Study your options

A recent report in The Times newspaper showed that only one in five
final-year university students expect to secure a job by the time they
graduate this summer. Of 16,357 students interviewed, only five per
cent had a definite job offer, compared to 20 per cent last year.

Around 10 years ago, travel and tourism was the ‘go to’ course for many
students who fancied something that unleashed their inner creativity
and had the attraction of travelling the globe.

Now, universities have seen a shift towards courses for conference and
event organising. Even popular culture played its part, with films like
‘The Wedding Planner’ starring Jennifer Lopez being cited by potential
students as the first insight they got into the world of organising
events.

With that in mind, how can university graduates who have embarked on
courses preparing them for conference and event organising make the
most of their new qualification? Employers are weighing up recruitment
options very carefully these days. So, what are the prospects for those
eager?

Course leader of the MA in conference and events management at the
University of Westminster, Rob Davidson, says: “Our students fall into
two categories essentially. One set are full time students who wish to
enter a career in the conference/event industry. The others are part
time students, who already work in the industry, but who want to study
to expand their knowledge and further their careers.

“The industry is seen as being a gateway to a glamorous job, jetting
off all over the world to mingle with celebrities and quaff champagne
within the event they’ve created. But, the ones that really survive are
those that know it’s extremely hard work and are willing to be flexible
and open-minded on issues,” continues Davidson.

“Graduates should think about what roles are really going to be
available upon leaving university. Just because their dream role isn’t
obtainable at that time, they should think about joining a relevant
company that may need salespeople or administrators. A foot in the door
is often the best way to start moving up the ladder,” says Davidson.

Nigel Cooper is executive director of P and MM Events and
Communications, which organises over 400 events a year. When he went to
university back in 1981, event management wasn’t particularly high on
any student’s preference list.

“I studied politics at university, which most people would say is a
vocational qualification. I certainly didn’t enjoy lectures or exams,
but they did help me learn how to assimilate and analyse information to
develop constructive solutions.”

Cooper got to his lofty status by joining a gift voucher company as a
salesman in 1990. He rose through the ranks until he became deputy
managing director. This role included looking after the company’s event
division.

“I think it’s important that we educate people for life and business.
But, the number of training positions must also be relative to
opportunity. For example, there is no point training 10,000 people to
become event managers if the industry can only support 500 new entrants
per year,” says Cooper.

Davidson explains that at Westminster, the post-graduate class in-take
is capped to around 20-25 students so we can give each of them a
dedicated service. Although it is hard for graduates new to the
industry to obtain job roles right now, there are things they can do to
make themselves more desirable.”

These issues include being flexible enough to go where the work is.
“You should be prepared to move around to different locations to
kick-start a career,” says Davidson. “For instance, someone in
Southampton who isn’t prepared to think about going outside Hampshire
will not get as many opportunities as someone who is willing.

“I also think ‘networking’ is this year’s buzz word. Students who give
up some of their spare time and do some volunteer work catch the eye
immensely. Shows like International Confex and MPI have allowed
students to help out over the years, and this looks great on the CV,”
explains Davidson.

Another avenue graduates can explore is the potential of looking abroad
for work. A senior lecturer at Greenwich University says: “As well as
agreeing that work experience and volunteering are valuable to one’s
CV, graduates should look overseas for job potential.

“It shows willing and a pro-active attitude. Plus, a lot of companies
abroad like to have a good mixture of nationalities on their teams, to
aid with communication channels to as many countries as possible,” he
explains.

So, there are some key pointers for any graduates who are coming to the
end of their courses. Once the mortar boards have hit the floor, the
hard work doesn’t stop there. There’s a lot of work to be done before
the champagne quaffing can start.

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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