Building Back Better

Building Back Better: Education is the Keystone to a Sustainable Future

27th March 2023

Knowledge is power. It forms mindsets and accelerates personal and societal progress. Education is the tool given to teachers and students to transmit and acquire this knowledge from the early school stages and throughout a lifetime. It cannot be dry and random but rather designed to create an ethos for society’s continuous sustainable development. Where the school system’s traditional resources stop, associations can and should pick up the baton to keep their members up to date and thus more beneficial to society.

Words Vicky Koffa

Learning is a life-long process, so stopping after our university years makes no sense. The pandemic proved that the world is changing fast and adaptability is key. But adaptability without topical knowledge is impossible. The way forward is by following regular training to boost personal and professional growth and contribute to economic prosperity and responsible citizenship while restoring the health of the living systems upon which lives depend on.

The Benefits of Association-led education

“Associations can act as a collective consciousness to gather all experiences and share with others by providing trainings in a non-conventional way – learning from each other along the way. Within an evolving world, associations such as UITP can provide a leaner-centric education as our trainers bring hands-on experience, and our participants can be more active in sharing their experiences,” says Adrian Poher, Training Manager at UITP (International Union of Public Transport) Academy. UITP Academy delivers a wide range of training programs, customized workshops, and on-site study tours for all public transport and urban mobility stakeholders on an international level, all certified with the standard for learning services for non-formal education and training. 

“Trade Associations that are focused on public affairs tend to find training offered by the association less appealing unless their sector is facing a major crisis. This is why most of the good case studies we’ve had so far come from professional societies, especially those in the medical sector. Nevertheless, as more associations are looking into diversifying their revenues and investing in their members’ engagement, we are bound to see new projects popping up in the coming years,” says Ioannis Pallas, ESAE’s Association Manager.

In some cases, the education provided by associations is not just complementary to a conventional diploma but downright necessary. “Surgical oncology is not a recognized specialty, making it essential for associations like the ESSO to fill the gap in the education and training of surgical oncologists so that they acquire the skills and experience relevant to their practice in their field of interest,” says Carine Lecoq, COO at the European Society of Surgical Oncology. With 18 in-person educational courses every year covering both basic and advanced skills, expertise and hands-on practice is offered to junior and more experienced surgeons alike. 

Associations which are education providers have more active and engaged members willing to work hard for the recognition of their profession if need be. “A core objective for EARMA is to promote research management as an acknowledged profession in European Research Performing Organizations (RPOs) and Research Funding Organizations (RFOs). As such, a key activity is our professional development program,”says Nyle Lennon, Head of Communications at the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EARMA). “We provide an early-stage research administrators masterclass for recent starts and a more advanced European Certificate in Research Management to create specialist advisors. These courses are particularly necessary as research management training in Europe is very limited.”

Taking these training to a cross-sectorial level means getting a more global understanding of society’s needs for progress. “At the International Union of Radio Science, we try to stimulate cross-discipline education. We offer short courses, tutorials, overview papers in areas which are adjacent to one’s research field so that they can broaden their scope and actively seek cross-discipline commonalities,” says Peter Van Daele, Secretary General at URSI.

Such targeted ways of learning accelerate sustainable development as professionals of all ages become better servants of their sector and implement multi-industry knowledge to raise our quality of life. These expert-led courses foster innovation and can be embedded with a mission for long-term sustainability. 

The Digital Aspect of Learning

A question often raised is how to best deliver education. “During the pandemic we had to switch our entire global training agenda to a virtual program. There are downsides to missing out on physical gatherings, as our participants cannot network face-to-face, but with digital sessions, we reach a much larger audience; people can connect from almost anywhere, and these channels are far more affordable for audiences in developing countries,” says Poher from UITP.

In-person workshops are obviously an invaluable way of fostering collaborations and ideas, but the digital element has offered new potential. Through online activities associations can diversify their revenues and are in a better position to measure the impact of their trainings. Ignoring these benefits would lead to rigid, short-sighted models.

“Digital learning has a cost, in particular when it comes to hybrid events as this requires both a physical venue and an online platform. For a same event, work is doubled. Also, the cost for a professional digital platform, live streaming or on-demand access is a major additional financial burden,” highlights Lecoq from ESSO. But retraining and repurposing staff together with some initial financial investment will quickly show digitalization’s benefits (further membership engagement and retention, and financial rewards for the association).  

Post-pandemic associations find that a combination of in-person large conferences with regular online training sessions is an effective plan. “We had a lot of success with our online offering and expect to maintain a certain degree of virtual activities going forward because we know that this is often a much more accessible arrangement for our members. It must be acknowledged, though, that in-person interaction is preferred for networking and teambuilding,” notices Lennon from EARMA.

“Some training sessions are more suited to a virtual setting, and some more suited in person. With those more suited to face-to-face we can involve different elements such as on-site technical visits, adding a great deal of value. Perhaps the best way to describe this is a blended approach to learning,” concludes Poher.

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