There’s a move to find a new way to train and develop meeting and event professionals of the future. Jonathan Reid goes back to school to find out more.

In response to the government’s drive to raise British productivity by expanding the apprentice programme an event industry ‘trailblazer’ group was formed. Their labours mean a successful candidate can achieves a nationally recognised apprenticeship as an events assistant in just 18 months.

Larger companies pay an apprentice levy, which they can use to pay for the training element of any apprenticeship. Currently the unclaimed levy stands at nearly £2 billion, which is used to drastically subsidise the training costs for the 98% of companies who don’t pay.

But do such initiatives add value? The UK L&D Report 2018 shows that even in the current climate, 94% of leading companies say learning and development is critical to success. Spend at last the national average of £300 per employee on training and watch retention rates soar.

So what’s the industry response been like? “Slower than expected,” admits David Preston, CEO of Realise, the first company to start delivering the programme, and the largest with more than 40 apprentices in situ. “Some companies are put off by the 18 month duration, although apprentices can finish several months earlier. There is also an attitude that people talent is something bought in only when necessary, which is very short-sighted.”

The results for those who have grasped the opportunity are very positive. Take David Kemsley, MD of Surrey-based Avenue Events. “We started with Lucy Bennett who has proved to be a real find. She’s taken every opportunity to learn from her apprenticeship and has very quickly proven herself to be an indispensable member of our team. As the end of her programme came into view it was a no-brainer for us to recruit another apprentice and Jodie Brown is now developing under Lucy’s guidance.”

Lucy agrees; “I loved the programme. The content was a great mixture of theory and practical learning. I was privileged to attend events across the UK and Europe, as well as IMEX in Las Vegas. To me the apprenticeship made much more sense than doing a traditional degree.

“The recent research carried out by the Events Industry Board (EIB) Talent Taskforce clearly demonstrates that we have a long way to go in developing new recruitment channels,’ says group Chair Sarah Wright. “Less than 2.5% of employees are made up of graduates, college leavers or apprentices. However suppliers and venues claim there are no barriers to employing apprentices; and agencies, venues and organisers indicated that there are no barriers to employing graduates. We need to secure higher levels of recruitment from these groups to help plug the skills gaps and remain competitive on a global scale.”

To ensure the apprenticeship qualification is robust a separate organisation is responsible for the final assessment. Currently that role is held by Professional Assessment Ltd. MD Linda Martin explained, “our role as End Point Assessors is to provide a reliable, valid and independent assessment of the apprentices’ skills, knowledge and behaviours. Employers can be sure that successful apprentices are capable, confident people, whose enthusiasm for their work will benefit any business.”

The current programme is positioned at level 3, comparable to two A levels. However the new world of apprentices offers qualifications that stretch as far as the post-graduate Level 7. Responsibility for developing the future Standards lies with Mark Riches, Chair of First Agency who has invited employers to participate in the development via the Event Industry Board (EIB); “we need more industry involvement in shaping this programme.’ (M&IT November 2018.) But industry trainer and Realise MD Richard John raises a note of concern; “only a tiny fraction of trailblazer members have actually taken on an apprentice. This industry has a tendency to get all excited over the next big thing, but then leave it unfinished when everyone rushes off after the latest shiny object. It needs to grow up.”

The L&D Report shows that high performing businesses put employee learning and development at the heart of their business strategy. Failure not to put skills and learning at the core is hindering competitiveness and is a factor in high employee turnover.

And to the perennial question ‘what if I train them and they leave?’ is the now famous reply ‘what happens if you don’t train them, and they stay?”