Many of you have probably read how the role of an event coordinator has been ranked as the fifth most stressful job of 2016. In fact, the only jobs ranked more stressful were enlisted military personnel, firefighters, airline pilots and police officers. Whether or not you agree with these findings, there is no doubt that working in events is not something that everyone is cut out to do. It takes determination and experience (as do most jobs) and a good mix of communication, creative and time management skills to be successful. Many in the industry believe that these skills can’t be taught. That we don’t need academic degrees in event management. That experience is what matters most. But not anymore.
Perceptions around whether or not we need qualifications in the industry are changing. In January this year, the UK government recognized the importance of the events sector by forming the country’s first Event Industry Board. Meanwhile, the president of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) has called for new standards regarding the certification of event professionals. There is also a growing trend in big corporate institutions investing heavily in executive certificate programmes and post graduate event management courses for their events staff to keep them updated on the latest processes and methodologies of this fast-paced industry.
Whichever way you look at it, a qualification in event management is a lot more relevant today than it was five years ago. Modern universities like Coventry University are offering courses that combine academia with experience, helping create a new generation of event professionals that already have proven skills in project management – from briefing and planning to on-site management and post event evaluation. They have worked on real projects with real clients and are certified in the latest event management software. Even before they graduate, these students are able to provide important support on many aspects of an organisation’s event. So why not work with them?
What Can the Event Management Student Do for My Organization?
Students today are very willing to take on any opportunity that can provide them with experience in the industry. Meet and greet is probably the best place to invest in students – especially for those organisations who can’t afford specialist agencies. Many of our students man events like the Liberal Democrats party conference, where they are in charge of meet and greet, registration and other client-facing activities.
Placement schemes are another option. These can last up to a year and provide a cost effective way of hiring someone to do a specific job. Our students do placements, and volunteering opportunities with organizations like the British Council. By working as part of their events and logistics teams for the ‘Going Global’ conferences, students have been able to work in places such as Dubai, Miami, London and Cape Town in 2016. The work they do includes building event websites, managing registrations, meet and greet, coordinating conference sessions, as well as running live reports and providing post event analysis. The feedback we get from these organizations is always positive and many decide to hire the students on a permanent basis once they graduate.
You can also look at internships. These are usually unpaid positions that focus on short-term projects that can range anywhere from 4-12 weeks. This can be a good opportunity to get someone to do important tasks that you may not have the resources for, such as conducting research on your competitive landscape, evaluating your social media performance or doing some post-event analysis. A lot of our graduate students choose to focus their dissertations on evolving areas in the industry such as wearable technologies and cashless events – organisations could suggest topics and work alongside these students for their own research and marketing purposes.
Where Do I Find Students That Add Value to My Events?
If you decide that working with an event management student makes sense for your events, the next step is to figure out where to find suitable candidates. There are a number of universities and other higher education institutions that offer comprehensive courses in event management, but the ones that stand out have some of the following attributes:
Industry-Driven Modules – Event management is still a very young, dynamic and fast changing industry. Look at institutions that regularly consult with industry experts in creating and updating their modules. Find out how often they expose their students to the industry through lectures given by event professionals, field trips to industry events, course works involving real events and projects, as well as opportunities for practical work experience. Find out what proportion of students are in full-time work six months after graduation – as this gives a good indication of the institution’s reputation and academic standard.
Staff with Industry Expertise – A combined staff of academic lecturers and industry experts (event professionals across corporate, PCOs, associations and government) provides students with a good balance of theory and practical insights.
Industry Partnerships – Find institutions that have dedicated employment and placement schemes with reputable companies. At Coventry University, students have done placement schemes with British Council, Schroders, Bank Sadler and BP and many have travelled to international destinations like Dubai, Cape Town, Berlin and the US for practical hands on experience. Read through the testimonials of these organisations and find out what they say about the students and their abilities.
Technology Focus: Technology is such an important aspect of events now that any knowledge on the subject can add real value to what a student can offer to your event. Second year students at Coventry University, for example, need to pass the Eventsforce certification programme, which teaches them how to use the event management software to build event websites and registration forms, build agendas, manage sessions, link sites to social media and pull different types of reports.
How Do I Choose the Right Student?
Once you have made a selection of the universities you would like to approach, the next step would be to select your candidates. You can start by meeting students at university career days or take one step further and conduct an assessment center – this is when a group of students are given a task and they are rated on how they react, who takes the lead, how interactive they are, as well as their overall performance on achieving the set objectives. You can also get the university to make you a shortlist of their top students.
Once you have your shortlist, then you can assess your candidates on the following attributes:
- Presentation and content of CV
- Proven event experience (local or international)
- Likeability, communication and networking skills
- Knowledge of event technology
- Social media presence (views/opinions)
- Blogs (many students blog about their work experiences)
- Research skills (eg. social media or industry analysis)
- Industry recognition (eg. MyEvent.Vision award or the Vanessa Cotton scholarship)
Ian Webster is senior lecturer and creator of the Event Management Honors Degree at Coventry University, which was recently ranked as UK’s number one university to offer a degree in event management (Guardian 2016 Subject League Tables).
If you would like to get in touch, please email him at: bsx941