Maintaining and broadening our appeal – September 2008

Engagement with young people and with the wider community is essential if unions are to prosper and remain relevant.

One of the biggest challenges facing our profession – and it can be seen as a ticking time bomb – is the ageing of the nursing workforce and the chronic difficulty in attracting and retaining younger nurses.

Our recent Professional Issues Conference was treated to an inspirational address by Avril Henry who emphasised the need to understand the differences between the generations that now make up our workforce and the world views of younger people, who have grown up in a markedly different environment than their parents (see story page 19).

It is a challenge and a priority for the Association to engage with these generations and prove the relevance of the union to their lives.

Unions, including the NSWNA, are also looking to develop mutually rewarding partnerships with the wider community.

Late last year I personally identified an opportunity for the NSWNA to pilot community engagement with a women’s football club, where my daughter played. I was confident I could convince the club to promote the NSWNA message – ‘Nurses Rights at Work: It’s Worth Joining For’.

The issue of union messages and union sponsorship of community organisations has been controversial and many organisations are reluctant to do it. A lot of organisations are still reluctant to let unions promote themselves in this way.

I saw the CFMEU sponsorship of the Canberra Raiders and similar sponsorships by other unions and I was convinced this was something the NSWNA should also try. I unapologetically used my contacts at this soccer club to convince them to trial a NSWNA and nursing message on team uniforms.

The club put a proposal to Council and, because I did have a personal relationship with the club, I excluded myself from Council’s decision making. The Council agreed this was indeed something worth trying and it accepted the club’s proposal.

The NSWNA now has the benefit of more than 300 young women – in the six club teams and their opponents – being exposed to its message every month from April to August, with hundreds of spectators also seeing it as the club’s six teams have progressed through the season into the finals.

Some sections of the media and a few members have attacked the arrangement because of my personal relationship. It is regrettable a few have misinterpreted this as being about personal gain for me. The reality is it was that personal contact that allowed the NSWNA to overcome traditional resistance to union sponsorship.

The Council understood this and the recent Annual conference did also. In fact, the 2008 Annual Conference passed a resolution asking the Association to continue trialling this innovation for the next two years. A set of guidelines will be established and published to all members in the near future so more not-for-profit organisations can apply to enter a mutually beneficial arrangement with the Association.

Any project must obviously be consistent with the values of the union, integrated with our campaigns and allow us to promote the Association and nursing.

The organisation will also have to be not-for-profit and a member must vouch for the integrity of the club or organisation.

Other unions have successfully made this connection with grassroots sport and other community organisations. We hope these community partnerships will build on the other ways, such as paid advertising, we use to promote our messages in the wider community – at a fraction of the cost.

In fact, this approach is not completely new for the NSWNA. We have a good track record of assisting nurses, their families and communities beyond the workplace. We provide educational opportunities for nurses through the Edith Cavell Trust and have contributed to drought assistance programs. We have also become regular sponsors to the Inter Hospital Mini Olympics.

The NSWNA has a long tradition of speaking up for the health system and other core issues relevant to nurses and midwives. We will continue to do so. While we currently have a high standing in the community we can’t take it for granted. We need to be innovative in how we interact with the broader community.

To succeed, this union must maintain and broaden our appeal in the communities in which we live.