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There’s more to youth membership than meets the eye  

Member recruitment and reputation repair are no easy tasks, but for one newly revamped business organization, they’re top priorities.  

The Sterling Heights Chamber of Commerce set out to understand how its network of local businesses could be a resource to young professionals. The Chamber’s leadership—Stacy Ziarko, CEO & president; and Tom Whittaker, director of operations—sat with a group of Metro Detroit youth leaders to discuss ways the Chamber could better support early career professionals. 

The cause behind the conversation 

Gen Z Strategist and artist, Jasmin Smith, shares in the group discussion.

Bringing young people into strategic planning ensures a future-forward vision. Young people are the emerging workforce, clients, customers, and leaders. They are powerful and visionary—and they are different from today’s industry leaders.   

To help organizations learn from and co-design with youth strategists, The Skillman Foundation orchestrated a series of “Gen Z Design Sessions” facilitated by the Steen Foundation, a youth-led nonprofit that amplifies youth voice in education, environmental stewardship/conservation, arts & culture, political advancement, and youth career development. Gen Z Design Sessions are taking place with 9 businesses and organizations across Michigan this winter. The Sterling Heights Chamber of Commerce session was the first to be held in early November 2022. 

Conversation Highlights 

Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, Stacy Ziarko and Tom Whittaker, are instructed to turn their chairs away from the Gen Z strategists and listen to their conversation.

As the Chamber continues its commitment to business professionals in Macomb County, its focused on who it wants to be in the future. The first step? Engage differently with young leaders. 

“Chambers of Commerce have been around since the 1800s and they advocate on behalf of business communities. The Sterling Heights Regional Chamber is over 60 years old…most of my 11,000 membership is 50 and older,” said Ziarko. “We are missing something, we are missing a component that would attract a young entrepreneur.” 

Gen Z strategist, Jelani Stowers, prepares notes.

Gen Z youth strategists offered several ways the Chamber could explore reaching and resonating with young professionals.  

“I think it would definitely be a benefit to have some sort of consistent youth advisement, whether it be through community surveys or canvassing,” said youth strategist, Angelica Williams, Production Coordinator of L!FE Leaders Inc., a youth leadership and career development program serving the Metro Detroit area. 

The youth strategists also encouraged: 

  • Partnerships with local youth-serving organizations 
  • Micro grants and resources to meet the needs of young entrepreneurs and emerging web-based business models 
  • Messaging that recognizes the value of young professionals, acknowledging their contributions and not solely speaking to them as potential membership acquisitions  
  • Better utilization of social media – get great at the social media platforms you are already on before hopping onto trending new social media platforms like TikTok 
Graphic notes taken during the Sterling Heights Chamber of Commerce Gen Z Design Session by youth artist, Jasmin Smith.

More to come 

Look for more lessons from young people and see how their insights are changing how Michigan organizations are approaching their toughest problems as we continue to report out on the Gen Z Design Sessions and their impact, here on skillman.org.   

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