By Michael Gledhill, director of events, Bowcliffe Hall
The conferencing sector needs top-notch players.
The nature of our industry cries out for ‘people people’ – those who are personable, equipped with excellent communications skills and are smart, driven and ambitious.
As such, the industry is responsible for attracting them by mapping out worthwhile, fulfilling and well-paid careers that offer development and training.
The problem is that the UK is suffering the worst staff and skills shortage for many years – counterbalanced by the need to attract and retain top talent across the board.
Companies – indeed, entire sectors – no longer simply compete with each other for business, but for a dwindling human resource that is ever more aware of its own marketability – and never better placed to switch employers if unhappy.
Most people arrive at conferencing and events via the hospitality sector. The problem with that is that it is generally seen as a low paid grind, with long anti-social hours, holiday period working and poor pay and career prospects; hardly the conditions and rewards to lure high fliers away from tech or banking.
As such, the industry must reduce its reliance on this pipeline and do more to promote itself as a destination of choice to act as a magnet for top talent. It is vital that people with skills and potential of all ages – particularly school pupils and university students – are aware of the possibilities conferencing presents for an enjoyable career across thousands of venues worldwide and the many challenging roles and opportunities these offer.
I would firstly advise employers to investigate apprenticeship schemes which can be highly effective in developing the talent of the future and investing in people who will grow and drive the business. Managed properly, they boost a company’s skill base and create a committed, able, highly competitive workforce.
Regard every promising apprentice as a possible fulltime employee who can be offered a permanent role. Interest them in conferencing by providing a varied palette of work and responsibilities. Avoid consigning them to tea-making duties and let them concentrate on the educational side of their placement by investing time in promoting your company and championing the industry. This spadework is vital.
Stimulate youngsters’ interest in the sector via work experience placements from schools and universities and internships during gap years. Encourage them to return during holidays and weekends to learn and earn at the same time.
Ironically many people already spend much of their sixth form and university years working part-time in conferencing or support services, without ever considering it as a career option – or being encouraged to do. Don’t miss the chance to capitalise on this ‘captive audience’.
All these are de facto apprenticeships and should be viewed as opportunities for individuals and host companies to jointly benefit through learning and training with a view to growing the sector of the future.
To encourage intake further, larger companies would do well to consider sponsoring promising candidates through sixth form, technical colleges – or even university.
These are all routes that can, to a greater or lesser extent, be managed by individual employers – albeit with guidance and support.
Beyond that, though, much more could be achieved via an organised, concerted programme of education, communication and lobbying: the promotion of the sector to those considering the apprentice route and apprenticeship providers; the signposting of grants, tax reliefs and soft loans for those offering work experience or internships; and many more conferencing courses at vocational, GCSE, A level and degree level.
The type of agency that could deliver this is a trade body. Conspicuously, conferencing is without a professional organisation to represent the best interests of its employers and staff and its absence is something that makes recruitment considerably more challenging than it need be.