What about the workers?

Finding – and keeping – high calibre staff is a perennial challenge for the meetings and events industry. John Keenan reports

The number one HR challenge for businesses is ‘attracting better talent’, according to a recent report, with 39% of firms seeing it as a key issue to overcome. The second biggest priority is reducing staff churn, with 37% of HR departments looking to reduce employee turnover.

The research, conducted by leadership development company Morgan Redwood, was based on responses from the heads of human resource departments or board directors from over 250 businesses.
The findings will strike a chord across the meetings and events industry.

ESP Recruitment specialises in matching employers with job seekers in the events industry. Director Liz Sinclair said the biggest challenge to her operation is the job-finding website Linked In.

She says: “It allows people to go direct and find people looking for jobs. The downside is that on LinkedIn you will get 200 responses – it will take up a lot of your time to sort through the haystack and find what you are looking for. It’s an issue but in the end, recruiters come back to us.

“There’s a shortage of exceptional sales people, and marketers.

“At the graduate level, applicants think the events industry is all about organising the next Glastonbury, but most of the jobs we have are at board level experience.”

At event agency Ashfield Meetings and Events, Helen Capelin, head of operational excellence, says the firm is primarily looking to employ full-time staff.

She says: “We have over 330 staff across our global offices and over 225 in the UK. In addition, we have a global network of preferred freelancers that we use to support the requirements of the business. In many cases these freelancers have been working with us for over 10 years. This could be to support peaks in the business, provide local language on-site support or bolster creative and production capabilities with specialist skill sets to match client objectives.”

We find recruiting and retaining junior staff more of a challenge. It is more commonplace for younger staff to view their career paths with an expectation that they will change companies and jobs frequently.

Capelin says that the agency does not have an issue retaining senior talent. The aim, she explains, is to retain talented staff and have them develop and adapt with the firm’s business needs, client requirements and succession planning strategy.

She says: “We find recruiting and retaining junior staff more of a challenge. It is more commonplace for younger staff to view their career paths with an expectation that they will change companies and jobs frequently. Our aim is to ensure a continued focus on engaging employees, creating a culture that allows them to develop and at the same time creating autonomy and purpose across their individual roles so they want to stay with the agency.”

Capelin insists that when the agency does have to recruit staff, it is understood that it is a competitive market and she looks for innovative methods that will stand Ashfield apart from the competition.

She says: “We also look to develop long-term relationships with universities, associations and accreditation governing bodies to ensure we are involved in developing and supporting continued professional development programmes.”

The agency’s Bitesize programme provides a career path, tailored to individuals, delivering a framework of transferable skills, Capelin says.

“It has driven quality, improved succession planning, increased morale and contributed to attracting a top-quality workforce within the business. We have taken on additional staff in our training team this year to facilitate the development of this programme,” she says. “Training is making a key contribution to the development of a high performance, innovative culture.”

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Church House Conference Centre, located in Westminster, London, has a policy of providing staff with the training required to develop their skills on the job. The policy applies to both graduates and non-graduates.

Robin Parker, general manager at the venue said: “The development of new staff is key to any venue’s success. There are many industry related university courses now available so there is an abundance of talent looking for their first jobs. By recruiting new people to the industry we are giving them the opportunity to develop their skills while on the job. This benefits both parties. As a venue we are able to maintain our reputation for providing high quality events and the very best service standards as a result of our recruitment policy and training. In particular, the benefits of this policy can be seen through our in-house AV department.”

Javier Luna Romero joined Church House’s in-house AV team in March 2012 as a junior technician and has progressed to senior AV technician. He says: “Over the past two and a half years I have been involved in what I call the “transformation” of the AV department.

“This has been a big challenge for me personally, since I have had to learn all of these new technologies from scratch and integrate them with our existing systems. Church House has provided me with training in a variety of areas including camera system, video editing and management.”

Fiona Wynn, business development administrator, joined Church House earlier this year. She says: “The position I have at Church House has provided me with a great opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge. From dealing with clients’ enquiries to helping run the social media and being involved in the organisation of PR events, each day is varied and exciting.”
Olympia London has been taking on students for placements since 1999. The venue recruits from two main universities – Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Met – and will place up to two students to work for 48 weeks at Olympia London in either their second or third years of study on events management degrees.

Nick Jordan, senior lecturer in events management at Sheffield Hallam University said: “Olympia London’s student placement programme has proved invaluable to so many students for over a decade. It provides context to the students’ studies and gives them the essential taste of reality.”

At The Wellcome Collection in London, Daniel Caleb, event spaces manager said: “We like to find our staff by exploring multiple options, from the traditional way of posting jobs in magazines, to the more formal networking at trade shows.”

John Keenan

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John Keenan

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