At CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, Christian Hartley transformed.
Hartley, a branch manager at $2.9 billion asset Keesler Federal Credit Union in Biloxi, Miss., will never forget her participation in Crash the GAC with the Cooperative Trust in 2018. The program opened her eyes to the full scope of the credit union movement, introducing her to other passionate young professionals as well as experienced leaders with ample career guidance to give.
After Hartley returned home, she felt energized to continue the camaraderie and mentorship she’d discovered at GAC. Hartley contacted her association president to ask how she could get involved with the network for young professionals in her state.
But that network didn’t exist—at least not yet.
Young professionals now dominate the workforce: In an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, the Pew Research Center found that more than one in three American workers (35%) are millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force.
But there’s a significant disconnect between younger generations and employers. Gallup reported that millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace. As a result, they’re more likely to change jobs than other generations—and millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually, according to Gallup.
For a generation that prioritizes meaningful and challenging work, many employers don’t have the values or culture to keep young professionals engaged. But the credit union movement, with its cooperative model and community focus, is uniquely positioned to attract and retain these workers. And programs specifically geared toward young professionals demonstrate a sincere investment in the future leaders of the movement.
At her association president’s encouragement, Hartley worked with other young professionals to launch the LEAD (Leaders Engaging in Action and Development) program in March 2019. With support from the Mississippi Credit Union Association (MSCUA), LEAD provides professional development opportunities for emerging credit union leaders age 40 and younger.
“We understood the importance of being developed within our credit unions,” says Hartley. “If your credit union doesn’t have some sort of mentorship or development plan in place, you should get one. That is critical. People stay where they believe they’re valued, and where there is opportunity to grow.”
Inspired by Hartley’s experience, the 14 inaugural members of LEAD “crashed” the MSCUA annual meeting. The MSCUA organized a special networking luncheon and keynote speaker specifically for LEAD participants—and invited the entire group to introduce themselves at the start of the general business meeting.
After the meeting, several CEOs and other leaders approached Hartley to find out when applications for LEAD would reopen for the next group of emerging leaders.
“It’s a testament to what happens when you have your leadership really push you and support you,” Hartley says.
“The Association began to notice a lack of young professionals involved in the movement,” says Richard Sellwood, vice president of member services at $468 million Reliant Community Credit Union in Sodus, N.Y., and a former chairperson of the YPC. “They realized that if the movement was going to be carried forward, they’d need to develop a plan to engage younger generations.”
The YPC consists of young professionals, age 39 and younger, from across the state who organize programming specifically for their peers. Sellwood co-developed the group’s inaugural Young Professionals Conference in 2019, held in conjunction with the Danielle Downey Credit Union Classic, a tournament on the LPGA Symetra Tour.
The YPC also emphasizes education summits to help young leaders build expertise in specialized disciplines. “We often include sessions on financials, as this is usually an area where young professionals need development,” Sellwood says. “Participants have been able to engage with their CFOs about opportunities they’ve identified in reviewing their credit union’s call report. Many of them had never seen a 5300 prior to attending our events.”
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