April 5, 2011 Features

Forecasting the Future: Impact of Societal Trends on the Professions and ASHA

"Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today."

—African proverb

The ASHA Board of Directors (BOD) must assess the constantly changing environment in which the association operates and in which speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and communication sciences and disorders scientists work. To ensure that ASHA is positioned to meet members' future needs for professional support, the BOD has assessed data on external trends affecting ASHA and the professions. With that information, the BOD has updated ASHA's Strategic Pathway to Excellence and developed a detailed report on how those trends may affect ASHA and its members.

In 2009 and 2010, the BOD and the ASHA Advisory Councils in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology studied the document Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges and Choices Facing Associations and Non-Profit Leaders (ASAE, 2008). They then ranked 50 trends and sorted them into socio-demographic, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) categories. These categories are often used to scan the environment and identify changes that may affect the future in various sectors.

Identifying which of those trends are the most significant for ASHA and its members was challenging. After much discussion, the advisory councils and the BOD identified and ranked 19 trends, which were analyzed in a report titled Designing ASHA's Future: Trends for the Association and the Professions. The full report describes the themes and trends, offers background on each trend, notes the potential impacts of each trend on ASHA and the professions, and recommends potential directions for association action. The 19 trends are grouped into seven themes.

Each trend listed below is annotated with a sample detail from the wealth of information available in the full report [PDF].

1. Generational Impacts   

  • Baby boomer retirement and "unretirement" and talent shortages. ASHA and the professions may need to rethink recruiting strategies to retain retirees and adapt policies to meet the needs of older workers who may delay full retirement.
  • Generation "Y" (millennials). As connectivity is integrated into the lifestyles of millennials (born 1980–1999), ASHA may need to implement a broader leadership development program for young professionals.
  • Redefining work-life balance. Work–life balance issues may take a back seat because of increasing pressures from global economic competition, the economic downturn, and organizations that are downsizing or freezing hiring.
  • Education falling behind employers' expectations. A 2005 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found that 84% of employers in the United States felt that K–12 schools were not preparing students for the workplace, citing concerns in the areas of reading and comprehension, math and science, attendance, timeliness, and work ethic.

2. A Diverse Future  

  • Increasing political and economic impact of diversity; future U.S. growth fueled by rising immigration. The United States is moving closer to an era in which no single ethnic or racial group will be a majority. Cultural competence in clinical practice will become increasingly essential, with the need for telepractice services by bilingual professionals to reach remote minority populations.

3. Clinical Population Outlook 

  • Rising life expectancy, aging global populations. Increased life expectancy may change demands for services. There is a need to gather epidemiological data on aging populations with communication disorders and effective treatments.
  • Health care challengesshaped by funding and the effects of chronic diseases. With more personal income being spent on health care, continued reimbursement advocacy will remain essential.

4. Technological Advances 

  • Growing popularity of online education. Online education could provide a mechanism for rapid and supplemental training to address personnel shortages.
  • Internet continues to transform government, governance, and business. Growth in social media is creating new approaches for engagement, communication, publishing, and marketing.

5. Financial/Economic Caution 

  • Growing financial market risks and uncertainty. The U.S. economic downturn has created a crisis of confidence in global markets, creating the need to develop contingency business plans to address slowdowns of differing severities.
  • Rising U.S. personal and federal indebtedness;changing patterns of U.S. income, wealth, and savings. Increased federal indebtedness is squeezing resources so that only services characterized as essential/necessary will be funded. The latest data show a massive divergence in wealth, income, and savings across age groups and within cohorts. The baby boomer generation is the wealthiest, with estimated annual spending power of more than $2 trillion.

6. Global Directions 

  • Increase in global talent shortages with economic growth; uneven economic growth. Development patterns across the world are placing stress on the global talent pool; for example, educated workers from India and China are returning to the rapid development in their home countries. Economic development is expected to vary across the world, with Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America expected to show the greatest growth.
  • Diminished U.S. political influenceinternationally; change in patterns of global governance and growing influence of non-state actors. A report by the National Intelligence Council suggests that American global dominance could end by 2020. One factor is the rise of China and India and the emergence of stronger alliances in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The growing influence of "non-state actors"—including nongovernmental organizations, business entities, foundations, and illicit activities by terrorist groups and criminal organizations—will require more global coordination.

7. Expectations for Social Responsibility 

  • Growth in global consumption challenges earth's resource capacity. According to a report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, global consumption is growing so quickly that two planets' worth of raw resource supplies will be needed over the next 40 years. Associations may need to develop organizational policies to ensure that their sustainability practices match member needs and expectations in an era of rising natural resources costs.

Additional Issues 

The BOD also reviewed specific professional issues generated by the advisory councils, many of which were related to the larger societal trends. Specific issues aligned with larger societal trends are personnel shortages, workload/caseload burdens, use of assistants, state budget crises, third-party reimbursement, volunteer recruitment, and service delivery to diverse populations. Other issues—such as demand for high-quality CEU programs, recognition of the significance of the Certificate of Clinical Competence, and engagement of audiologists with ASHA—were more closely related to the ongoing challenge for ASHA to meet its members' needs in a changing environment.

The BOD also reviewed ASHA's Strategic Pathway to Excellence using the identified societal trends and professional issues and made several revisions that will be implemented in 2012. According to Barbara Moore, 2011–2013 vice president for planning, ASHA will strive to meet several objectives next year related to member satisfaction, reimbursement and funding in health care and schools, accessibility and use of research, advocacy, cultural competence, responsible financial management, science base, data-based decision-making, use and effectiveness of technology, and strategic relationships. For more information, go to ASHA's Strategic Pathway webpage.

ASHA remains committed to providing value to members and continuing to enhance member satisfaction. To accomplish this goal, ASHA leaders must monitor the latest trends and refine the strategic pathway, which is a powerful tool that functions as a statement of priorities and a guide for the association's decision-makers. 

Alison Lemke, MA, CCC-SLP, was 2008–2010 vice president for planning.

Stan Dublinske, EdD, CCC-SLP, is senior advisor for planning.

cite as: Lemke, A.  & Dublinske, S. (2011, April 05). Forecasting the Future: Impact of Societal Trends on the Professions and ASHA. The ASHA Leader.


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