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October 18, 2017
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Sub-Saharan Africa: Question of Qualifications


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As commission increasingly gives way to management fees in the events, meetings, incentives and conferences industry, the role of formal qualifications is complex. How much of what PCOs do is learned in a formal institution, gained from experience, the result of association activities, or part of a natural flair for creativity and business?

Pieter Swart is a business events strategist and managing director of Conference Consultancy South Africa. He has a Certification in Meeting Management (CMM) and is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), is a member of the Tourism Program Advisory Board in the Department of Tourism at the University of South Africa, in addition to the various industry associations in which he is an active member and the multiple awards he has won.

Experiences

He says, “The Experience Economy has been coined by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in the Harvard Business Review, 1998 as an emerging economy. Today, almost 20 years later the design of experiences is fundamental to meeting or event planning. Experiences are what people remember, whether good or bad. To design an experience that supports an event objective, thorough knowledge is required of the audience to address their needs and match their expectations.”

Mobilising audiences into action requires an understanding of the application of human senses and influences on emotions, Pieter explains. “Only when a person is touched at an emotional level will he or she respond or engage and, if planned correctly, will the desired outcome be achieved. These are subjects of studies in humanities and neurosciences and core to the work of a contemporary Professional Conference Organiser (PCO). A PCO is therefore much more than a booking agent and deserves much more than relying on commissions from facilities or third-party suppliers to make a living,” he maintains.

Skills

“Successful PCOs are students for life and invest significant resources in continuing professional development simply because they have to. The world is rapidly changing, technology advances at a rate never seen before and all culminate in progressive experiences, each setting the benchmark for the next and the PCO is expected to keep up and even lead innovation,” he notes.

Pieter raises a critical point: “There is no single qualification that is a perfect fit for an organiser.” Instead, he believes organisers of different events need different skill sets.

“We can however agree that the fundamentals of event management remain the same, but applied differently for each event. PCOs need a diverse toolbox to practice their vocation. This toolbox is made up of 9 knowledge domains, 28 skill sets and 84 sub-skill sets. Qualified PCOs have studied event management, their knowledge is tested and verified. Because we operate in a global environment, internationally recognised standards are favoured,” he adds.

Benchmarks

“The Certified Meeting Professional International Standards (CMP-IS) have been developed over many years and is a product of the Event Industry Council’s 33 member organisations representing 103 500 individuals of whom 11 000 obtained the CMP designation in 55 countries. This is however only the start of a PCO’s career development journey,” Pieter notes.

“The ability to apply skills in practice is vital to developing organising capabilities and once this is mastered, experienced organisers would move into strategic event management to lead the profession into the future. Clients that are serious about the acquisition of these specialised skills will indeed pay a fee for the services of a PCO and only then can PCOs call themselves true professionals.

“As with all other advances happening around us, controls for good corporate governance are getting tighter and transparency became a standard. The days for the commission based remuneration model are counted. National Treasury issued instructions on 22 September 2017 that only two models of remuneration will be accepted for services to Government: a transaction fee model or a management fee model. There is no turning back. The time has come to professionalise our industry. Our clients will benefit from the assurances provided by a professional and PCOs deserve it,” he concludes.

Associations

Len Venter of the Saaci Academy says the vision of the organisation is to professionalise and empower the Southern African business events industry through training and education, by means of its online academy. Its technologically advanced learning management system (LMS) allows Saaci Academy members to conveniently access course material from any device, anywhere, anytime, he explains.

The Saaci Academy platform currently has more than 500 members registered on the platform with around 380 actively completing the online soft skills courses, averaging 1400 to 1600 collective logins measured during an average 30-day month.

The soft skills platform offers 36 courses currently, all available online. Popular subjects include coaching and mentoring; performance management; administrative office procedures; and tourism management. The academy has also partnered with leading, accredited training institutions for members who wish to enrol in accredited part-time or full-time qualifications.

Another support function for Saaci member organisations is the broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) skills development segment. BBBEE specialists can assist Saaci members with a clearer understanding of the regulations and requirements, including programme selection that is beneficial to the learner and employer.

“Saaci in its capacity as the association for the business and events industry participates strongly with the Council of Events Professionals Africa (CEPA) and industry professionals to lay the necessary foundations with regards to qualifications specifically aimed at PCOs and aspiring PCOs,” Len adds.

Certifications

CEPA is a not for profit company that was formed in 2014 and is in the process of registering to become a professional body for the events industry. Chairman of the board, Glenn van Eck, says that as a professional body CEPA would be:

  • Custodian of event certifications (but not a training provider). While institutions of higher learning can award qualifications, CEPA will award certifications which will need to be renewed periodically and proof will have to be shown that the individual is continually engaged in keeping up with industry developments and trends.
  • Engage with training providers to accredit courses that provide education and possibly certification within the events industry.
  • Accredit and be the custodian of CDP points.
  • Look at three or four certifications initially, expanding in consultation with industry and industry associations.
  • Create a career path for individuals in the events industry.
  • Deal only with individuals’ certification.
  • Lobby with stakeholders on behalf of individual certification within the industry.

“The board is at the moment looking at the various committees that are needed and will be issuing calls for volunteers to serve on these committees, hopefully before the end of the year or early next year. We encourage experienced people to volunteer when these calls come out to be part of this exciting next step in the evolution of our industry,” Glenn says.


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