When NRECA and Touchstone Energy® Cooperative launched the Young Adult Member Engagement initiative in 2019, the response was strong, with thousands of visitors to the site and hundreds of resource downloads.

Developed with the help of dozens of co-op representatives, the first suite of YAME tools aimed to help electric cooperatives identify and meet the evolving expectations of their younger members.

“YAME 1 helped raise the profile of the evolution that's happening out there in the membership, the societal changes,” said NRECA’s Holly Wetzel, senior director of marketing and member communications. “I think co-op leaders across the country were starting to recognize the need to do things a little differently, and YAME 1 really helped that message coalesce.”

Now, the YAME team has released its second set of resources, this one focused on how co-ops can adapt hiring, onboarding and training processes to build an internal culture that can understand and meet the evolving needs of their members.

“YAME 1 was a lot of research and recommendations,” said Maura Giles, NRECA’s senior leadership communications manager. “YAME 2 is all tools to use. There are over 70 new resources here.”

Wetzel and Giles were joined by Jana Adams, executive director of Touchstone Energy, for a recent discussion of the details and vision of YAME 2.

Q: Give us an overview of what the broader YAME project is?

Wetzel: The goal of YAME, writ large, is to empower co-ops with strategies and resources to engage the next generation of members and to meet the evolving expectations of all age groups. In the first phase, we focused externally on members and how to communicate with the next generation of members. Phase 2 takes what we've learned about member values, interests and expectations and focuses on helping co-ops develop and nurture a workforce and an internal culture that can meet those evolving expectations and adapt to the changing energy industry.

Q: And what kinds of tools are available in Phase 2?

Giles: There are brand new resources for recruitment and onboarding, for ongoing workforce education and for assessing and adapting your culture. It includes toolkits for evaluating and planning, checklists, sample content, interactive learning modules and an “example bank” of successful co-op programs. You can download the resources, customize them and integrate them as you see fit.

Q: How did you decide to focus on internal practices and culture for this phase?

Wetzel: Since we initially launched the YAME initiative, we’ve worked regularly with a member advisory panel, so all elements of the project have included ongoing input from people regularly engaged in co-op operations. During the development phase, we talked to representatives of over 100 of our co-ops. The tools for Phase 1 were for communicators, but the Phase 2 tools will resonate with communicators, human resources professionals and co-op leadership.

Q: Jana, talk about how the perspective and expertise your team brought to this phase and how the YAME message dovetails with Touchstone Energy’s mission.

Adams: The Touchstone Energy team is talking to and working with co-ops across the country every single day. This constant engagement with our co-op members gives the team deep insights into co-op culture that I think helped us serve as a strong partner to NRECA on this project. Our mission is strengthening the relationships co-ops have with their members. Having an engaged staff that reflects your customer base is critical for delivering good, solid member services that lead to strong relationships. There is a natural connection between the YAME project and how we work to help our members. It is great to partner with NRECA on a program that will really help the entire co-op community.

Q: Talk about the philosophy behind these resources. Why is it important to develop and evolve the co-op culture?

Giles: It’s really about putting people first. It’s not only to help employees understand the cooperative difference, but to be able to communicate that to members. We talk about the next generation of members, but we're also talking about the next generation of employees. YAME is about letting folks know the co-op is here for you and educating your workforce so employees can rally around the co-op, be proud of the work they do, and then be able to share that information with the membership.

Wetzel: Your co-op employees are your ambassadors out in the community. They’re the voice of the co-op. So it's important that everybody's on the same page, speaking the same language, and understands what all the different programs are at the co-op. The culture of a co-op and the attitude of the employees and their knowledge directly reflect on your member satisfaction and your member engagement.

Adams: Preserving and strengthening the co-op culture is one of Touchstone Energy’s foundational values. Engaging young staff that are joining co-ops is a must-do in order to retain a culture that focuses on a co-op’s members and its community.

Q: So what’s next? How do you plan to get the word out on YAME 2?

Wetzel: For YAME 1, we’ve spent the past year and a half talking to co-ops about it, speaking at statewide and G&T events, even in the virtual world. We've tried to really infuse it in everything that we do. For YAME 2, we're going to do the same thing. We'll have a webinar series. We're developing a workshop. And we'll do the roadshow, whether it's virtual or otherwise, to educate as many people as we can and help as many people as we can.

To learn more, register for March 9 webinar in which NRECA and Touchstone Energy will help co-ops harness the power of the YAME 2 resources.