If unions want to remain relevant in the eyes of the smartphone generation they need to make changes – and quickly – says young professional Gary Best
At last year’s national conference Prospect introduced electronic voting for motions that could not be clearly passed or rejected on a show of hands. This was particularly relevant when the voting was close.
Afterwards Prospect asked for delegates’ feedback. Questions included: “Did you find the electronic voting keypads easy to use?”, “Did you feel the electronic handsets allowed delegates to engage more with Prospect?”, “Do you think using an electronic voting system saved conference time?” and, finally, “Should Prospect use electronic voting for future conferences?”
The response to all questions was a resounding yes, with 100% supporting electronic voting at future conferences. It may seem like a small step but it is a necessary one. Not only does it save time, as tellers do not need to count hands on close votes, it also mitigates the risk of human error. Speeding up the process will also mean that more motions can be debated and voted on.
These changes will help create an environment that young professionals are more familiar with. The pace of everyday life in the 21st century is constantly increasing and to ensure Prospect maintains relevance, we need to adapt at the same pace.
If we do not keep up with the ever-developing technological world, the union’s principles could eventually appear outdated, leading to younger members believing that joining is irrelevant.
Young workers across Britain, in all industries, face a future full of uncertainty and doubt for a number of reasons – the increasing difficulty of being able to buy a house, the expectations employers place on them when they apply for new roles and the insecurity surrounding the pension schemes available to them.
For the union to remain relevant and appeal to the younger generation, we need to actively show we are dealing with the issues affecting them and advertise our work in the appropriate environment.
Social media is a key tool and when used correctly it can become extremely effective. But setting up a Facebook group and occasionally Tweeting, while a step in the right direction, is not enough.
Without our smartphones, tablets and laptops, many things we do today would not be possible. Our entire lives can be organised, and sometimes even carried out, on a smartphone. Long gone are the days when the Nokia 3310 (an icon in the mobile phone revolution) was used for texting, phone calls and playing snake.
One of the main objections to digital voting is lack of transparency and “secrecy” but using technology does not translate into lack of transparency. You may be unable to see who has raised a hand for or against, but technology can still easily break down and produce this information.
It would also become clear which branches need additional support, guidance or education around specific topics. To prevent rogue voting (going against your members’ wishes), the individual votes cast by each representative could also be broken down.
Becoming more accessible and following more modern processes shows we are willing to adapt and are not stuck in the mind set of traditionalism. This will not only attract new members but also encourage existing members.
I was one of Prospect’s delegates to this year’s TUC young workers’ conference where we proposed a motion calling for electronic voting for all matters of business. Unfortunately it was not passed, but its relevance resonated with many in the room.
The conference was completely paperless, with attendees encouraged to download all essential documents. This may seem a small step but within a few years will be considered vital.
If approved for trade union ballots, then this process is more likely to be rolled out for the wider public during local and national elections. It would encourage more individuals to vote, make voting more accessible, and make the results easier to count. It would eliminate the need for a postal vote, meaning the results can be announced much faster. This is yet another process that has lost touch with younger members of the public.
Evolution in the 21st century has focused on technology. Unless we adapt and maintain our relevance to the younger generation, who are growing up with smartphones in hand, we will fail to even maintain our existing membership numbers.
As a young professional, turning 30 this year, I have seen numerous advances throughout my lifetime. MSN Messenger, Nintendo 64 and Blockbuster are already things of the past, replaced by Snapchat, virtual reality gaming headsets and Netflix. Yet throughout all these changes, unions’ processes have remained the same. The time for change is now.
- Gary Best works at Babcock and is on the committee of Prospect’s Young Professionals Network
- Picture credit: Stefano Cagnoni, Prospect National Conference 2016