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February 16, 2009

HUMAN CAPITAL 2:Associations taking the lead

There is little doubt over the need for a more joined-up approach to education across the meetings and events industry. However, delivering it calls for a strong, clear voice of leadership, and the various industry associations are perfectly placed to provide this, according to Pete Roythorne.

Opinions differ as to where training is most urgently needed across the meetings and events sector, and requirements vary from country to country, but one thing is certain and that is that the various associations will need to play a key role in driving the education process if the industry is to continue to move forward.

In last week’s feature we looked at how, among other things, Meetings Professionals International (MPI) is driving forward with the creation of its standardised body of knowledge for the industry, and the association's president Didier Scaillet was keen to point out that this was something that could be used as a basis for all future training and development in the industry across the world. Scaillet also explained that MPI is looking to work alongside regional universities to ensure the ready availability of suitable curricula.

“A standardised global body of knowledge is just the start,” explains Scaillet. “This needs to be applied, adapted and developed in different regions, we would urge all associations to get behind this. The knowledge will be open source so other associations will be free to use it as a base for what they do and the partnerships they make to deliver their education prgrammes. While we are the biggest meetings association, we are still only a fraction of the industry, and this is all about us working together for the good of the industry.”


Taking the lead: Associations are perfectly placed to
guide the industry towards a united
approach to education


Moving forward
Eventia’s Tony Rogers believes that although things have improved in the past five years, the support moving forward is not what it could be.

“The provision of on-the-job and off-the-job training is still of varying quality, and we do not yet have in place a proper structure for continuing professional development with appropriate certification and accreditation," he says.

"If we want to be taken seriously as a true profession alongside other accepted professions, this is something the industry must address and, in fairness, is actually beginning to do.

"In the UK, for example, we see this being approached from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives, such as national bodies like People 1st and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority developing frameworks, quality standards and vocational qualifications, complemented by initiatives from trade bodies to deliver tailored training and professional development for their members and for the wider industry.

"We also see training courses being developed by the trade media, by private training companies, and by educational institutions.”

It is still relatively uncoordinated and there is inevitably some duplication of provision, but Rogers believes associations are perfectly placed to move things forward. His comments mirroring those of Sciallet’s.

“Eventia is working on several fronts, including collaborative partnerships with the higher education sector through its ‘universities initiative’ launched in 2008," Rogers says. "Over the course of the next year or so, we will be working with universities and other bodies to enhance these programmes by offering quality-assured accreditation and certification. We shall also be examining a variety of delivery mechanisms (distance learning, online provision, residential courses, for example) to maximise flexibility and delegate participation.”

Although Rogers knows there will inevitably be competition between industry associations (and that can only be healthy) and inevitably some duplication of provision, he feels we are now seeing increasing recognition of the need for collaboration and partnerships.

“This can include co-promotion of the respective training programmes, discounted rates for members of one association to participate in the events/courses being run by another, and so forth,” he says.

Three ways associations can help

Leigh Harry, president of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC), believes there are three areas where industry associations can help this process.

“The first is by identifying standards and expertise that is essential to top performance in their respective areas, and then delivering the programs that help members understand and achieve these," he says. "The second is by maintaining a program of continuing improvement and update by incorporating educational objectives into ongoing activities such as their conferences seminars and workshops. Finally, associations need to reach out to their counterpart organisations in order to define the areas of interface and understand how they can better connect with and complement the educational activities of other sectors.”

Everyone seems to agree that there will likely never be a single educational effort, because different parts of the industry have different specialties and, therefore, different priorities for their educational programs. However, there certainly can and should be a better effort made to make sure each sector understands what the others are doing and how all the pieces of the puzzle can fit together better.

That is a big and ongoing need, but one that’s worth investing in, because in the end we all have the same objective: to make every event the best it can be.

“We’re actually getting better at working together as an industry, and to some extent, it’s because we’ve had to confront a number of common challenges that have drawn us together,” says Harry.

“I think all sectors recognise that at some point you need to set aside the competition within the industry in order to focus on the bigger picture – the external factors that can have a huge impact on the industry as a whole, even though they originate somewhere else.

"The current economic situation is obviously one of those, but so were the global security and transportation concerns that followed 9/11. Issues like these really do make people appreciate the value of better cooperation and coordination, and they were certainly a factor in JMIC taking on a more active role as an overall industry council.”

For Harry, the final step is for the associations to sit down together and look at how they can actually do a better job of coordinating content, so people in different sectors can understand how what they’re learning relates to what others are learning, and what they can expect when they come together in a working situation. And this in many ways is exactly what underpins the MPI’s work towards creating it’s global body of knowledge.

As Harry concludes: “We’re not there yet – but we’ve already come a long way.”

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