How can the union increase interest in membership among young people?

Novus has the privilege of working together with many trade unions and employers’ organizations and a common challenge for many is how to reach and attract young people from different perspectives. The challenges differ depending on the union and profession, but there is a clear focus today on exploring how to successfully attract young people to partly want to become members of the union, and partly to train in the professions that the union represents. Of course, there is no universal answer to this, but here are some insights from my role as Strategic Advisor that can inspire in this work from a communication point of view:

  • Communicate more. In my experience, young people are interested in getting involved in issues that they think are important, as long as they see “what’s in it for me”. Many young people do not know what the union is or does, which makes it more difficult to reach out. The union must succeed in explaining the difference between what you as a member get in contrast to those who choose not to join. At the same time, it is important to show young people that they can influence as members and that collective efforts benefit them too. Show negotiation successes that underline that the union is needed.
  • What do you get for the money? A trade union fee every month is often a trade off for something else (fun). The union must therefore clearly communicate the benefits of union membership. There is also a point in improving the transition from student membership to regular membership in order to retain more members when they enter working life. Many young people may have temporary and/or precarious employment or be self-employed (including in the gig economy). How do you ensure decent working conditions for them?
  • The communication channels are a moving target. A strong presence on digital platforms is of the utmost importance, but with the awareness that each generation has its own digital preferences in communication that change with age. This is very clear in the Internet Foundation’s latest report The Swedes and the Internet 2023, based on data from Novus.
  • Balance the messages. Although the union’s main mission to be a constructive counterpart to employers can sometimes create a bad atmosphere. At the same time, you don’t want to scare young people away from vulnerable professions and thus potential membership. Therefore, it is important to balance communication between messages that are alarmist and that increase interest in the professions you represent.
  • Understand basic values and prerequisites. At Novus, we work a lot with segmentation and profiling and there is a reason for that. We are all different with different needs, barriers and drivers. Therefore, communication must be adapted to the target group, e.g. based on values, age and life situation. The unions must devote themselves to understanding young people and what is important to them in working life. Salary, relationships, work/leisure balance, skills development, occupational affiliation, career? What must be fulfilled for me to become a member of the union and even possibly get involved in a union?

In summary, it is about being known, credible and forward-looking as an organization in order to be attractive in the “market”. Unions must build a strong brand that not only strengthens the relationship among existing members, but also attracts the unorganized. A strong brand facilitates effective communication and message adaptation to different target groups, especially important for engaging young people in the labor market.


Per Fernström

Strategic Advisor, Novus



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