IBEW Canada welcomed over 70 delegates and union executives to the second NextGen conference in Mississauga on October 28 – 30, 2016.
The highly interactive conference was aimed at under-35 IBEW members, and was themed “Power Up Your Membership”. The goal: to educate and train the delegates with information and techniques they could use to encourage other young members to participate fully in union activities back home.
“You get an apprenticeship to become an electrician, but you don’t get an apprenticeship in being a union member. The NextGen conference aims to fix that,” said organizer Kate Walsh.
“NextGen is a space for them to learn about their collective agreement, and their role in making change happen. They get excited when they learn they have a voice, and that it’s their union too.”
NextGen 2016 built on the success of the first conference in November 2013, and feedback provided by attendees was positive.
One delegate commented, “Everything we were exposed to was such an incredible learning experience, with names of people I probably won’t forget… It has made me consider my own future, and want to do more.”
More interactive Q & A sessions and workshops than in the first conference, plus one more day to fully explore topics, helped take the conference further this year. There were more opportunities to explore issues of concern to younger workers.
What are Gen Y/Millennial workers concerned about? A main priority is safety, as young workers are disproportionately injured on the job. Spencer Beach, motivational speaker and workplace accident burn survivor gave a powerful talk that made a huge impact on the attendees.
“He’s the best paid speaker I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’ve heard some good ones,” said Jim Belanger, journeyman electrician and co-chair of his NextGen committee at Toronto Local 353. “No one was on their phones, no one got up, nothing like that.”
The “Building Your NextGen Committee” hands-on workshop was extremely popular as well. It gave delegates a chance to learn from each other, sharing what works and what doesn’t peer to peer. A 12-month calendar for next steps and goals keeps members accountable. Specific tasks that delegates assign to themselves include getting NextGen committees chartered, and becoming active representatives to their locals and to national and international meetings.
Ali Rossiter, program coordinator with Fredericton’s Local 37, commented on the Building a NextGen committee workshop.
“We have a NextGen Committee, but it’s been relatively inactive for a couple of years,” she said. “I think it just needs the right person or group of people to get it in motion and get our NextGen-ers involved. And now we a have toolkit to make that happen.”
A session with NDP MPs Andrea Horvath and Jennifer French began with a rousing speech followed by a rare opportunity for a Q & A session with their elected officials. “Municipality Matters” gave attendees an understanding of how local politics affects their daily lives.
One of the most important sessions covered how to talk with friends and family about what unions really do. As unions are often shown in a bad light in the media, young members often just don’t talk about their union at all.
In the weeks to come, the outcome of the conference will be summarized in a report. A full article announcing the conference outcome and report will appear in the IBEW newsletter. Organizer Kate Walsh will also be following up with attendees to ensure they follow through on self-determined goals.
More Next Gen Events to Come
Forthcoming NextGen Initiative events are just months away.
The annual NextGen Caucus will be part of the All Canada Progress Meeting in Montréal on August 20, 2017.
The Reach out and Engage NextGen Electrical Workers (RENEW)/NextGen conference will take place in Pittsburgh in September 2017.
Meanwhile, the NextGen group can stay connected on the IBEW Next Gen Facebook Group to share ideas. You can also contact organizer Kate Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background: Adapting to Change
The NextGen initiative began about 6 years ago, when it became apparent to former International Vice President Phil Flemming that Gen Y members weren’t as engaged in their union membership activities as older generations were. Additionally, as older Baby Boom executives were retiring, succession planning would soon become an issue.
An intensive research study was commissioned, and the surveys and focus groups soon confirmed Fleming’s suspicions and what the Business Managers of locals were telling him.
Not only are there over 18,000 under-35 IBEW members, they often had no idea how union meetings worked or how to raise issues of concern to them. For example, unions use the classic Robert’s Rules of Order to run meetings, which many younger members aren’t familiar with, as they often leap into a general Q & A format.
Gen Y members are also more technologically reliant than their forebearers, and often want information delivered via social media, e-newsletters or other electronic means.They are less comfortable attending meetings in-person if they don’t know what to expect.
The NextGen Initiative was created with the goal of helping younger union members get the most out of their membership.