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February 9, 2009

HUMAN CAPITAL:Keeping pace with a changing industry

The meetings and events industry has undergone huge changes in the past five years, transforming from a purely logistics-oriented marketing backwater to a cutting-edge communications technique. It’s leading players have had to adapt with this change, but are we properly educating the next generation of meetings and events professionals to handle this industry? Pete Roythorne looks at the need for training in the sector.

Out of all the marketing disciplines, the meetings and events industry has probably seen the most dramatic changes. Once a marketing backwater that was focused simply on logistics and ensuring that things happened when they were supposed to, meetings and events have become a main stay of the marketing mix and it’s professionals are as likely to be asked to ensure that brand messaging is communicated effectively, as they are to ensure that the food turns up on time.

“Meetings and events now serve much more of an overall communications role and they have taken more prominence in the marketing mix,” says Didier Scaillet, president of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). “In previous downturns, one of the first budgets to be cut was that of meetings and events, this time we are seeing signs that print and broadcast advertising budgets are being cut before the meetings and events budget.”

This shows just how much the meetings and events industry has now matured, but it also means that the sector now requires a very different skill set. 

“Unfortunately, training has not developed in the same way as the industry,” warns Scaillet. “The big problem we face as an industry is that within five years we will be facing a shortage of qualified labour.

"Currently there are a good number of talented professionals out there, but many of the top people in our sector have come from a logistics or hospitality background and they have developed with the job. This change, combined with the fact that there are still too few dedicated courses specialising in our industry, means the pipeline into meetings and events is just too small. There are lots of modules offered as part of other disciplines, but there are too few specific courses in meeting and events management.”

Fit for purpose: Are we really preparing the next
generation of meetings and event professionals to meet the demands of a changing industry?


Attracting the right people
Leigh Harry president, of the Joint Meetings Industry Council, agrees more training is needed to attract people into the sector.

“Good training is a way of attracting more people to our industry in a time when many other sectors are also looking to recruit top talent, as well as to help retain the good people we already have," she says.

“Training programmes can help raise the profile of the industry in the labour market while at the same time enabling new recruits to expand and adapt their current skills to meet our particular requirements. That allows us to recruit from other sectors instead of having to keep drawing from the same labour pool.

"The areas that most need training programmes are those that are specific to our industry – where we can’t expect people to come already equipped with the necessary skills," Harry continues. "The current employment situation notwithstanding, demographics tell us that we will increasingly be drawing from other sectors, and in that kind of a situation, you need to be able to give new recruits the knowledge and skills they won’t likely bring with them. Often it’s not so much a matter of having to develop entirely new skills as it is providing an industry perspective – a new context in which they can use skills they already have.”

So is there a need for a universally recognised set of standards within the industry? According to Harry there are already a number of standards, and that’s part of the problem.

“Ours is a very diverse industry, and many different sectors have developed standards appropriate to their respective areas," she explains. "The catch is that when we then all come together on the same events, we need to speak the same language and be able to interface efficiently, which requires that we at least understand each other’s standards. There have been various attempts to address this – the APEX programme, which is seeking to develop and implement common event definitions and formats, is an ongoing example – but we still have a long way to go in this regard.”

Universal body of knowledge

It’s this diversity that also worries Scaillet, who believes the way forward is not more standards, but a universal body of knowledge for the industry.

“If you talk to an accountant and ask them what their job entails and what skills they need, you’ll get a pretty similar answer from a wide group," he says. "The same cannot be said for the meetings and events industry. Two different people will give you two different answers about the core tasks and skills involved, most probably because they have come into the industry from very different angles.

"We need to be able to say to people with certainty that to do ‘x’ job in our industry you need this particular set of skills. Not only will this allow for those just starting to see a clear progression through the industry but it also allows for for transference of skills both geographically and between jobs in the industry.”

Scaillet says this gap is far bigger in the meetings and events industry than in other industries. This is merely emphasised by the global nature of the sector, and the fact that we are seeing the first generation of truly global thinkers enter the business, people who were born in one country, educated in another and seeking a job in a third.

“Our standardised body of knowledge needs to be applicable on a global scale as our industry is by nature a global industry," he says. "By taking a collaborative approach with our members, the knowledge base we are developing will help to create a skill assessment programme that will show those in the industry how to reach a certain level and guide them through their careers and make our core skills transferable.”

Scaillet believes that by allowing this body of knowledge to be open source, other associations can use it as the basis of their training. What remains to be seen is whether all the associations can actually work together in such a way with so many different agendas in play.

Next week we look at how associations can take a lead role in driving change and education within the meetings and events industry.

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