What Do Millennials Want?

A Focus Group Increases Understanding
Katharine E. Morgan

Many membership-driven associations and organizations are predominantly led at the executive staff and board levels by people who have decades of experience. ASTM International is no exception. We have many baby boomers and Generation Xers in such roles, providing deep wisdom and expertise related to standardization, their respective fields, and their skill sets.

It’s important to recognize, though, that the coming generations have different needs and expectations. We must reach out to them, support them, and — most importantly — listen to them to help ensure the long-term vision and success of our organization.

Already, ASTM International has invested a substantial amount of time and resources to support emerging professionals — mostly millennials — who are interested in getting involved.

For example, after a successful pilot a few years ago, we launched our Emerging Professionals Program. Through a nomination process, this program has funded flights, hotel rooms, and trainings for dozens of these young people to attend their industry’s committee week, where they are mentored by their sponsor and other technical experts. They also learn more about the standardization process and get coaching on leadership skills.

But we can’t stop there.

In March, at our executive retreat with board officers and senior staff, we conducted a focus group. We funded a cohort of eight millennial-generation members from a variety of locations and sectors (e.g., medical devices, roofing, lab testing, foods, and more) to join us. I was so pleased with their enthusiastic response to the invitation.

Our goal was simply to listen to them and learn from them. Nothing was off the table.

To get the conversation started, we asked them questions like:

  • What motivates you to get involved?
  • How do you prefer to learn?
  • How could your meeting experience be enhanced?

I learned a lot. At the risk of overgeneralizing, here are my own takeaways:

  • Millennials want to get involved quickly. They would rather jump right in, join a task group, and perhaps make a small mistake along the way than be forced to memorize all the rules in advance. One of them said, “Our generation feels empowered to drive change.”
  • Millennials expect information on demand. Perhaps they have a flight out for their first committee week in a few hours. They expect to be able to find information at that time on things like meeting processes and how balloting works. They’d prefer such information in a variety of formats, including videos and checklists.
  • Millennials know that networking matters. When they come to an ASTM International meeting, they want to meet potential customers and partners as well as others such as regulators and even competitors. They expect ASTM International and our committee leaders to foster interactivity among attendees.
  • Millennials appreciate the small things. It means the world to them when a committee chair makes sure they know that they can introduce themselves or provide input during a meeting. One said, “It’s so important for officers to be welcoming.”
  • Millennials appreciate opportunities to lead. They will take ownership and get to work if given the tools and support they need. They know that helping draft and publish a standard is a great accomplishment for their resumé and their continued career development.
  • Millennials have limited tolerance for jargon. They will tune out if too many people are speaking in shorthand for things like subcommittee designations, work item numbers, and acronyms.

Overall, the conversation was spirited and invigorating. It was full of new ideas, and I left feeling that our organization’s future is in good hands. 

I’m more committed than ever to making sure that these young people — and the hundreds of others who are joining ASTM International each year — will feel that our organization is adapting to meet their personal and professional needs as much as possible. 

We will be the standards development environment of choice for the coming generations.

(Learn more about ASTM International’s Emerging Professionals Program with this video.)

Katharine E. Morgan
President, ASTM International

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