Event Management

Apprenticeships Seeing a Renaissance Amidst Event Industry Jobs Crisis

Skift Take

Staffing shortages continue to hurt the event industry, and employers across the globe are scrambling to fill jobs. In the U.S. alone, there are around 10.7 million vacancies. Can apprenticeships help the event industry find the staff it needs?

Across the globe, employers are scrambling to fill jobs. In the U.S. alone, there are around 10.7 million vacancies. Can apprenticeships help the event industry find the staff it needs?

“Most of the large hotel companies retired apprenticeship programs in the 90s,” according to Kaaren Hamilton, vice president of global sales at Sonesta. This may be a result of the changing profiles of hotels and their owners. Previously, hotels had been viewed as a hospitality service business, whereas now it is a real estate investment where the owner is looking for a return on invested capital.

In response, apprenticeships are seeing a new renaissance again. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in July 2022, the number of people aged 16 to 24 serving an apprenticeship is 214,000, more than double the figure from 10 years ago.  

Are apprenticeships the answer for events sector employers?  

Lost in Translation 

“I think the event industry is often confused between apprenticeships and internships,” said Shawn Cheng, a senior strategist at Dahlia + Agency who was previously a consulant at MCI. “Internships have always been part of the recruitment options for the industry. At MCI, we had interns coming almost every year.”

This is an important distinction. An internship is not the same as an apprenticeship, and neither is work experience.

MaryAnne P. Bobrow, a consultant at Bobrow Associates, is clear about the difference: “In the U.S., we tend to think of internships and not apprenticeships. The internship may not lead to full-time work, while apprenticeships usually do.”  

Apprenticeships include structured training focusing on specific skills needed by the employer.

Though the same terminology is used, territories and regions can view apprenticeships differently. For example, Chris Jolly, regional sales manager at Thorn Hotels, pointed out, “Apprenticeships are not so common for students from Swedish schools, but in other countries, like Germany, apprenticeships are very prevalent.”

Apprentice Value 

Regardless of how apprenticeships are perceived, there is little doubt they can be beneficial.  

Through apprenticeships, companies aren’t getting a low-skilled 18-year-old but “Someone with more credentials than some 23- to 25-year-olds,” according to Nicole Cobb, professor at Vanderbilt University. They often come with degrees but lack work experience.

Having a good apprenticeship provider is an essential factor in the mix. “Where the employer, the apprentice provider, and the apprentice are involved, the employer will be rewarded with a loyal, dedicated, and multi-skilled employee ultimately,” said Tim Andrews, hospitality entrepreneur.

It seems that Cobb and Andrews are not alone in their beliefs because Virgin Media O2 has significantly expanded its range of apprenticeships.

This comes at a time of growing demand for new apprenticeships. Virgin Media O2 research reveals that nearly three in five (57 percent) 11 to 18-year-olds are considering apprenticeships. It can be a popular alternative to the cost of getting a degree. Almost a third (31 percent) of young people surveyed said they would struggle with money at university and 28 percent believe that rising costs mean they no longer see university as such a good idea.

The breadth of skills available is increasing, and apprenticeships in cyber security, network engineering, digital marketing, and planning are being offered. “We’re constantly expanding our array of apprenticeship programs to help our people develop the skills they need for the future,” said Karen Handley, head of future careers at Virgin Media O2.

The Journey Ahead 

Is the event sector lagging? It’s a question that industry veteran Joan Eisenstodt has been asking. She believes that we need to start thinking differently about how and where to develop talent. It is not easy to answer. But, the needs of employers today mean changes have to be made.

“This under-utilized opportunity of apprenticeship schemes could be a critical piece of the puzzle,” said Jessie States, vice president, MPI Academy of Meeting Professionals International.

It will take more than the provision of schemes to create long-term success, though. Career advisors at schools and associations have a vital role to play in signposting opportunities.

Ultimately, the shortage of skilled talent will drive employers to decide whether to embrace apprenticeships or not.