By Phil Bruno
The return to in-person meetings has been trending over the last year. This is expected to continue well into 2023, according to the 2023 Global Meetings and Events Forecast by American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT).
Although all meeting types are expecting increased attendance in 2023, in-person meetings in particular are expected to see the greatest. Global in-person attendance is predicted to rise 3.3% for conferences and tradeshows and 4.2% for small meetings; internal meetings are expected to see the largest increase globally, at 4.5%. For further reading on this increase, see WTTC Survey Assesses Cities’ Sustainable Tourism Growth.
Time for A Change
Would you agree that handling this continued growth of in-person meetings requires more workers throughout the meeting goer’s experience? Would you also agree that it’s time to once and for all figure out how to attract and retain people to the industry? Not only planners, but convention sales and service roles? Association staffers and the whole plethora of functions it takes to stage a successful meeting?
In my line of work, I talk to a lot of employees and middle managers in the hospitality and tourism industry. I also talk to former employees—people who once worked in the industry but left for various reasons. One particular thing those former employees said surprised and intrigued me: That the skills and work ethic they possessed far surpassed those of their co-workers in their new jobs.
This is worth drilling deeper. Just which skills did they learn while working in the hospitality and tourism industry? How were they being used in new roles in other industries?
And the most important question of all: Why isn’t the industry advertising this?
Attracting a New Generation of Workers
It’s no secret that hospitality and tourism has one of the highest employee turnover rates of any industry, nor that it is still recovering from losing a full 75% of its workforce in the wake of the pandemic. To rebuild, it must succeed at recruiting a new generation of hospitality workers.
And what does this new generation want? Sure, they want pay and benefits. But a whopping 57.2% of hotel and hospitality workers say they want the opportunity to learn new skills. And 42% of millennials across industries say that “learning and development” is the single-most-important benefit when deciding where to work.
In other words, one of the best ways to attract a new generation of workers to the hospitality and tourism industry is to tell them (and show them) all the useful skills they can learn while working. Every employer should be shouting this from the rooftops.
But What Skills Do They Learn?
So what skills did my conversations with former industry employees uncover? Here are a few:
How to Read People
Is the guest asking to speak with the manager angry, happy, or just plain tired? Does the dad to whom you just gave directions nod with understanding, or does he still have a “lost” look in his eyes? Is the family at the corner table having a good time, or do they seem impatient and frayed? Every interaction with a guest is an exercise in reading people, especially their tone and their body language.
A Sense of Urgency
Everything in the hospitality and tourism industry is on a clock. Tours leave on the hour; food must be prepared and served in a reasonable timeframe; hotel rooms must be turned over so everything is perfect for the next guest before they arrive. The sense of urgency one learns in the industry makes for a very productive and proactive employee—something managers love, no matter where a career takes you.
Attention to Detail/Getting Things Right
Impressions matter when dealing with guests, which means that hospitality and tourism teaches employees to “sweat the small stuff.” This skill, too, is universal: Really, there is little difference between paying attention to the precise way a napkin needs to be folded, and paying attention to inventory being cataloged and organized in a warehouse, or paying attention to the use of colors, shapes, and words in a marketing brochure.
Few jobs in the industry require an employee to do one thing and one thing only. Employees have to learn to juggle competing demands for their time and attention, switching among contexts and tasks rapidly. There are few industries where people get to practice this skill on a nearly daily basis.
This includes not only communication skills, but things like empathy, active listening, patience, tolerance, cultural awareness, and etiquette. Employees learn how to deal with people who might be experiencing a range of emotions on any given day, and to do so with style and grace. Employees in hospitality and tourism use these skills more in the course of a week than most jobs do in the course of an entire year.
And That’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg
I haven’t even mentioned things like problem-solving and teamwork, or the dozen other skills that employees learn while on the job. But you get the idea: There are many skills that can be learned—and not just learned but practiced frequently and even mastered.
MPI Academy Leading the Way
Another way to attract workers is to show them up front how you will invest in them. For instance, MPI’s EventWise Micro Certificates series, which teaches critical future skills for the meeting professionals of tomorrow. This is a daring 15-month micro-event series, which dives into the future skills necessary to be job-relevant and future-ready in the meeting and event industry.
According to Jessie States, CMP, CMM and VP of MPI Academy: “Unlike our other certificate courses, which are typically four to six hours of dense education, we experimented with a micro-certificate format of 90-minute classes over the course of 15 months. Participants could purchase a single class at a low price point of all the courses (and their recordings) at a rate commensurate with our existing programs.”
The model has proven popular with a split of participants choosing to purchase individual classes based on their areas of interest, and those who wanted to complete the entire curriculum. We plan to offer more micro-certificates next year in the areas of technology and crisis management. We find that some learners like to commit a day/week to a course, and others like to parse their learning across multiple weeks.”
Kudos to MPI for breaking the paradigm of requiring participants to attend live in-person events, while still educating and meeting the needs of today’s younger workers in a format they prefer.