The highlight of the Exhibitions Day trip for me was the day before our day on Capitol Hill. Some of you may not be aware of a growing concern facing our industry --- the state of readiness of our future workforce.
Consider this: the average age of the tradeshow employee that works “on the show floor” is between 56 and 58 years old. Additionally, the generation currently graduating high school, trade schools, and colleges know very little about the employment opportunities that exist for them within the tradeshow and special event industries. To date, there is not a recruiting structure or pipeline of ready talent to repopulate and onboard our next generation talent. Our industry is unlike any other, and Carpenters, Designers, Project Managers, Warehouse Operators, and Event Managers are all examples of positions that our industry believes will be in short supply in the not-too-distant future.
The EDPA, in coordination with IAEE and other industry groups, has begun to tackle this issue directly. However, it’s a challenge that requires foundational building blocks to be put in place before measurable results will be felt. Our first priority at EDPA has been the development of a Future Workforce Committee (WDC). As a part of the WDC, I had the privilege of attending a meeting between select tradeshow industry professionals and the US Department of Labor in Washington, DC. Along with EDPA President Dave Flory and Vice President Chris Griffin, we joined IAEE’s Cathy Breden and Marsha Flanagan, as well as IAEE President David DuBois and Carpenters Union labor leader Kevin McLaughlin at a meeting organized and led by IAEE with the staff and managers from the U.S. Department of Labor.
In this meeting, our objectives were twofold. First, to gain acceptance of and expand the framework for IAEE’s competency model. This competency model is the basis of how the DOL identifies qualifications and descriptions for specific occupations. Secondly, to bring attention to the need for better / more specific SOC code classifications for our industry positions. An SOC code is a ‘standard occupational code’, which gives a specific job position a classification number to go with the formal job description and skills set for said position. We found out that SOC codes, and competency classifications are what guidance counselors need to have in order to put job opportunities on the radar of young people coming out of schools looking for work.
Additionally, from the federal government’s viewpoint, our industry doesn’t have a a specific industry category that we all fit into (ex/ we are still “nested” under the ‘Show Organizer’ classification, which is nested under the macro “Accommodations” category). You can begin to see the depth of the organizing challenges here, in order to get our industry aligned for attracting and onboarding new talent.
It is just recently that the IAEE has worked for and been able to get a specific category for the portion of the exhibition business that they occupy. While not perfect, the show organizers now have an official SOC code that legitimizes them as an “officially recognized” business category. We believe this is something that our industry can now build upon. This type of work is the very essence of an industry association and what Advocacy work entails.
So, I will finish this with a call to action YOU, my fellow members: Get involved, both locally at the EDPA Chapter level and at the National EDPA level, to help us build and prepare programs for our future workforce. Find local high schools, tech schools and colleges that you believe will be receptive to an EDPA speaker or presenter, and see what you can do to help the local EDPA chapters prepare future workers for a great career in the Experiential Events Industry. It will be one of the best things you can do for your business and your industry in the long term.