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How to Attract and Retain Event Staff in the Events Industry

An Interview with Rebecca Barry, Group Director, People and Culture at ASM Global (APAC)

The events industry has been experiencing a whole new level of labor shortage ever since COVID struck back in 2020. But how are staff shortages impacting the industry in 2022? And what can venues and event organizers do to attract and retain talent?

Rebecca Barry, Group Director, People and Culture at ASM Global (APAC), gives us a glimpse into an event producer’s and venue manager’s daily struggle with staffing shortfalls and shortages and unravels the complexity of combatting this issue.

The Impact of Staffing Shortages on the Events Industry

In the last few years, staffing shortages have been one of the top concerns of almost every business in the events industry in the last few years. But how is the lack of staff currently affecting the industry? “We are definitely seeing signs of recovery, but the skills shortage remains a global challenge. Venues worldwide are facing the same problem,” Rebecca Barry says. “But if it were a graph, you’d see it very gently starting to trend upward, which gives us a little bit of hope.”

When the industry practically shut down overnight, most venues and event organizers did everything they could to hold on to as many permanent people as possible. Difficult decisions had to be made around casual or temporary staff, as with no event content there was simply no work for them. But now that events are back, the shortage of casual staff is a pain point for many venues and event spaces.

Fortunately, people are returning to the event industry, so now it is all about recruiting the right people and retaining them. “We are seeing some really great results in our recruitment efforts in both full-time and casual teams. We have to work hard hold on to our casuals because they are the backbone of our service delivery, getting them on board takes an extraordinary effort, and the whole recruiting process is expensive,” Barry points out.

Recruiting and Retaining Talent: Find Your Own Way

To attract, win and retain top talent, event businesses should focus on optimizing all phases of their employee life cycle:

  • Attraction – How do you get people to notice your vacancies and encourage them to apply?
  • Recruitment – What is the recruitment process, and what skills and experience do they need to be successful in their role?
  • Onboarding – How can you help them to hit the ground running so that they feel integrated into the team and understand all your systems and processes from day one?
  • Retention – How do you reward and recognize your staff to ensure they have a good work-life balance and feel valued? Also, how will you ensure open communication and continuous feedback?
  • Learning & Development – How can you support your staff with ongoing professional development and training to help them grow? And what career opportunities can you offer to ensure they continue to advance?
  • Exit – How can you learn from staff departures and use them as an opportunity for improvement? And how do you minimize the impact on your team?

Every venue manager certainly hopes for a miracle solution to improve the staffing situation in the events and exhibition industry. But unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“When it comes to recruiting and retaining staff, it’s not “one-size-fits-all”, rather it’s “one-size-fits-one”. You have to consider your location and external environment, your budget as well as the situation in your venue. Then you’ve got to assess what your business can do regarding recruiting and staff retention, and what could you be doing differently” Rebecca Barry explains.

Depending on whether a venue is situated in a big city or in a remote location, different factors may come into play, e. g. different budgets and the competition in the area. Thus, every business needs to find its own selling points: “Of course, money is a factor, but it’s not all about money. You need to ask yourself what else you can offer. Are there elements of flexibility? There are more options than just home office, you could introduce flexible working hours or a flexible approach to shift scheduling,” Barry adds. “If we’re not looking at our unique circumstances, our message to our potential candidates will never hit the mark.”

USPs in talent acquisition are any benefits your company offers on top of remuneration. This could be anything from offering free parking or free meals to a gym membership subsidised by the company. Some venues sell their lifestyle or, for example, the side benefits of their perfect location next to a park. “Also, there are things we can do internally to grow our people that cost absolutely nothing and that help to retain them,” Barry says.

Minimize the Push Factors and Maximize the Pull Factors

It is vital for employers to understand both the push and pull factors in the workplace that contribute to employee retention.

Pull factors are external factors that pull employees away from your company. This could be a job offer with exciting new career opportunities, an increased salary package, family responsibilities, or relocation. You cannot control all the pull factors, but you may be able to anticipate them and therefore mitigate them in some way.

Common push factors, i.e., factors that are pushing employees away from your organization, are poor compensation, no recognition, poor work-life balance, little growth opportunities, or an unhealthy work climate. These factors are more within the control of the employer.

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“You can’t afford to be losing great people. Our goal should be to make our employees feel like they are part of something very special. So, we have to be honest with ourselves and do some self-assessment. It’s important to know what pushes people out and what pulls them to stay,” Rebecca Barry explains. “Typically, what pushes people out is the work culture. It’s the biggest driver for people to decide to stay or leave – and something that we can influence.”

Fast-Track Onboarding to Secure Top Talent

According to Barry, the current situation requires a very tight recruiting process: “You need to review your recruitment processes and fast-track the decision-making. I’d suggest advising candidate of the outcome of the recruitment process quickly – ideally, the same day of the interview, if possible. That way, you can secure the best candidates available. You‘ve got to be really quick at the moment, but not at the expense of quality.”

Recruiters in the industry need to get to the source of their pipeline and engage with their community to attract new people. A great way to do this is to encouraging staff to recommend their friends and family and contact local businesses and community groups to see if they know anyone looking for new opportunities, i.e., students at local colleges, parents at local childcare centers, or players from local sporting clubs. “The answers are often not in your office. They are outside!” Barry says.

Take the Burden Off Your Employees and Put Them at the Centre

To retain employees, venues or event organizers dealing with staff shortages must establish an open feedback culture. Employees need to feel safe talking openly about their workload.

“I must be able to talk to my manager about how I’m coping and what is on my plate. Managers then must work with their team members to establish and agree what is a priority and what can wait,” Rebecca Barry highlights.

If Managers are facing staff shortages, they should give them a bit of breathing space. “We need to look at our priorities, change timelines, push some stuff back and release some pressure on our people,” she adds. “Putting your people absolutely at the center should be your guiding principle – for every decision or change of processes. You’ll suddenly discover that things may not be so urgent”, Barry states.

When reviewing priorities – be it for operating venues or delivering events – she suggests applying a well-tried method: Eisenhower’s Urgent-Important Matrix, a diagrammatic tool that helps businesses manage all their tasks and identify the activities they should focus on.

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In a nutshell, this is how the matrix works:

  • Important, but not urgent tasks aren’t necessarily pressing for attention but should not be put off for too long.
  • Urgent and important tasks should be completed immediately.
  • Urgent and unimportant tasks can be delegated or rescheduled.
  • Not urgent and unimportant tasks are time-wasting activities. Reduce or completely avoid spending time on tasks that fall into this category.

COVID Still Causing High Levels of Sick Leave

The last few months have shown that another issue proves to be just as significant and probably more persistent than understaffing: the (mainly COVID-related) high sick leave levels.

“The biggest challenge is the current levels of sickness in our workforces. They are not no-shows and it's not an understaffing situation,” Barry stated. “The question is: How do we deal with the unknown X factor of ongoing illness from a dedicated and wonderful group of people who want to be there, want to serve, and want to participate but need to remove themselves from the situation in order to protect others?” There’s no quick fix on this one, COVID looks like it’s going to be part of the landscape for some time yet.

Bringing The Sexy Back

One last suggestion, Rebecca? Of course, she has one – and a very optimistic message to all the event professionals looking for a job in the industry: “We need to bring the sexy back and share great stories about how amazing our industry is and about what sort of career you can have. Storytelling is such an important thing. There are so many opportunities and it’s such a dynamic industry. No two days are ever the same.”

The live events, convention & exhibition and MICE industry, along with almost any other industry facing the same problems, will have to find a way to deal with staff shortages and shortfalls due to sickness. Time will tell how things will evolve and, in the meantime, the industry stands strong following its informal motto “Work hard, play hard.”

About ASM Global

ASM Global is the world’s leading venue management company and producer of live event experiences. As the preeminent partner for live events, we operate and invest in more than 325 of the world’s most important stadiums, arenas, convention centers, and theaters. From attendees to artists to employees to owners, we impact the lives of people who love live events around the world every day. Operating at this level requires unparalleled dedication, profound expertise, and a passion for bringing people together.

About the interviewee

Rebecca Barry

Rebecca Barry is the Group Director of People & Culture for ASM Global (APAC). In this role she leads all people related activities across the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Rebecca (Becc) is a people-focused leader that places the team at the centre of decision making and drives performance through partnership and mentoring.