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Strategies to Increase Union Membership That Will Reach Gen Z

By Heather Kerrigan | Sep 9, 2019

Generation Z is just starting to enter the labor force, but it's not too early to devise strategies to increase union membership among this group of fresh faces. The Pew Research Center identifies Gen Zers as anyone born between 1997 and 2012. Though the youngest among them are still in elementary school, this generation's oldest members are just launching their careers — and they'll account for 36% of the global workforce by 2020.

To discover what Gen Zers want in their benefits, unions first need to understand this generation. Here's what to keep in mind. 

They're Hyperconnected

Those in Generation Z grew up around technology and rely on it for nearly everything. Because they've almost always lived in a world with immediate access to information, they have come to expect constant communication. A quarterly member meeting and monthly newsletter might not cut it.

Developing a multipronged communication strategy — one that includes in-person meetings, emails, website updates and social media posts — will help meet the needs of Gen Z members. The union should commit to maintaining a regular cadence of communication. Create quarterly or annual outreach calendar so communication doesn't drop off.

Make sure these digital natives can easily access information about union benefits, and work with employers to choose benefits that allow members to manage their care on the go, whether they need to find a doctor, speak with a provider or request a prescription.

They Want Financial Security

Many in this generation saw their families struggle during the economic downturn of 2007 to 2009. Because of that, they're seeking work that offers stability, good pay and benefits. In a 2018 survey of Gen Zers from XYZ University, 2 out of 3 participants reported that they prefer financial stability over a job they enjoy. 

Unions are already well-positioned to offer job security, good pay and robust benefits. As you structure your plan for Gen Z outreach, assemble data on wage and benefit growth over time, and collect personal stories from young members about how the union has helped them find security and success. 

They're Hard Workers Who Are Eager to Learn 

The popular perception of millennials tends to lean negative. After seeing the generation before them heavily criticized, many in Generation Z are hoping to differentiate themselves from millennials before the conversation repeats itself.

It helps that Gen Z was raised — or, in some cases, is being raised now — to understand the importance of hard work. And that doesn't end just with the job before them. This generation also tends to value chances to build their skills and engage better at work.

If your union already offers its members training opportunities, tout those during recruitment. If not, start thinking about the skills that most benefit your workers on the job, and then partner with organizations that offer training, ideally in-person, in those areas.

They Like Face-to-Face Communication

Why in-person classes? Because despite being constantly connected to technology, Gen Z generally prefers face-to-face communication. The XYZ University study found that Gen Zers tend to rely on technology for entertainment and only use it for communication if meeting face-to-face isn't possible. That doesn't mean you should only communicate with these individuals in person — an especially challenging feat if your member base is geographically diverse.

Instead, seek balance among various methods of communication. Consider when social media or an email might work best — particularly for time-sensitive information — but leave time for in-person meetings in both large and small group settings as often as possible. This is vital when selecting annual benefits: Gather your members together, along with provider representatives, to ask questions and receive enrollment assistance.

They Want to Contribute

Members of Gen Z are conscious of the ongoing challenges facing their communities and country, and they want the chance to help solve them. They also appreciate the freedom to work independently. Advertise volunteer opportunities in your recruitment efforts, conveying how these activities will benefit the union as a whole.

One last thing: Gen Zers want to be recognized for their work. If you aren't already doing so, celebrate members who are doing great work or going above and beyond. Though a tangible reward is great, even a mention on the website, social media page or newsletter is a great way to begin. 

Recruiting strategies to increase union membership among Gen Zers should emphasize financial security, communication, career development and opportunities to serve the community. By learning about trends within this age group, you can prepare in advance to reach these young people when they join the workforce. 

Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.