The intern approach

Against a background of over 950,000 16-24 year-olds unemployed in the UK, apprenticeship schemes are increasingly being acknowledged as a viable route into a career in the meetings industry, with the option to continue studying.

Internship and apprenticeship programmes can be incorporated as part of a university or college course, and are also available to school leavers. They can be either paid or unpaid.

Chris Peacock, Director of event booking agency, Conference Care, introduced the National Placement Scheme at the Hotel Booking Agents Association during his tenure as Chair in 2012. The on-going scheme offers undergraduates a full-year placement at a venue or agency.

“The events market is one which many people in the past have fallen into, rather than picked as a career choice. I introduced the scheme to encourage the right kind of talent into our industry, and to benefit our member companies,” says Peacock.

According to the High Fliers study last year, which surveyed 18,000 university leavers, graduates who have undertaken internships are three times more likely to land a job.

Sue Massey, Operational Director of Meetings and Events at event management agency, Grass Roots, believes the next generation now feel it’s worthwhile gaining hands-on experience.

“Students have seen the cost of higher education escalate and the number of jobs after qualifying decrease. They therefore feel it would be better to get into a company and develop their skills and career from within,” says Massey. 

Grass Roots has run apprenticeship schemes for both school leavers and graduates, and is set to launch a new programme later this year.

“Gaining work experience allows students to focus on the last part of their degree dissertation on the areas that really interests them, so that they can have a tangible project to show employers,” says Massey.

The role of an apprentice can bring added benefits to a company as well, she argues. “Interns offer a fresh, enthusiastic energy to the company, and are a dedicated workforce bursting with ideas, and ready to learn.”

Richard Harrison, GM at Warwick Conferences’ Scarman training and conference centre, also champions the value that an apprentice can bring to a company.  “The effect on the team cannot be underestimated,” says Harrison. “The team has previously enjoyed mentoring and watching them develop. They bring new skills that they have learnt at college into the workplace.”

Warwick Conferences recently completed the first year of its apprenticeship scheme in partnership with Stratford-upon-Avon College, and has just taken on another five apprentices. The apprentices spend four days a week at Warwick Conferences and one day a week working towards an NVQ at college.

Two of last year’s apprentices now work permanently at the venue, while two more have stayed in the industry and the fifth has joined a competitor venue.

“Apprenticeships are a great way for those new to the industry to get training on the job along with a qualification giving a step up on the career ladder,” says Harrison.

However, Nick Terry, MD at Stourbridge-based event management agency, Top Banana, believes the increase in the popularity of apprenticeship schemes within the events industry is due to companies taking advantage of a large talent pool. “The rise in popularity is down to companies responding to the chance to have a long, hard look at an individual, as well as them testing their fit,” says Terry. “Getting intern staff is easy, getting the right one, however, is a whole different ball game.”

Last summer, Top Banana expanded its team with a bunch of new recruits including interns Alex Hatton (First page inset) and April Summerscales (Inset) in the positions of Production Assistant and Venue Finding Assistant, respectively, on 12-month contracts as part of their university course placements.

Terry adds that intern schemes can broaden the experience of a budding event professional, and gives them an insight into the workings of a company.

“It gets their hands dirty, and they realise the graft needed to deliver the craft. They get to see some brilliant clients, and the not so.

“We have staff meetings where we share financial updates and forecasts, so they get to understand what it means to run a small business. They see all the high and lows,” he says.

While the competition for any job is fierce, an internship can give graduates and school leavers solid on-the-job skills, which an academic course can’t offer.

“I have been put in situations where I’ve needed to think fast and respond quickly unlike when you’re sat at your desk writing an essay,” says Hatton. “My internship allows me to put into practice everything I have learnt during my two years at university; real life experience is obviously far more beneficial than the theory, and in terms of my future career, I think this year will be priceless.”

Meanwhile, Summerscales says an internship can allow students to establish if the events industry is the career for them. “It takes a certain kind of person to 1. Get it, and 2. Love it. It is fast paced and things need to happen so urgently there is no messing around. Every day is different which is what makes it exciting,” she says.

Maria Schuett, Marketing Manager at conference and events centre Central Hall Westminster, says that an internship gives priceless experience, but warns that it is important that the scheme has a detailed structure. There is many a tale of the exploited apprentice being reduced to tea making duty. There is an onus on both sides to live up to the bargain if it is to work.

“I believe students that complete an internship gain invaluable self-confidence and a much clearer idea of what they want to do in life” said Schuett. “However, having run internship programmes for all of my working life, I realised that a set programme of aims and objectives, ideally worked out in collaboration with the intern, is critical to the success of the programme and intern performance.”

In a tough job market, an internship or an apprenticeship can be a good route into the meetings industry and an opportunity to gain experience. Apprentices in return can offer a hard work ethic and an enthusiasm that can benefit the events company, too. 

Photo: Ashdown Academy’s event management postgraduate students on a venue visit lesson  with René Dee at Central Hall Westminster.

This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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