Margaret A. Lawson

The Baby Boomers are getting ready to retire or are already retired, and will be replaced by younger generations. Some of these younger individuals are joiners, and some nonjoiners. Some are overachievers, and some underachievers. Some are interested in working to live, and some in living to work.

These younger individuals are the future of our profession and of IFT. How do we encourage the younger generations to join IFT, become active, and remain loyal life-long members? To provide the most valuable programs and services for them, it helps to understand a bit more about these important generations.

Although it has been reported in the past 20 years that Generation Xers and Generation Yers are disengaged and tend not to join associations, a new report in the association arena states otherwise. According to the report, "Generations and the Future of Association Participation," issued in January 2006 by the William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, over the next 10 years both Generation X and Generation Y will join associations at even higher rates than the Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They and their predecessors have always seen the value in professional society/association membership and volunteerism. They value hard work and organizational loyalty and are very active in their professional organizations.

Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1976, are well into their careers and will join professional societies if their membership expectations are met, they see a positive return on their investment of time, and have opportunities to problem solve.

Generation Xers were taught to question everything and to be confident in their individual point of view. They’ll question what an association does because that’s what they have been taught to do. One of their main concerns is the amount of volunteer time expected of them.

This generation of young professionals is not nearly as willing to let work intrude on their personal life as the Boomers have been. Generation Xers work to live. They want to make a positive and meaningful contribution in their volunteer work, but since time is critical to this generation, they are much more inclined to focus their contributions on a task force than on a committee.

Whereas committee members may be involved in a number of projects for a relatively long period of time, a task force focuses on one project, then disbands when the project has been completed. Generation Xers can thus make meaningful contributions, then move on.

Generation Yers, born between 1977 and 1994, are also into their careers. They know about professional societies and want to participate in member activities to enhance their careers, ultimately making them feel more productive and respected. Conducting research, networking with professionals, learning educational tools, and sharing experiences with peers are all valuable membership activities for this generation.

Generation Yers—and the Millennials, born after 1994—are the target of many of IFT’s career guidance activities. These are the individuals that IFT needs to educate and encourage to become the next generation of food scientists. Through these programs, IFT can introduce them to the idea of professional societies and hopefully cultivate future IFT leaders.

Student involvement is critical for a professional society like IFT. Generation Yers are our student members. Through the IFT Student Association, they present papers at the IFT Annual Meeting and plan and/or participate in such activities as the Undergraduate Research Paper Competition, the Graduate Research Paper Competition, the Intercollegiate Food Technology College Bowl, the Product Development Competition, and the Chapter of the Year Competition.

Student members have a seat on nearly every IFT committee and task force—most significantly on the Executive Committee. And IFT provides many other opportunities for students to network with more-experienced professionals.

All of these younger generations have other priorities and organizations that compete with IFT for their time. So it is important for IFT to identify additional activities and avenues for outreach. We need to continue to offer engaging experiences that interest them and make it worthwhile to commit their time.

IFT will continue to explore outreach efforts and invite these younger generations to become an important part of our organization and help advance the food science profession. Successfully fulfilling their needs will encourage them to become and remain involved IFT members.

by Margaret A. Lawson,
IFT President, 2005–06
Technical Services Manager, T. Hasegawa USA, Cerritos, Calif.
[email protected]