ECA Promotes Bills to Help the Next Generation of Event Professionals

Colleagues having a meeting and looking at a TV monitor

Skift Take

The events industry workforce suffered a serious blow during the pandemic, and is still recovering. Can the passage of new legislation aid in repopulating the industry?

Of the roughly 2.8 million professionals in the events industry laid off during the pandemic, 300,000 have yet to return. This is according to Experience Designer Producer Association (EDPA) President and Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) Board Member Chris Griffin. The ECA is promoting two bills on Capitol Hill to support the next generation of event professionals by loosening the restrictions placed on educational funding.

The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act would modify the qualifying restrictions, providing grant money to students seeking vocational training rather than a four-year education. In 2023, the U.S. spent nearly $24 billion on Pell Grants, which are usually awarded only to undergraduate students.

The Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act would allow funds in a qualified tuition program (commonly known as a 529 account) to go toward vocational training.

Advocating on The Hill

Griffin joined a group of professionals in March 2020 to advocate for support for the events and hospitality industries. He also assisted in forming the language for the paycheck protection program (PPP).

“We help the world trade,” said Griffin, noting that the events industry generated $101 billion for the U.S. economy in 2019. “But Congress had never heard of us.”

The initial process included 18 months and numerous video calls daily to educate congressional members on what events entail and represent. “My job was to preach about our industry,” he said. Griffin said that the legislation does not include additional funding but noted that $30 billion is currently available in Pell Grants. 

The 118th Congress has only passed a couple dozen laws by the close of 2023. “We are looking at one of the least productive congresses in American history right now,” said ECA Vice President Tommy Goodwin. “It’s pretty bare bones – to pass something into law is, by design, very difficult.”

However, Goodwin points to good news from the House of Representatives with the bills getting out of the committee through a large bipartisan majority. The hope is that the bills will make it through the House floor at some point over the next few weeks before reaching the Senate. “Our goal is to get [the bill] over the finish line and signed by President Biden by the end of the year.”

Industry leaders will meet with Congress on May 30th during Legislative Action Day to discuss industry needs and stress the economic significance of events in the U.S.

Reaching the Next Generation

In addition to layoffs during the Covid pandemic, there are other issues facing the industry, including an aging workforce. Prior to the Covid pandemic the average of workers on the tradeshow floor was 58. Griffin’s response to support the next generation of the workforce was outreach.

“I went to a lot of colleges,” he said. “What I learned is that it’s kind of a pay-to-play game.” Larger colleges requested a quid pro quo of providing scholarship money to promote the thousands of available jobs. 

Griffin said junior colleges and vocational schools were more receptive, but a knowledge gap remained. “How do we get this industry on the radar for career counselors who only know about air conditioning or carpentry when it comes to trades?” 

“So the mission was originally to educate elected officials to gain economic assistance, and we’re still using them as a means to engage students,” Griffin said. The most effective outreach takes place on the state and local levels. 

The Time is Right

Now is a prime time to join the events industry, Goodwin explains. “As much as we’re talking about churn and as much as we’re talking about recession, at the end of the day, we are still dealing with the long tail of millions of people in this industry who were laid off during the pandemic and not all of them came back.” 

Goodwin points to the ample opportunity open to those interested in pursuing a career in events with a cadre of entry-level roles to more advanced positions. “If you’re looking for a role where you’ll be able to see your impact immediately – this is the place for you,” he said. 

In addition, Goodwin points to the value of ideation and innovation in events. The organizations I talk to who are hiring right now have made it pretty clear; there aren’t a lot of opportunities where you’re going to get to sit on the sidelines, you’re in the game, you’re part of it,” he said. “This industry is hungry for great ideas and the people who can deliver against them.”  

Photo credit: Flipsnack / Unsplash