At Confex just recently, I attended a discussion on the relationship between academia and industry where the gap was obvious. There are only a relatively small percentage of event management graduates who are ready to take on a management function within the sector when they leave university. For most, they need to start from the ground up and they need to start running straight away but are not necessarily ready to go.
From my perspective as a Lecturer at Falmouth University, we are working hard to create as many opportunities as possible for students to experience the real world of work in the sector through placements, shadowing, mentoring, real-world assessments, case studies, research, site visits and internships. Lots of other courses do similar things and yet the industry continues to find that graduates are not ready for work. Why is this?
It seems that there is a perception in some cases that they deserve a job in the events sector, or that they don’t need to do the ‘grunt work’ like taping cables or moving kit or data entry. From the feedback from industry within that discussion at Confex, it is clear that whatever the degree, new members of staff will always have to do this kind of work whilst they find their feet in the business. For that matter, whatever one’s position in the sector, an element of ‘grunt work’ will always need to be done. The best event managers are those who don’t think that this is beneath them. There is no place in the industry for that kind of attitude and I believe that it is our role as educators to ensure that our students understand this.
Now, not all event management students actually want to go into event management. I know this will seem strange but there are many reasons why people might choose event management as a degree – transferable skills, interesting areas of work, exploring options – not necessarily because they want a career in it. Some start the course and change their minds along the way and this kind of course enables that exploration. Some are already passionate about particular aspects of the event sector and some think it will be glamourous and exciting. Some come with an existing professional approach, others with arrogance, others with insecurity, yet more with no idea at all. As lecturers, we have to support these students in exploring and identifying their path and fit in the sector but there is a limit to our influence.
This is the crux of the matter. We can design courses and experiences and assessments that develop the right skills and open up opportunities for students but our ability to change their view of the world is entirely dependent on that view. There are some students I have worked with who look at the world with disdain, who believe that they have all the answers already and that their view is always the right one. There are some who work fantastically hard, have great ideas, seek collaboration and have a truly professional outlook. These students absorb information and context like sponges and the best are able to translate this into their work and can understand the why as well as the what and how of event management.
The transition from higher education into full time work is difficult. It’s tiring and it’s not exciting all the time and the new graduate might feel that they aren’t being pushed or that they are always doing the dull work. This is the reality of the events industry (and is the same for many other sectors as well). Placements only go so far in enabling students to understand this and prepare for the transition so we as industry professionals also need to pick this up and give new graduates a little space to adjust.
The thing is that there isn’t time for graduates to have that space. We need them to hit the ground running, to be useful from day 1. To give us value for money for their salary. To recognise the importance of their role in the company and in enabling the business to succeed. And to be humble enough to get as much from the experience as possible, making themselves valuable. Part of developing this approach in graduates in dependent on industry engaging students in work placements and giving them as real an experience as possible.
So in bridging the gap between industry and academia, both sides need to appreciate the context of the other. As lecturers, we need to ensure that our students, those who do want to get into the industry, have a real understanding of the sector and an appreciation of their desired and actual place in it. As an industry, we need to find ways to give graduates a chance for transition, some space to adjust and some stability in making that shift to being a professional.
Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events