sizable group. 

One of the ways they can do that is through careers support.

For example, 71% of non-members said they would join a society that supported their career - 4th highest in the list of drivers. So, a convincing careers support offering may be crucial in both keeping the members societies have got and recruiting new ones.

But, there’s a gap between what non-members want and what existing members experience. Even though such a large portion of non-members listed career support as a key driver for joining, only 10% of existing members engage with an association’s careers service option.

Looking at this data, it should come as no surprise that less than half of existing members surveyed are satisfied with the support they receive from associations for advancing their career.

There’s an opportunity for societies to bridge the gap in member expectations and their experience after joining. Usage of the society’s career services option is comparatively low and, these figures have been constant over several surveys and tend to be consistent across the world. It reflects that societies are not providing their community with an engaging experience in the context of career support. 

Given the central role career support takes in generating increased society renewals, even small improvements, to society careers services, could bring about significant benefits.

Over the last few surveys, we’ve noticed an increasing trend towards multi-society membership and the key drivers of that are: 

  • Careers - 24% said they joined several societies in order to access more career opportunities. 
  • Certification - A further 32% said they were motivated to join more societies to achieve additional certification.

Education, education, education

One thing the survey makes clear is that in some regions – the USA and Europe primarily – education provides significant value. 53% of members join primarily for certification as well as a clear requirement for a careers strategy that reflects the different stages of their careers. 

It paints a vivid picture of how associations can provide value for their community during the new normal. Career support and education are incredibly valuable for professionals, researchers, and academics right now. 

Yet with so many members unsatisfied with the support they currently receive, it creates an opportunity to audit how your organization delivers career support and optimize the member experience.

As we move into 2021, the value of career support and education services provided for professionals will only increase. What will separate your organization from the pack is how you deliver those services to your community.