Training for the tribe

Expert Opinion
Training for the tribe

IACC CEO Mark Cooper says professional development is our industry’s beating heart.


A vision to deliver innovative and exceptional meeting experiences must rely almost entirely on the abilities of our people. Retaining and growing talent is a critical component of success for IACC’s members – it’s one of their greatest challenges, so a leading priority for us is to support them by fostering talent and developing the skills of people throughout the global business events industry.

Hospitality requires an unusual mix of skills that not all employees will naturally have. Many are recruited based on their qualifications in more tangible ‘hard’ skills, such as food preparation, event planning or venue management, but our people also need strong ‘soft’ skills – such as empathy, quick problem solving and teamwork – in abundance, yet these skills are not always straightforward to teach.

It’s simple to understand the benefit of a team’s ability to make customers feel welcomed and at ease. It can mean the choice between one venue or another. Why choose venue A, which has undeveloped staff delivering poor service, when venue B, in the same area, and charging roughly the same price, delivers excellent and attentive service that is focussed on delighting the customer?

When it comes to staffing, the challenges for venue managers are multiple. Firstly, they must ensure they have the right number of people bringing all the hard skills they need to operate their business.

Secondly, they need to develop the soft skills that make the experience for the delegate while at the venue excellent.

In a people driven industry, it’s these interpersonal skills that stand out when it comes to employability and promotion.

Taking on a job in a company with a strong training and development programme, can be career defining. Could there be a more fitting reward for a diligent hospitality employee to receive?

Traditionally, the resources required to deliver global skills development would have been so vast as to be prohibitive. Fortunately, there has been an enormous shift toward online learning. With world-wide reach it is a cost-effective way of keeping employees continually improving, so they stay at the top of their skills set and can quickly develop more abilities during short but regular online sessions.

Online learning is set for continued growth in our sector, especially at IACC where we have been developing our own learning programme. Not only does it ensure staff are confident and competent in performing their duties and in dealing with customers, but it is also accessible to students, encouraging them to develop the right skills early; around 30 students in the hospitality sector are supported by IACC each year through events, conferences, membership and scholarships.

Training that results in employees engaging effectively in their jobs and taking on greater responsibilities reduces staff turnover rates. Now this is critical as in my experience: the longer the term of service, the more the employee takes delivering exceptional service personally. At the same time, they also take failure personally and will do everything to put it right and not let it happen again.

It is advantageous that millennials, who make up the bulk of the hospitality industry, are very much at ease with technology and respond well to online and digital training. But we must ensure that no age group is left behind.

Professional development is a core tenet of what IACC offers, so our members already benefit from initiatives such as our mentoring programmes, global staffing exchanges and, of course, our Knowledge Festivals and global conferences.

Our overseas study tours with culinary or operational themes are also very popular. During the rest of 2018 and into 2019, we will be expanding further initiatives that will help our members attract and retain talent and address their skills shortages.

This is a long-term strategy and we’re challenging our members to see the bigger picture of collaboration through IACC. It’s about helping them to help themselves by creating strong community values linked to professional development.

Joining a global tribe through an association can be a smart move for your business.