A major challenge for all professional and volunteer organizations, ours included, comes from a steady yearly decline in overall membership especially when it comes to volunteer active involvement in both professional and civic associations.
I’ve been doing some research on the subject including looking into a book called Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard sociologist. The author is very helpful in understanding the decline in what he refers to as Social Capital (which is the value that individuals and communities derive from social networks) including politics, public affairs, clubs, community associations, religious bodies, work-related professional organizations (like NAPE), and informal social activities (including bowling leagues!). Over the last 40-50 years these groups have declined steadily with active participation taking a much larger hit than actual membership.
The focus of the book is that the decline in Social Capital as measured by the research in membership, attendance and participation in organizations gives cause for concern on a much higher level regarding the health of society in general but the research perspective provided can help shine a light on our membership struggles and shows that we as an organization are not alone. In fact what NAPE has experienced the last 25 years is very similar if not exactly alike to others out there. Some of the general social facts gathered by the author the last 40 years shows:
What are the causes of this phenomenon? A large part of Putnam’s book is devoted to analyzing the various possibilities and rejecting many of them. How many times have we heard from a prospective member/officer that they don’t have enough time either due to work or family commitments? While these are usually advertised as major contributing causes of the lack of “want to participate” research shows that actually they are not as significant as other reasons with less than 10 percent of the total decline of civic participation due to these factors. From the perspective of the book the drop in participation can be attributed to the following:
But the highest contributing factor according to Putnam is caused by Generational Change. What may have been important for those born around World War II are different than the Baby Boomers who again are different from Generation X and again different from the up and coming future adult faction that many are naming Generation Y. Most of the Civic organizations were started by the previous generations who felt the importance of such groups was enough to strike up the cause and be very active in participating and leading that cause whatever it may be. As one generation passes the torch to the next you can see the ideals of the new generations change the path of the organization. Sometimes the changes were good and led to a lot of success and other times it meant the end to the cause. We have all experienced this over the last 25 years on the local and national level when it comes to NAPE. As the previous generation leaders have attempted to pass the torch to the next generation many are finding there are less people if any willing to accept the torch meaning more and more of our chapter officers are finding they have to continue to shoulder the responsibility until they no longer can do so. Unfortunately we have seen many chapters and regions succumb to this with many just hanging it up and sending charter, papers and monies back to National. Fortunately that said there are still many spark plugs out there of all ages aiding some chapters and regions to continue to do well from a membership and participation aspect. And almost all these successes can be attributed to a strong education program. Education seems to be the one common factor that the different generations associated with NAPE can still get excited about!
With the success from education shown at these chapters and National Membership still continuing to wane at a alarming rate National is following the positive examples set and is developing and providing a strong educational program to help fortify this organization from the core. With so many chapters and regions not having the ability to provide education National started an online program 4 years ago to help provide education as our primary Mission. This program has helped steady the ship and is now providing a spark that hopefully will help provide a beacon to Generation Y and beyond. You will see in this magazine and on the website we currently offer 6 Online Courses and 3 Certifications with another four courses in the works that will hopefully be released in the upcoming months.
Another new Education Opportunity that we are proud to offer is that NAPE now has the capability to provide a custom Plant Operation or Boiler Course at YOUR location. Whether it is a full course based on one of our current classes or a custom course designed to benefit your members or employees. Please keep an eye on our website (www.powerengineers.com) and in future National Engineers to learn more about this exciting development! If you are so excited about this new opportunity and can’t wait please feel free to contact me below or call the National Office to learn more!