NextGen: The IBEW’s Initiative for Today’s Young Worker

19 Jan, 2018

Millennials. The term draws eye rolls from older generations. The first and oldest millennial today is 35 years of age. In the IBEW in Canada, nearly 20,000 of our members fall into this demographic, with the number steadily increasing as more and more Boomers retire from our ranks every year. By 2025, 75 per cent of the world’s workforce will be made up of millennials.

Back in 2010, IBEW leadership, rather than roll their collective eyes, recognized that there was an issue reaching this new generation of members, and decided to commission a study, which surveyed members and broke down the findings based on demographics. Our leadership saw a couple of things; the demographics of the union were changing, Boomers and Traditionalists were moving towards retirement, and Gen X and Gen Y are accounting for a higher proportion of the membership and yet, there was a growing disconnect between young workers and our union. Our leadership was older and young people were not participating or attending union meetings or stepping up into leadership roles.


The survey results found millennials didn’t understand the value of the union, didn’t know how to get involved, didn’t think the union communicated with them well, didn’t attend meetings and viewed the union as an “old boys club” – to paraphrase a few. Since then, we’ve actively set out to change that and we call it our NextGen Initiative. At its base, NextGen is about making a space in our organization to get members more involved through increased education and communication. What this has meant is the development of NextGen Committees which provide a legitimate space for young workers to get together at the Local Union level, discuss their issues and work with leadership to find meaningful ways to get involved. NextGen Committees are now active across the country, and because of their activism, our International President, Lonnie Stephenson, has developed Charters presented to NextGen Committees through a request made by their Business Managers, to recognize their efforts.

Committees have organized NextGen training, created a “Union Meeting Cheat Sheet” to help members better understand how meetings run, revamped new member orientation and hand delivered it to new members, participated in the roll out of our Code of Excellence program, got active on their local labour councils and routinely team up with their Local Union Political Action Committees, Retiree Committees, Women’s Committees to lend support.

We have and will continue to hold conferences for NextGeners, and make space for young workers at our existing IBEW Conferences. For example, at our last two International Conventions, we were able to include a delegation of young workers (who were not elected, and as such observed the proceedings), one representing every province and territory and state. This is an important part of NextGen because it allows for younger members to learn more about the way our union is run and receive mentoring from older, more experienced generations at the same time.

From making space at our existing conferences, to developing training opportunities specifically targeted at young workers, to increased communication through social media, and a self-directed e-newsletter, NextGen is continuing to reach out and engage our younger members. Most importantly, by allowing young workers to build a network amongst themselves of activists and leaders it has and will continue to strengthen, not only our union, but allows NextGeners to become IBEW ambassadors to not only their peers inside our union, but their peers not yet represented by a union, to educate them on the need for a strong labour movement to protect Canada’s middle class.

In our next blog post we will feature guest blogger Arlene Dunn, Deputy Director with Canada’s Building Trades Unions. Arlene will highlight mental health in the workplace.