Work experience: free labour or a rung on the career ladder?

Experience is the teacher of all things, according to Julius Caesar; and, today, work experience, internships and volunteering play a key part in event management degrees because they allow students to understand and apply the theoretical aspects of the course.

“Work experience is vital to the progress our students make,” says Rev Ruth Dowson, senior lecturer at the UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Beckett University. “Our statistics demonstrate that those students who undertake a placement year on our events management degree course are more likely to get a job in events sooner (and a better one), than if they didn’t do the placement year – and they are more likely to obtain a higher degree classification than those who didn’t get the work experience.”

Megan MacBrairdy, general manager for conference and training centre Horizon Leeds agrees: “Several members of the team are event management graduates and we all benefited from some amazing work experience when we were studying – which is one of the reasons we are all passionate about working with students now.”

Every year, CHS Group runs a student volunteer programme alongside its Conference and Hospitality Show. CEO Emma Cartmell explains: “In the early days, our exhibitors said that they would prefer the exhibition to be ‘trade only’ which excluded students. We felt a sense of responsibility to students so we launched the Student Volunteer Programme – an opportunity for us to get some much needed help on the day while providing a gateway for students to experience a full scale event first-hand.”

It is worth noting that a move to ban unpaid internships was recently blocked by the government, although there is a vast difference between unpaid internships and asking students to volunteer for a few days at an event.

Horizon Leeds is taking on a student for a year’s paid internship next year and Dawson believes that students who have gained significant events experience throughout their degree course, are more likely to be in a better position to gain paid and relevant work for their gap year. “There are some companies that have a business model based around using unpaid interns, and we would not encourage our students or graduates to undertake such roles. The reality is, however, we don’t control the market. We just look out for our students’ best interests.”

Martin Fullard


Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard: journalist, presenter, producer. Martin is the Deputy Editor at Conference News and Conference & Meetings World magazines. He leads the digital channels on Mash Media’s Conference Division as well as heading up Mash TV. He is formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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