Andrew Harrison is Director of the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA), a trade body representing contractors and suppliers to the exhibition industry. ESSA is run by its members for the benefit of its members through an elected council of representatives, specialist working groups and a full time secretariat, which it shares with the Association of Event Organisers (AEO) and Association of Event Venues (AEV). ESSA co-ordinates joint working groups covering a range of issues into which all sides of the industry have an important input.
There wasn’t a precise moment when the event industry realised it had an issue with recruitment, so much as a growing realisation that school leavers and graduates weren’t considering the event industry as a career, and that the whole industry was becoming steadily less visible as a career path for young people.
Our members have recognised this within their own companies, and have reported difficulty recruiting younger talent to many roles, from skilled labour and creative posts to management and executive positions. Some ESSA members have taken steps to promote the industry to the young – visiting their local schools, colleges, and job fairs to engage and enthuse the workforce of the future – and their experience has been valuable in understanding how to approach recruitment on a national level.
Whilst there are many complex factors that affect event industry recruitment, one thing became clear as we spoke to our members, and visited some schools and colleges ourselves: the event industry has extremely poor recognition amongst young people. When we asked young people what careers they would consider for themselves – very few chose the event industry.
On these visits we would ask the students our questions, and then we would tell them about the event industry and the variety of career paths available. We’d point to events all around them, and build the understanding that there is one industry that delivers all the shows, the festivals, the gigs, the conventions and the myriad other experiential attractions that they already love.
We looked at many of the roles available – and made it clear that with such a spread of creative, skilled, managerial and executive jobs, there would be something for everyone. It was tremendously gratifying to see quite a few students having ‘light-bulb moments’ when they realised that here was a career path that could combine their interests and enthusiasms outside school with the skills they were learning within it.
The experience of visiting these schools and colleges, and the positive feedback we received, prompted us to expand our efforts, and we set about building a library of resources to promote the event industry to career starters and career switchers. Starting with six videos, we’re inviting our membership and all event industry businesses, to help us spread the word. The videos look at the event industry in general, as well as focusing in on some specific roles, and are a great way of introducing apprentices, school leavers, and even undergraduates to exactly what the event industry has to offer.
We’ve also started developing educational links, and have a nascent partnership with the University of Lincoln to give its Exhibition Design Degree students access to ESSA resources and selected member benefits. We’re aiming to make similar links with other institutions offering event specific qualifications in order to offer students a window, and eventually a doorway, into the events industry.
We’ve begun to centralise all our members’ vacancies on a single board, and we’ve combined it with the resource library to create a talent and recruitment hub on our website to provide members and visitors with a single source of jobs and information, promoting careers in the industry alongside the currently available roles.
Individual efforts by associations and event businesses are often successful in exciting interest, but we have to collectively commit more deeply, expending the capital and resources needed to raise the visibility and the cachet of the whole industry, so that it attracts the best and the brightest young people into its ranks across the board. There are so many pathways to a satisfying and enthralling career in exhibitions, so many different roles and areas of expertise, that no single campaign is going to be enough.
Our new Talent and Recruitment Hub is the culmination of a great deal of hard work, and it’s a valuable springboard for our campaign to recruit young talent into event services. We’ll keep adding more content for everyone to use, as part of their efforts to attract career starters into the industry, but the onus is also on event industry businesses at large to think about how they recruit, and to join the effort to promote the whole event industry as an exciting, fulfilling and varied place to work by engaging in their communities and localities.