Upskilling: a never-ending story

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Upskilling: a never-ending story

Michael Jones breaks down the differing and fast-changing approaches to professional training and advancement in the events industry:

Event management education whether through university courses, on-the-job apprenticeship-style training, or upskilling, offers an avenue for individuals to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to flourish in the meetings industry. 

Many professionals have tried to make the best of the pandemic to upgrade their skills, although, sadly, many trained professionals have also fallen out of the industry, leading to a possible future talent shortage. Indeed, the very nature of how we train our event professionals is being profoundly changed by the rapid march of event tech, new demands, and new hybrid approaches to event delivery.

 The competitive nature of attracting prospective students to event management courses has probably been only heightened by Covid and the uncertain future for parts of the industry, at least in the short term.   

 One of the main options for a student looking for a career in events management is a university degree. In the UK, there are 44 separate university institutions that offer events management focused degrees. In terms of prospects, after graduating, studies suggest 78.5% of these UK students are employed, 7.3% are in further study, and 5.5% are working and studying.  

 The University of Lincoln in the UK sees 85% of its event management graduates in work or further study 15 months after the course’s conclusion, and 96% of students satisfied with the course they receive.  

 With regards the types of employment engaged in by individuals who undertake an event management degree in the UK: 51.1% are in marketing, PR, and Sales, 13.9% are secretarial and numerical clerks, 8% are retail, catering, and bar staff, 6.9% are in business, HR, and finance, while 20% have other career options. In the UK, 34% of individuals completing an events management degree become conference and exhibition managers, 9% become marketing associate professionals.  

 Contrastingly, apprenticeship style schemes offer an alternative, more hands-on brand of education. The UK’s event apprenticeship programme, funded by the government, is a qualification, equivalent to 2 A levels and there is a £3,000 (US$4,107) grant available to companies taking on an apprentice.   

Training specialists for the event industry, Realise offer an apprentice scheme to anybody over-16.  

The programme lasts up to 18 months and requires the student to be in paid employment for at least 30 hours per week. In Realise’s scheme, the student is required to work in a role that gives them the opportunity to be involved in events for their organisation.  

 Georgia Sage, who completed the scheme in the UK, said: “The events apprenticeship has been extremely valuable in providing me with the skills and confidence needed to kickstart my career. The apprenticeship helped me to understand the basic principles of event management which I have been able to apply to both virtual and hybrid events.” 

Finally, upskilling focused schemes offer an important form of education for individuals not only at the outset of their career, but throughout the whole of it.  

 Through international industry associations such as Meeting Professional International (MPI), individuals can engage in upskilling courses in specific areas such as Event Data Analysis. These courses involve a large disparity in content and timing, varying from as short as six hours in the case of MPI’s Event Data Analysis, to 60 hours for the Event Solutions Academy.  

Similarly, PCMA, the US-based global event management association, offers individuals multiple skill-focused courses. A career guidance scheme and resource  such as the PCMA Business Events Compass, aims to keep training relevant to contemporary issues in the industry, allowing individuals to  keep up with international developments. 

Importantly, upskilling schemes function both as an addition to university and apprenticeship-style, and as valuable training unique to both. 

Is there a  distinction?  

University and apprenticeship style education are often posited against each other. 

One distinction offered between each is cost. In the UK, a bachelor’s degree is normally 3-4 years and costs £9,250 (US$12,668) per year, not including accommodation and living costs. For courses such as BA Events Management at Leeds Beckett University in the UK a student will receive 240 hours of contact time, which would cost the equivalent of £115.63 per hour. 

 Australia is a principal provider of events management university education and courses there for international students, cost, for example, AUS$30,400 (US$21,856) per year to study a Bachelor of Tourism, Hospitality and Events at James Cook University.  

 Apprentice schemes offer work with companies, which means apprentices can earn a wage while they train. David Preston, CEO of Realise, says: “The key message for the apprentice is earn while you learn, get the experience on the job.”   

 Similarly, Richard John, founder of Realise, adds: “The maths is evident; £40,000 ($54,760) of debt compared to securing a qualification debt-free and 18 months of salary.”  

 While there is a suggestion that the hands-on aspect of on-the-job training provides a more effective solution, some professionals disagree. Dr Jennifer Hagan, Teeside University (in the UK), states: “There is a perception that the only way to train and learn in the industry is to get straight in hands-on but, in reality, every successful events professional knows the value of evidence-based practice and research, structured approaches to planning, knowing the details of relevant policy, risk assessment etc.”  

 Paul Cook, founder of the Hybrid Centre and former MPI UK president, comments: “If an individual has a university education, they show the ability to go further. Many industries demand a university education due to the discipline and creative thinking offered. Indeed, you are at a disadvantage without a university education.”  

 Miguel Neves, CMP, editor-in-chief at EventMB and MA Conference and Events Management, University of Westminster, graduate, adds: “They [degrees] are not topics that had an immediate impact on my job roles after leaving University, but they have had a very beneficial impact on my overall career, particularly when it comes to understanding and connecting with the global community of event professionals, something that I benefit from every day in my current role.”

Neves adds: “University education, particularly at the post-graduate level, is more theoretical and research oriented. This can be especially useful career-wise, but not usually applicable for entry-level jobs. This creates a disconnect between what graduates are expecting and what companies are looking for.”  

  Yet, while there are points of contrast, a healthier view, for the future of the industry, should be that alternative forms of education are not necessarily distinct competitors, but complementors.   

Co-operation is the key to our future  

Discussing attempts to compare university and apprentice style education, Paul Cook states: “If the approach towards education is too binary in terms of university education or on the job training, it doesn’t help the sector.”  

Instead, co-operation between all aspects of the sector, including upskilling-focused training, offers the best avenue for improving the standard of events education, and, in turn, the events industry itself. Cook adds: “Advisory groups to universities and apprentice schemes need to communicate to ensure the training offered by both is of a high standard.”  

Significantly, belief in the increasing importance of co-operation between distinct aspects of events education has grown because of the pandemic.  

Dr Caroline Jackson, vice-chair of UK industry association, Business Visits and Events Partnership, states: “Over the next 10-15 years it is anticipated that each of these routes to and through events education will continue to develop, converge, and grow. The pandemic has demonstrated that there is a demand for education and that, for some, this gave them time to pursue personal skills development.”   

 Without co-operation and communication between event professionals, event education providers, and events companies, the industry risks a disconnect between the individuals educated, and the industry they enter.  

 Yet, this focus on the education of young professionals should not take away from the need to upskill across the industry. Live Group says its event briefs have moved from 65% regarding in-person live events, to fewer than 5%. This dramatic shift in the industry leaves many experienced professionals returning to a novice state. As a result, the value of upskilling courses for all individuals has reached an unprecedented level.   

Paul Cook again: “I don’t think you ever leave school. If you never look at where you are and how to improve, you’re in danger. There has never been a more important time to upskill, but that need to upskill will never go away. You never want to be dated.”

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