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Future events talent

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Are apprenticeship programmes and placement schemes the way forward for developing young talent in the events industry? Zoe Vernor finds out.

Students In previous issues of CN we have looked at how Event Management degrees are preparing the next generation of event professionals for life in the industry. Academia, however, is not the only  available route into the events industry. While many, if not all, universities offer placement schemes giving students hands on experience, apprenticeships are also now gaining in popularity.

While a placement scheme runs concurrently with an Event Management degree, apprenticeships offer a form of ‘on the job training’. Young people not in full time education can learn a job or skill by working for a fixed period of time under the tutelage of a professional. 

Sourcing, training and developing fresh talent has deep roots in the events industry with a host of organisations developing or directing more resources into apprenticeship and placement-style schemes. 

Predominately these programmes are about giving young, aspiring event professionals a grounding in the ways and means of the events world. These young people are the future of the industry so who better to mentor them than those already fully immersed in the industry on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, these schemes are not one-sided; they are mutually beneficial to both the individual and organisation.

Leicestershire-based event management agency Ashfield Meetings & Events runs a placement scheme aimed at students studying events management looking to undertake a year in industry.

Luke Flett, head of global marketing, says: “Inviting students into our business as part of a placement scheme has a number of benefits. It allows us to immerse them in the realities of working in an agency environment, allowing us to provide practical learning experiences that reveal real insight into our business.

“Ultimately our aim is for them to return to the business after graduating. As such we ensure they are exposed to a variety of different clients and event types in order to facilitate this. We have found that this process allows them to contribute with fresh thinking and challenge the way things may have been delivered in the past. Having had limited experience and exposure often means limited pre-conceptions that allows us to harness their eagerness and enthusiasm to help shape our processes and ideation. The students return to university with a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience, continue their development and return back to us with even more ideas.”

Jessica Dodsley undertook the placement scheme with Ashfield two years ago and is now a full-time project executive with the company. She tells CN her placement year helped prepare her for her future career.

“My placement year developed some skills that I wouldn’t have been able to through the academic work set by the university, such as my delegate and supplier communication skills. These skills come with time and experience,” Dodsley says.

She adds that if she were to give any recommendations to universities offering degrees in Event Management it would be to make the placement year compulsory. “My placement was the main factor that enabled me to achieve my career progression so far, with experience under my belt I was an attractive candidate at interviews.”

Putting theory into practice is key across many sectors, and particularly so in the events industry, which is why placement schemes are so important. Laura Keenan, Student of the Year at Leeds Beckett University in 2014 and now project executive at Ashfield following her placement there, says during her three years at university they only organised one event. “Although we had time to reflect on what went wrong and how we could improve, we didn’t get another opportunity to put our reflection into practice,” she says.

Association input
Venue finding and event management agency Conference Care director Chris Peacock is a keen advocate of apprenticeships and placement schemes. During his term as HBAA chairman in 2012 Peacock’s key objective was to drive professionalism within the industry, spearheaded by the creation of the HBAA Graduate Placement Scheme.

The scheme, which offers student’s a year’s placement, was designed to provide students with in-depth knowledge of the events industry from an agents or venues perspective, as part of their ongoing studies.

“The scheme was created to develop future talent for the industry,” Peacock says. “Students are provided with real tangible experience, gain greater understanding of how the industry really works and, as a result, achieve a professionally credible placement to take with them into the workplace. By helping students get the best start they can, we are supporting them, but also guaranteeing the future of the industry.”

Peacock carried this into his day-to-day work as director of Conference Care and has so far welcomed six students to the business. During their time with the agency, students are taught about every aspect of the business portfolio, they handle live enquiries, and learn how to deliver events and tailored service to clients.

Jade Smith, one of the agency’s first placement students, was offered a full time position in 2014 and now works on new business enquiries in the Operations team.

Peacock highlights that these schemes are mutually beneficial to both the agency and student. “We share our knowledge and experience, and in turn gain intelligent, enthusiastic and motivated members of the team who also have future employment potential - it’s a win-win situation,” he says.

The Apprentice

Crown Group launched its apprenticeship scheme in 2011 for school leavers, graduates and young unemployed individuals who are looking to retrain in the hospitality and events sector, and has since built relationships with a number of government agencies as well as educational institutions to promote the benefits of apprenticeships.

Of those who started the scheme in 2011, the majority are still in full time employment, according to the group, which has retained 75 per cent of those who started as apprentices.

  “The apprenticeship route to employment is a great way to learn a skill in a real working environment,” says Charles Beer, managing partner of the Crown Group. “Previously, colleges have collaborated with businesses to offer work experience, but these are never long enough for either the individual or the potential employer to gain any value from the relationship.

 “Apprentices add so much value to our workplace. They bring creativity, energy and an inquisitive mind, which forces us to challenge our own status quo. This allows us to evolve and grow while remaining focused on our day-to-day business activities.”

The Event Hire Company, a subsidiary of the Crown Group, introduced its apprenticeship scheme in a bid to help reduce the unemployment rate in Thurrock.

Stacey Newlyn, who undertook a 12-month apprenticeship with the company was offered a full-time job last year, and at the same time earned an Advanced-level qualification in Business and Administration. “This apprenticeship has been really good for me as not only have I got a recognised qualification, I also have work experience... you really can’t get a job these days without the two as they go hand in hand,” she says.

Caterer Amadeus, part of the NEC Group, launched its Apprenticeship Programme in partnership with Solihull College in July 2013 and reports that its first two apprentices have been offered employment with the caterer. 

To date the programme has given 28 young people the opportunity to launch a career in catering. As part of the scheme, the apprentices are given the opportunity to work across all of Amadeus’ home venues: the NEC, LG Arena, NIA and ICC, as well as at external venues and events such as the Scottish Open and the Library of Birmingham.

“Amadeus is a key brand within a big organisation so I knew this scheme would help me gain useful experience in an industry that I have always been interested in,” says apprentice Jack Malkin. “The programme has given me a taster of lots of areas of hospitality and as a result I now know which area I want to progress in. I am really pleased to have been offered a permanent contract at Amadeus and look forward to developing my catering career further over the coming months and years.”

The Eventice
Major industry tradeshows have also opened their doors to these types of apprentice schemes albeit following various amalgamations. This month’s International Confex will host ‘The Eventice’ competition.Run by ESP Recruitment the Eventice is an Apprentice-style competition that allows two final year event management students to compete to win up to two jobs in the industry.

Liz Sinclair, director of ESP Recruitment, tells CN the competition, which was launched five years ago, has grown by the number of applications and the quality of students, as more lecturers buy into the concept.

“There are great prizes for students (real jobs when they graduate) and also kudos for the universities if their students get picked for the final in London and of course if they win,” she says. “We have always had great support from the industry, with industry professionals at board level in large multi-national event organisations getting involved and giving their time for free, either on judging panels, or acting as ‘Nick’ or ‘Karren’ for our ‘Alan Sugar’.

“We have also had great companies investing in these students by offering jobs to the winners, including George P Johnson, Excel London, Blitz Communications, dmg events and Bluehat Group, to name but a few.”

Those taking part in this scheme are tested on a wide variety of skills and there is also the opportunity to network with high profile industry professionals who they would ordinarily not have the chance to meet.

A mark of the popularity of this type of scheme is the launch of the Eventice in Dubai. This year, ESP are offering one of the winners an opportunity to work for the Daily Mail Group Events dng events) based in Dubai   and Abu Dhabi.

Simon Mellor, president of Middle East and Asia at dmg events, tells CN supporting the Eventice is incredibly important to the company. “It gives us the opportunity to tap into the talented pool of UK-based graduates specialising in event management,” he says.

“We have seen the events industry rapidly evolve and progress over the last five years, due to the changing behaviours and needs of attendees, greater competition and the emergence of the digital age. It has created a need for event organisers to recruit individuals with a passion and technical expertise to understand and create experiential events that provide real value to participants, whether that be B2C or B2B.”

Never has the phrase ‘It’s the taking part that counts’ been more apt when asking Sinclair to reveal the programme’s success stories. One student, who didn’t win the Eventice, but was scouted during the process, has since had two promotions and is now a manager after two-and-a-half years on a high profile celebrity-led consumer event.

Previous winners of the Eventice have gone on to work on high profile events, give presentations at the House of Lords, and work on event including the New Years Eve fireworks in Dubai.

From the above examples it is clear to see that there is much value to be had from apprenticeships and placement schemes, both for the individual and organisation. It looks like the age-old question of what is more beneficial when it comes to securing a job in the industry - experience or education - is set to remain one of life’s little mysteries. A bit like the chicken and the egg saga, you might say.

This was first published in the February issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

26 Feb 15

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