This is a guest post from Emily Wallace, interim CEO of the Trade Association Forum.
The combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has seen trade associations unequivocally demonstrate their value to the UK business community.
Trade associations have such an important role to play in our economy. They see problems way before they hit the desks of Ministers, providing eyes and ears and an effective early warning system.
Trade associations make policy workable; without trade associations, the Government would have a really hard job implementing policy. Not only do they spend huge amounts of time working on the details of regulation and guidance, but they then push it out to their members and drive compliance too.
Trade associations also drive up standards that protect consumers and businesses, as well as supporting public sector inspection regimes. Trade associations are often driven by a group of businesses that want to differentiate themselves from those in their sector who are cutting corners on regulation, taxation or using low quality materials. They self-organise, set standards, change culture and drive innovation. They prevent a race to the bottom and protect us all in the process.
Trade Associations deliver investment in the skills that businesses actually need. They put in place accreditation programmes, run regular training sessions, develop routes to entry through apprenticeships and vocational learning, support continued professional development, share best practice and reward excellence.
As the pandemic hit, under increasing financial pressures, they stepped up their support to members, to help them to navigate the myriad of changing rules, regulations and government support schemes.
At the same time, many associations had to reshape themselves to be able to operate with a very different financial outlook, as in-person events, awards and other revenue-generating activities were cancelled.
The annual salary and benefits survey of trade associations from the Trade Association Forum lays bare the impact of COVID-19 on UK trade associations. It shows:
Over a quarter of respondents (27%) saw a reduction in staff numbers in 2020
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) was used by just over 50% of respondents
- 33% report that Covid-19 had affected their ability to increase staff pay in 2021, and 29% that they had not awarded or budgeted for salary increases in 2021.
- 64% of associations are looking to recruit, a figure that has almost doubled from our last survey in 2019 when just 36% of associations were planning to hire
- Just 8% have or are planning to return to full time office working. 83% will adopt hybrid working and 8% are allowing staff to work from home permanently.
While COVID-19 has provided the most challenging of times for Trade Associations, it is great to see some confidence return and a more positive outlook for 2022. The survey shows the sector embarking on a hiring spree, and recruiters report that demand for communication, policy, and advocacy skills in UK trade associations has increased significantly in the last six months.
The skills required to lead a trade association are a complex mix that require speedy transition from sector champion, to regulatory expert, to event organiser, to marketing manager to PR guru and much more besides. There are a lot of spinning plates, entrepreneurial spirits and oodles of ingenuity that keep all the parts in motion.
While the last year might have been a challenge, trade associations are bouncing back, reinvented, reinvigorated and with an important role for the future.
More information on the Trade Association Forum and the annual salary and benefits survey of trade associations can be found here on the website.
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