Why the events world struggles with talent

Event360 recap: Challenges in attracting and retaining talent in the industry.

From left: Nigel Gaunt, Sam Baxendale, Dawn Dennis, Olivia Parker
From left: Nigel Gaunt, Sam Baxendale, Dawn Dennis, Olivia Parker

The events industry, like many others, faces challenges in attracting and retaining talent. Many have argued that this is due to the perennial overwork issue with the industry’s notorious long hours.

During a panel on retaining talent moderated by Campaign Asia-Pacific's Oliva Parker at CEI’s Event360 in Hong Kong, the speakers agreed that there needs to be mindset shift from employers to address these challenges, while the industry needs to undergo a rebranding in itself.

Dawn Dennis, founder of Continuity Consulting Limited, pointed out that the nature of the industry with its short deadlines and demanding client leads has led to the preference for new hires with substantial working experience—a scenario that makes it difficult for new graduates to land a job.

“We are pushed by clients for events that come in at last minute, [we] don’t have the time to take on the juniors. We’ve got to deliver the event now, need someone that can hit the ground running,” said Dennis. “If we want to get more juniors in the field, [we have] got to be more patient and accepting.”

However, she pointed out that the dynamic projects and transferrable skills within the industry makes a rewarding career. “The beauty of events, [is that], after the end, we are not doing the same thing everyday,” said Dennis. “Show them [the] events industry is so versatile, [you] can be into cars, [and] do autoshows, [you] can be into music, [and] do concerts…”

Even then, young talents also present some challenges to employers such as a high staff turnover and as Sam Baxendale, regional director from Salt suggested, the Gen-Y syndrome. "The young people I would describe as a touch intolerant but highly capable. The Gen Y syndrome is that you think you might be the next Mark Zuckerberg. [They have to] instill a bit of patience [or the idea] that if you stick with certain things, good things will come," said Baxendale.

Nigel Gaunt, chairman of Future Credits, meanwhile, said the MICE acronym does not sound aspirational and the industry should instead embrace ‘business events’ as a term. He also urged the industry to lay out a clearer career path for young talents.

"There’s isn’t a clear line of career path. When you’re working hard and undercompensated financially, they can’t see a future. We need to show what the future could hold," said Gaunt. He added later that enrolment in continuous professional courses conducted by associations such as PCMA and MPI may be helpful in career development.

"The courses are the way forward, [but you] do need to have a reality check, those courses have to be well grounded and have practical knowledge," he said. "Whether it's MPI or PCMA, it's good that they work in coorporation with universities, as an industry [we need to] make sure that the content is relevant and practical," said Gaunt.

Baxendale, meanwhile, emphasised the importance of managing expectations between the talent and the market. “There's a connectivity issue between the industry as a whole and the graduate community,” said Baxendale. Course modules that are heavy on financial skills, he said, may not be sufficient since the project management nature of events requires a lot of people skills.

For instance, Dennis shared that people management takes up half of her responsibilities, from managing the attendees (planning for programmes that suit their needs), to working with clients and her team.

Nigel added that the changing working environments may also be overwhelming. “Bear in mind that the workplace is not in the office, but where the events are held, which could be outdoors, [it] could be a foreign country, [there will be] a set of issues and how you deal with that,” he said.

Another challenge, he said, is the fragmented nature of the industry with a few large networks and many other smaller agencies. “It's hard for the industry to come under one roof, if you will, They also compete fiercely with one another, always bidding on the same business,” said Gaunt.

The solution, he suggested, lies in a professional body that will serve as a platform for dialogue on common issues facing the industry.


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