Training the next generation

As UFI rolls out its new UFI Certified Professional training, we ask a selection of UFI members – what skills is the industry missing? Stuart Wood writes:


Of all the changes which the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the world of business, perhaps the most long-lasting effect will be the shift to remote working. While some companies have eagerly brought employees back into offices when they were able to, there is a growing consensus that more flexibility is needed.

One of the great challenges that comes with remote working, however, is managing people. How do you train employees remotely? How do you bring new employees into the fold, and how can they experience company culture through a two-inch rectangle on a Zoom call?

UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, has recognised the changing landscape of HR in the events industry, and is now offering a training certification called the UFI Certified Professional, or UCP. For this article, we spoke to some UFI members with key roles in training and teaching positions, to hear first-hand how they see the world of HR changing, and what our industry needs to do to keep up. We also hear from UFI about what its new certification entails, and why it is so important.

Robert Heinemann is founder and CEO of Heinemann Management Consulting, as well as vice-chair of the UFI HR working group. He says he has seen a lot of change in HR departments over a very short span of time: “As HR teams have worked from home - and in many cases still are working from home - processes had to be streamlined.

“The best way to do this is digitalisation. I know it is a buzz word these days, but HR was in a lot of cases not particularly modern. The pandemic worked as a catalyst and brought up the need for HR to do things differently.”

Heinemann says that in order to enable remote working in the future, all companies should have some form of ‘smart working policy’ which tells employees exactly what is expected of them if they are working from home. “A good SWP also helps to retain employees and to engage/motivate candidates joining the company, by increasing the attractiveness of the position,” he adds.

The attractiveness of flexible working could be crucial to recruiting talented young people into the events industry. Cinzia Zanin, who is a coordinator and tutor at Italy’s Accademia Fiera Milano and a former recipient of the UFI Next Generation Leaders grant, sees this as one of the biggest challenges the events industry is facing today.

Zanin says: “This issue was important before the pandemic, but now it is even more so. It is especially hard to attract talent with a STEM education, because there is a high demand of specific skills and not many people have them. Other industries, especially tech, hire them even before the end of their studies with a promise of a high salary and the opportunity to work in globally recognised companies. If we try to attract them after graduation, it is already too late. We need to think of new programmes and solutions.”

The Accademia Fiera Milano’s ‘Progea’ course offers students a one-year long masters that prepares them to work in the exhibition and conference industries. It is split down the middle, with six months in class and then a six-month long internship. “Our model is like a laboratory,” says Zanin. “A large amount of practice, case studies and then one main project based on a briefing from an exhibition organiser.”

Much like Heinemann, Zanin says there is an increasing amount of importance given to the digital side of things: “Accademia has always dedicated many hours to a digital laboratory but this year it has grown even more. We invited many guests to share their experience and case studies on how they were able to create value with digitalisation. In the future we want to develop our lessons on digital event production.”



UFI’s Certified Professional

For exhibition industry professionals who want their own lessons on digital event production (without the need to brush up on their Italian), UFI’s Certified Professional training now gives them a way to do so.

The training courses offer a variety of modules on live and digital events, which can be worked through in your own time. The courses have been vetted by experts from UFI’s global community of eventprofs, and provide a symbol of quality for those who complete them.

Angela Herberholz, programme manager for education and working groups at UFI, says the courses have four main goals: “Tailored educational experiences to foster an agile workforce; structured opportunities to expand industry expertise; improving employability and enriching industry networks.”

Training and upskilling staff will be crucial for businesses in the events industry moving forwards. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shake-up of existing positions, and the pivot to digital has caused a surge in demand for sought-after technical skills.

I asked Robert Heinemann what he thought would be the most important kinds of training that the industry needs in 2021 and beyond. He said: “how to onboard new employees remotely, and how to manage customers and exhibitors onsite and virtually at the same time.”

According to Heinemann, companies that were already providing workplace training before the pandemic are set up for post-pandemic success. Those which were not, however, may be in for a shock. “Those companies who missed this part of enabling the workforce might have learned now how important it is,” he says. “They definitely should increase their efforts and budgets for workplace training.”

This sentiment is echoed by Cinzia Zanin, who highlights some of the crucial skills the industry is missing: “In times of crisis, people tend to be more careful when choosing their future career. The exhibition industry needs to develop a long-term strategy to attract talent with skills that are not organisational (such as sales, IT, UX designers etc). As an industry, we need to communicate more and show that during these last two years we have continued to discuss and experiment.”

Rather than focusing on the negatives, however, Zanin sees this as an opportunity. When asked what message she would give to a young person thinking of joining the industry, she says: “This is the best time to join the exhibition industry. People will come back, and we will gather again face-to-face, but the last couple of years have taught us many important lessons.

“Thanks to technology and design thinking, exhibitions will have the opportunity to change, and we will need new skills. I am really excited to see how our industry will evolve.”