Raise your hand if you got into the meetings and events industry because you intentionally pursued it as a career. If we were all together in the same space, we’d see very few hands in the air.
Most people in our field never thought to themselves in high school or college, “I’d like to produce meetings, conventions and events one day.” In fact, I don’t know a single person who pursued it as an actual career; they simply ended up here. Outside of traditional event and wedding planners, the overwhelming majority of people in the meetings and events industry — and there are millions like A/V technicians, technical engineers, videographers, graphic artists and producers — started in this field because of their various skills, needs and connections. Few actually set out to do it as a career as I did. And that’s a problem — a huge, multifaceted problem that needs to change if we want our industry to be more sustainable going forward.
Currently, our field is in the midst of a massive talent shortage. Over the past several months, droves of experienced talent left their jobs due to the pandemic, and they’re not returning. Yet, our business as a whole is picking up speed. While we at The 180 Group have invested in hiring so we can meet our clients’ needs now and in the future, we need to do more as an industry to attract and broaden our talent pool. If we don’t, we’ll experience more than a tough time finding skilled people who want to be in our field. We’ll go stagnant, and we’ll cease to innovate.
But the problem goes deeper than hiring woes. We’re also dealing with an uneven playing field. When I tell people I produce events, most people think I create weddings. That’s because there are large populations who have no idea what we do because they’ve never been given the chance to see what our business entails nor provided access to the types of events we produce. They haven’t been given the opportunities I have because of my family ties to this industry — to experience creating an event from the ground up and the excitement of it all coming together seamlessly.
I was very fortunate to have a father who worked in the meetings and events business and opened the door to our exciting world to me at a young age. I saw firsthand how a producer works closely with a client and technical staff to make sure the theme, scripts and decks work together smoothly, how a graphic designer creates the visuals attendees see when they walk in or log on and how someone works with an airline company to fly in attendees and arranges a discount for guests with the hotel’s hospitality department. Those early experiences sparked what would become my passion, and through years of hard work, what The 180 Group is today. But most people, particularly underrepresented groups, have not had those opportunities, and that hinders our industry greatly. Imagine what we could do if all voices were represented and added their inventive ideas to the mix.
Additionally, our industry has both branding and education problems. Do a Google search for “what type of jobs make up the meetings and events industry,” and the bulk of the top results spotlight event planners and managers. Even the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics website lists the primary roles in our industry as Meetings, Convention and Event Planners, but we’re so much more. Our industry employs technical engineers, graphics designers, salespeople, logistics coordinators, A/V pros, videographers, producers, marketers — the list goes on. Countless professionals regrettably don’t know they too can have lucrative and successful careers in our industry. We don’t just plan expos, meetings, conventions and events; we’re a highly creative design industry, and our reach is tremendous. In reality, our industry touches every industry — from product launches to sporting events to sales incentive trips and all of the meetings big corporations have.
And while a young person graduating high school may dream of producing the Super Bowl or an event the size and scale of it, there’s not a clear educational path for doing so. While some colleges offer degrees and certifications in event, hospitality or tourism management, most who get into our industry have degrees in other fields of study, such as communications, marketing logistics or even political science. For example, most videographers go to school to make movies, but they never learn their passion and skills can lead to amazing opportunities in our field as well. We simply don’t have programs in schools and universities spotlighting our industry or driving people toward it.
So, what’s the solution? As a worldwide, creative industry, we have to think imaginatively and go big. Long term, I’m calling on my colleagues and competitors in the meetings and events field to create an organization specifically designed to support and promote event production. There are already organizations for meeting and event planners, such as MPI, but nothing for the creative and technical sides of our industry. This new organization can help level the playing field to bring in more diverse talent, spread the word about what we do and highlight how unique skill sets, backgrounds and education could translate into a fun and fulfilling career in our industry.
Before then, we’ll need everyone to be on board and willing to take this exciting step forward. We can still compete for clients and be creative in our own ways, but we’ll need to work together to make sure our industry stays on the right track and continues to be healthy.
Right now, we’re hitting a wall for talent, and the need is urgent. For the future sustainability of the meetings and events industry, we have to come together to solve these problems — not for ourselves, but to attract the right people who want to be included and involved in our industry and carry on the work for the next generation. Will you join me? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s get started.