Events student to professional … is it easier said than done?

_53664977_graduates_640Another key point that I gained from the Association of Event Management Education conference this week was that employers are looking for live experience of the events sector above any other skill, training or experience.  Pretty much all of the event management courses in the UK offer this in some way shape or form.  Most of us offer running their own events, volunteering, placements, industry qualifications like personal license or first aid, as well as the higher education qualification.  And several of the presentations raised the need to go further.  We are all offering these opportunities to students but even some of the best are struggling to settle in employment in the sector and are being beaten to the best jobs.

I have observed this struggle from both the University and employer perspective where I have employed people I have taught and who I have believed to be brilliant but they have struggled to  get their heads around this transition into employment.  Maybe it’s the simple fact of moving from part-time attendance to full time work.  Maybe it’s the increased workload and the multiple projects.  Maybe they struggle to change our relationship from tutor/student to employer/employee.

Whatever the reason, it’s happening all over the place and brilliant students are leaving the sector and not fulfilling their potential.  Similarly, we as an industry are not making best use of the talent that is out there.  So what can universities do to ensure that students are really truly ready for employment, that they have the skills and confidence needed?

Well it comes back to that previous blog post about engaging the senses to reach that state of becoming and being.  Employers need graduates to be and become before they start work.  We need them to have taken risks and responsibility and pushed themselves and worked really hard across both practical and theoretical approaches.  We need the universities to enable students to connect that belonging with being so that their commitment and ability might be interconnected.  This is not because we (employers) are shirking our responsibilities but rather because our industry is fast paced and hard work and high pressure and we just don’t have the time to coax people into work.  We need them alert, engaged, ready to go and ready to make their contribution to making great events happen, to making a difference and to fulfilling their potential.  We can’t do it for them.

So it’s not just about providing more live events experience for students (although that might be part of it) or necessarily about grades or qualifications.  I think it’s about finding the aptitude and engaging the motivation to learn and develop and deliver.  And I believe that it’s going to take a different approach to achieve it; one that is more bespoke, supportive, engaging and definitely not via powerpoint!  It’s not an efficient way to get students ready for work, but I believe it is effective.  I’d best go and work on my planning of sessions for September then!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


Shoulders back, clear the throat ….

lecternI have just been at the Association of Event Management Education conference where I presented a paper (for the first time in my life and it went well – phew!) and one of the keynotes by Professor Colin Beard talked about the human experience, particularly of learning.  In his keynote, Professor Beard went beyond the usual Maslow hierarchy or Kolb learning cycle and talked about engaging all the senses in the teaching and learning process.

So, we all have our inner and outer worlds and there is, quite rightly, a barrier between the two although they overlap at times.  In order for us to learn, there are five stages of progression into that inner world –

  1. Belonging – being part of something more than us, perhaps a social group or a university class
  2. Doing – active learning by undertaking something practical
  3. Sensing – engaging all the senses and thereby engaging more of the potential of the human brain
  4. Feeling – engaging our emotions and thereby our commitment and support
  5. Knowing – developing a body of knowledge held within us and the confidence that goes with it

Past the knowledge stage, we reach becoming and being which is a state of confidence and capability where we are able to apply knowledge to move forwards.  It’s probably better explained with an example.  So consider a university student on an events course (and here I am just thinking of the academic process):

  1. They already ‘belong’ to their course cohort.
  2. We (tutors) engage them in practical activity perhaps volunteering or running their own events.
  3. We support reflection on that experience in terms of what they saw, heard, felt, smelt etc. (and maybe even create sensory experiences in our teaching but that’s another subject)
  4. The student begins to attribute emotional responses e.g. I enjoyed it, or didn’t and self evaluate in considering their strengths and weaknesses
  5. With academic content, they start to build a body of knowledge supported by experience
  6. The student builds their capability, becoming more confident and the learning becomes embedded in their practice (and subsequently increases their sense of belonging to that group and we come full circle)

Well that’s what’s supposed to happen!  I can see that it does in many ways and I think that this model presents some significant challenges in terms of how we engage and support students and also how we create and design events that engage our target markets.  Considering my portfolio, this is particularly relevant for the Bridgwater Way project where we are trying to change behaviour and encourage more to cycle and walk to school, work and for leisure. The events programme is part of creating stages 2 – 4 from which the specialists can pick up, share knowledge and build a local community of cyclists.   So the design of the events needs to offer something to do, something that engages all the senses and then engages their emotions (positively) for the Summer Festival (19th July, Blake Gardens 1 – 4pm), we have taken this on board so we have a wide range of activities including cycle obstacle course, fastest tyre change challenge, Bike Build-Off etc; we have passive engagement including music and  circus entertainment; we have food & drink including the Smoothie Bike; All of which is designed to create smiles on faces, engaging those positive feelings about the project and about cycling and walking from which the information stands and specialists can share knowledge……and after all that we are keeping our fingers crossed that this model really works and enables attendees to become confident cyclists or walkers, to undertake active travel more frequently and to become an advocate for it.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Step back and look up

swissarmyknifeWhen you are running a business, it goes through a number of phases from the initial idea to the research to the implementation to selling and then to worrying about the next sale and the next new product or service to keep growing.  It’s easy in the first few years to be so busy doing business that you simply don’t have time to think about strategy or direction, let alone research & development. That’s normal but it’s also the downfall of many start ups.  For some, the idea just isn’t robust enough, for others it’s so successful you can’t manage it, for yet more it’s just really hard work.  And that’s why it’s so hard to look up and beyond next week into what your next product might be.

One of the modules that I lead at Falmouth University on the BA(Hons) Creative Events Management course, is Innovation in Events.  It’s a second year module and in which we build on standard management theory and content to develop creative problem solving skills, innovative practice and feasibility evaluation.  The students have to write a business plan for a new (or evolved) product or service related to the events sector in some way and then they have to evaluate each other’s plans.  The business ideas vary from apps to festival vending machines to new events to start up organisations to not for profit projects to inflatable chairs to custom made cocktail carts to waste management solutions and the list goes on and on and on.  The ideas are often founded in personal experience or identification of some gap or problem that needs solving.  Some students love this module and others hate it – I think because it is challenging and it requires a different way of thinking.  And therein lies the crux of the problem for business owners, leaders and managers.

It’s not just about doing more of the same, it’s about thinking completely differently and we all need time to change our mindset and frame of reference to get our heads into thinking R&D.  So we could make excuses about the urgency and quantity of workload, the pressures of our lifestyle, personal challenges, the ‘I just can’t do it’ or more likely, ‘what? I need to think about another new idea?’, but the simple fact is that we can’t afford not to generate new ideas and to keep moving our businesses and ourselves forwards.  This is why it’s included in the course at Falmouth – it’s a core part of doing business and therefore a valuable skill to develop as far as employers of our graduates is concerned.

But for those of us who aren’t studying a degree course, help is at hand!  Future Skills has just been launched – a skill development and support programme led by Cornwall College Business and Unlocking Potential.  It’s designed to engage businesses and individuals at start up, management and director levels and it is entirely tailored to individual needs and wants.  It’s all about having a positive impact on your business through increasing ability and capacity.  It leads to a qualification and it’s funded by Europe so there are some hoops to jump through but the team have designed the programme so that it’s relevant and appropriate yet not too arduous or complex.  The training is free too.  It’s a means to creating that space to look up and get a chance to change that mindset to find out what the next big thing is for your business, what the next development is as well as building on what you already have.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

It seemed like a good idea at the time …


… Because it was! Sometimes I come up with brilliant ideas. Sometimes I come up with brilliantly impossible ideas. Sometimes I haven’t any ideas at all. About 7 months ago, I had what was at the time a brilliant idea of holding the Falmouth University Final Year Fashion Show in the upper floors of a multi-storey car park. Amazingly, the rest of the team bought into this whole idea and it’s snowballed!

You see after the team at the University got it, NCP got it, then the suppliers, particularly JH-AV, got it and now we are but two weeks away with this brilliantly impossible idea actually becoming a reality. The impossible part of this is that the multi-storey car park venue means that we can’t get any vehicle bigger than a low-top transit up to the floors where we are holding the event. So all the seating, screens, power supply, signage, bar, clothes, tables, make up, toilets, fire extinguishers, catering, programmes, lighting, sound and projection all has to be carried or ferried back and forth from the ground floor.

Not an insurmountable problem but combine this logistical challenge with a very tight budget and it’s an even more ambitious concept to pull off.  I have to say here that it is only viable because the Fashion team at Falmouth get why this venue will not only give us the increased capacity that we need for this event but also will showcase the 3rd year collections, the Fashion courses and the university as a whole. It is not only Fashion students who are being promoted here – we have high quality input from Graphic Design, Creative Events Management, Fashion Photography, Fashion Marketing, Film and Press & PR Photography – and it is this collaboration of professional suppliers and service providers matched with the growing skills and abilities of these Falmouth students that provides a melting pot of positive impacts for all involved.

Because this event is so challenging, the core values of the University are never more prevalent – Creative, Connected, Courageous. We are proud to be creating and delivering event ideas that hold to these values and proud to work with and for an institution that is, in this event, genuinely walking the talk.

Claire Eason Bassett. Managing Director, Mackerel Sky


It’s all got a bit real for these students …

It’s approaching the end of year for the students that we work with at Falmouth University and both the 2nd and 3rd year cohorts are creating and planning events for delivery over the next 3 weeks.  The events range from charity balls to old school sports days, from skate and music events to training and skills development.

Here’s a post from one of those students shouting about her project and approach! Over to Isabelle …

“The inaugural Cornish Charity Ball will take place on Friday 16th May at the Greenbank Hotel here in Falmouth. The aim of the event is to raise both awareness of the valuable work of the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust whilst also, of course, raising money for them. This unique evening has an elegant 1910 theme and will include exquisite catering, an incredible raffle and dazzling jazz entertainment for a truly memorable night. 

This event promises to be unique in another way as this isn’t the work of experienced, professional event managers. Instead this is the work of students. But we’re not talking about your stereotypical sleep-in-until-midday, live off takeaways and avoid the washing up at all costs breed of student. Rather, these are committed students who attend the Falmouth Business Club breakfast meetings and speak on local radio, Source FM, about their causes and concerns.

As 2nd year BA Hons Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University, the Cornish Charity Ball team are making great strides into the professional world and taking the leap from academia. The first Cornish Charity Ball will not only be a chance for local businesses and members of the community to network and understand more about the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, but will also demonstrate the talent and excellence of Falmouth University students.

To find out more about the Cornish Charity Ball, please contact

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Isabelle Compton

Isabelle Compton, team member

Isabelle Compton, team member

Hannah Williams, team member

Hannah Williams, team member







Well done to Isabelle and team – we’re wishing you all the best for a highly successful evening!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Academia & Industry and How to Bridge The Gap

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

Does an MBA Mean Success?

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Do you need to have an MBA to be a successful businessperson?

It is perhaps an out-dated idea that an MBA opens doors and shoots you up the corporate ladder, and maybe it’s simply not true any more….

This week I graduate with an MBA and I think I started on the course because I had an aspiration then to develop my business capabilities and, being completely honest, I liked the sound of having more letters after my name.  Now I have those letters and it doesn’t really make a fig of difference. What does make a difference is the incredible amount I have learned and how the course has made me a better leader and manager.  It certainly hasn’t taught me everything nor do I get things right all the time but I make better decisions, I am more aware of my limitations and liabilities and I have a greater ability to overcome those limitations.

My course was with the Open University and their flexible learning approach backed up with solid academic staff and content has enabled me to complete this postgraduate qualification whilst constantly applying it to my work environment.

I started when I was at Rambert and it changed me from someone who did admin to someone who managed. I continued when I worked for the Arts Council and the course enabled me to start to see the strategic context and apply it to public sector activity. When I moved back home to Cornwall, it was a vital connection with my old (successful) life in London which I missed hugely initially. And when I started the business, the course gave me external perspectives which I would not otherwise have had and these gave me an overview that I couldn’t see on my own.

One of the most valuable things has been bouncing ideas and challenges off others studying for the same objectives, people who have no agenda, no interest other than academic and no personal involvement in the outcome.  In reverse, this sharing of challenges and issues in a completely confidential environment has enabled me to recognise that I am not alone, that my brain adds value and perspective to situations, and that there is always value in exploring difficult problems with others.

So the value of an MBA today is not about getting further up that corporate ladder (in my opinion) but rather about continuing the learning and development of myself as a business person, as a leader and as a human being. And yes, that sentence would feature in my speech were I ever to win Miss World…..

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events