The year was 2000. The startup that launched in 1998 had outgrown the garage, relocating to a nondescript building in an office park a couple of miles off the highway.

Outside that building, on an asphalt parking lot, yellow police tape marked off an area where employees played roller hockey. The games were full contact. Employees wore pads and would come back inside drenched in sweat and sometimes bloodied and bruised. The harder you played, the more respect you earned.

Inside the building, the game was twice as tough. Yes, there was free food for all employees and a massage therapist on site. With brightly colored exercise balls and couches everywhere, the place looked like a kindergarten class crossed with a freshman dorm. The tough part was the company’s founder, who would often provoke arguments with the staff over business and product decisions, intently driven by progress and ideas.

That founder was Larry Page, and he was in his 20s when Google launched.

Interestingly enough, around that exact same time, associations started to report widespread declines in membership. Today, an estimated 62 percent of associations in the United States are experiencing flat or declining membership.

What happened with membership associations was a preview into what would happen in the workforce. In recent years, there have been countless articles written and studies conducted to try to pinpoint why employee turnover among millennials is skyrocketing. Gallup reports employee turnover now costs U.S. companies an estimated $30.5 billion per year.

There’s a reason why disengagement is happening in the workforce and in membership associations. Disengagement is happening because younger generations feel like they don’t belong.

Somewhere at the tail end of the 20th century — perhaps right in that asphalt parking lot where the first Google employees played roller hockey — the economy pivoted, expectations shifted and society shifted out of the Industrial Era and right smack into the Talent Economy.

The Industrial Era relied on processes, hierarchy, life-long careers and specific skillsets. In stark contrast to that, the Talent Economy is characterized by innovation, empowerment, globalization, inclusion, collaboration and purpose.

But millennials, and the generations that follow, have little to no memory of the Industrial Era. They were born into and have only known a world powered by the trademarks of a Talent Economy. Anything else will seem foreign and irrelevant to them. They will struggle to comprehend why the bylaws can’t be changed, why decisions can’t be made on the fly, why they can’t have a seat at the decision-making table, and why it’s always been done “that way.”

As a result, we have this ever-widening gap between Industrial Era-established organizations and a Talent Economy-raised workforce, and disengagement continues to threaten the stability of many organizations.

If our nation’s government, education, businesses, and associations continue to struggle to engage the next generation of employees, leaders and members, we can expect to experience widespread economic decline. Without talent, we have much to lose. Without talent, we have no purpose, no future, and no hope. Without talent, society fails.

Regardless of where you live or what industry you work in, talent generation (or a lack thereof) is influencing your life. I can pretty much guarantee there’s an organization within 10 miles of your home struggling to find, keep or train talent.

That presents a lot of challenge, yes, but also a lot of opportunity for your association. Unlike other organizations, associations have the power and the influence to create a better future for us all.

Solve the workforce crisis, and an association will become the most valued resource in its community and industry.

Now, more than ever, associations need to move into the Talent Economy. They need to stop avoiding disruption and own it.

Now, more than ever, we need associations to put an end to the workforce crisis and make work work again.

XYZ University

Since 2002, my life’s work has been dedicated to research, strategy development, training, and education to bridge the generation gaps that exist in organizations worldwide and engage future generations of talent. I founded the nation’s first and only firm solely focused on this mission. XYZ University has an exceptional track record of helping organizations reduce turnover, grow membership, develop leaders, and seize market share among Generations X, Y and Z.

Since 2002, my life’s work has been dedicated to research, strategy development, training, and education to bridge the generation gaps that exist in organizations worldwide and engage future generations of talent. I founded the nation’s first and only firm solely focused on this mission. XYZ University has an exceptional track record of helping organizations reduce turnover, grow membership, develop leaders, and seize market share among Generations X, Y and Z.

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