Blog | 18 December 2018

River and Fish Predict: Professional Membership Organisations in 2044

At the last count there were, if you include the unions, more than 500 professional membership organisations in the UK with around 20 million members. So the chances are that you or someone else reading this article is more than familiar with acronyms such as CIM, RCN, CIMA, HRLA, TUC, ICE and WARB. Spoiler: one of these is made up.

However, the notion of membership, professional or otherwise, has changed significantly in the last generation. The desire for personalisation, greater access to information and the ability to form groups with like-minded individuals without monetary outlay has changed the game. Professional membership organisations are having to work harder than ever to justify your time, their value, and ultimately their existence.

So fast forward 25 years and what sort of landscape will professional membership organisations hope to inhabit?

1. A more transient and temporary workforce
As explored in our earlier essay on the future of work, employment is more likely to be a series of projects with specific skills being utilised, rather than a long-term career in one sector. A working life of multiple jobs with multiple employers means a one-size-fits-all, long-term relationship with a membership association is less likely.

2. Ubiquity of VR/AR
By 2044 it’s highly probable that many of our social interactions for work will use this type of technology, which is unfortunate for those of us used to pressing the mute button on a conference call and doing something more interesting. It’s also important to remember that by this point in time the likes of Skype, Hangouts and FaceTime will have been replaced with something that works when you need it to.

3. Automation
It’s the robot elephant in the room but increasing automation will continue to replace many of the tasks we currently perform in our employ. This will certainly remove the need for and change the remit of some professional bodies. Ironically, the subsequent under-employment of the human workforce may well give us the time to form new professional associations, maybe this time fighting for human workers’ rights. The professional association WARB (Workers Against Robot Bastards) mentioned in the opening paragraph becomes a reality.

4. Oldies but goldies
An ageing membership is often cited as a recruitment problem for membership organisations. However, by the middle of this century a far greater proportion of ‘oldies’ will be in employment. They are also more likely to be bigger contributors to revenues and will have distinct preferences compared to younger generations in terms of the services they expect and the channels they prefer for their delivery.

One of the best ways to learn and improve oneself is to associate with people smarter than you, so we can surmise that these organisations will exist in the future but what shape will they take?

1. Less campaigning and more personalisation
An important shift, particularly for the unions. Workers will look for services that solve problems that are specific to them. Campaigning on broader issues will be something the workforce has already addressed through digital networks rather than relying on a slow-moving professional body to support them. The membership bodies that do exist will also be run by their members rather than elected committees.

2. Evolution at a pace
Given the rate of change in our working environment many of the current professional bodies will die off, unable to metamorphose quickly enough. Some will absorb rivals. Ultimately, these types of organisations will survive, albeit fewer in number. They will blossom more quickly, then wither and be replaced, just as the industries they represent and working practices do the same.

3. Unbundled services in an open market
Membership organisations in 2044 will have ‘mix and match’ services offered on the open market like any business. Access will operate much more like a loyalty programme by rewarding usage rather than a membership type.

4. Supporting business functions
As employers continually look to streamline their operations, a future role for membership organisations presents itself. They already act as topline service providers for some functions but expect areas such as training, lobbying and research to be outsourced fully to membership organisations.

5. Commercial matchmakers
As will be the case with most service providers in 2044, human interaction will be a point of difference. These organisations will perhaps be in the best position to act as commercial ‘matchmakers’, bringing people face to face to help broker deals at a high level.

We are arguably at a pivotal point for professional membership organisations. Membership is flat, or in many cases in decline. The coming generations of the workforce will need something new. The speed of information dissemination, the requirement for new skills and rapidly emerging technologies in the working environment will demand new pillars of support.

One thing is certain. More of the same will fail; action is the foundation of success.

This issue of River Predicts was brought to you in collaboration with Fish Content Agency, a new River Group company dedicated solely to membership organisations. To find out more about Fish please visit their website. fishcontent.agency

Alex Marks
Alex Marks
Strategist

Alex supports the strategic development of River's business and acts as an experienced marketing partner for our client teams. He is a regular commentator, writer and conference speaker on a wide variety of digital,  marketing,  and content strategy issues.

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