How do we attract young people to our ageing industry?

Expert Opinion

Could apprenticeships help inject new blood into the exhibition industry? asks Andrew Manby, director of exhibition and conference services provider, Joe Manby.

It’s a challenging time for all of us in the conference industry with slow growth predicted for the next two years at least. As those in charge of the purse strings show no sign of loosening them any time soon, one of the effects has been to make prospects even tougher for graduates and school leavers keen to enter our industry.

Of course, conferences are not alone in experiencing one of the most turbulent economic and political periods of recent times, but if we’re to emerge from this downturn in fighting form we are going to need people brimming with creativity and talent. Yet in our industry, as in many others, the economic downturn has resulted in an ageing workforce, where the average age of technicians has risen from around 20 to more like 50.

Clearly this greyer workforce brings substantial benefits, not least the wisdom gained through years of conference building experience. What we need though to ensure sustainability is an accessible way to attract new blood on board.

With the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds in the UK edging close to a shocking one million, the Confederation of British Industry’s director general, John Cridland, has described government investment in education and skills as “the most important thing” for a return to economic health.

He has a point. With UK universities given carte blanche to charge prospective students up to £9,000 a year – and a great many of them planning to do just that – for a course that does not guarantee a job at the end of it, there must surely be a demand among both employers and young people for a cheaper route into gaining skills and employment.

The government’s announcement earlier this year that it is to create an extra 100,000 apprenticeships is surely to be welcomed by our industry as a potential boost to recruitment and essential training. According to City and Guilds, over half of companies that already recruit apprentices believe they offer greater value than hiring university graduates.

As conference providers we need to ensure we welcome keen, new minds into the industry as the electricians, technicians, and of course managers of the future. Could apprenticeships hold the key to our future prosperity?

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