Diversity will keep us raising the bar

Value people because of their background, not in spite of it, say Connection Crew’s Robin Beshoori, senior account manager and Mathias Berry, operations manager.

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Connection Crew has been going for more than 10 years, and currently works on up to 200 events every week.


It’s also a social enterprise, and provides job opportunities within its crew for people who’ve been homeless. With its unique business model and broad interface with the industry, EN thought it would be interesting to get the company’s perspective on the challenges our sector is facing. For them, the key to everyone’s future success is in valuing talent from all walks of life, at all levels.


We sat down with operations manager Mathias Berry and senior account manager Robin Beshoori to get their take.


“Exhibitions are getting exponentially better”


Mat: They are becoming increasingly more inventive in how they present their content. So year-on-year, we’re being asked to build more interesting things on a more regular basis. This does present challenges. If you’re building something unique, it’s inherently more difficult than building something that’s straight out of a package. The upside is that it makes things much more interesting for everyone on the ground and so we’re embracing those challenges in a number of ways.


Robin: I’d have to concur. The standard that the industry has set for itself has risen dramatically and it’s very exciting. As a consequence, consumer expectations are far higher than they were five years ago – and we only expect this to trend continue. This will have an impact on bespoke providers such as ourselves.


“In the very early days the job description for crew was ’strong’”


Mat: Things have changed. The guys and girls that we like to work with and invest in are often multi-skilled and have a broad experience and knowledge base on which to draw from. It means they can apply themselves to most of the many different tasks that arise on an exhibition site.


The role of the crew chief is another case in point; it has come a very long way. The key to delivering on something as visual as the Ideal Home Show, for instance, is in integrating a crew chief who can act as a buffer between the crew and the production team. They need to have the ability to manage 20 or so people within a very changeable environment, with lots tasks pouring in all the time.


They need to be able to prioritise; manage those tasks on behalf of the client and put the right crew members on the right job at the right time. Those leadership skills are really felt by our clients on site. We expect that exhibition organisers will need to lean on crew more and more going forward.


An imminent challenge for the industry


Mat: An imminent challenge for the industry is the acceptance of higher rates. There is a cost involved in putting adequately skilled individuals on the ground. The experience required on exhibition sites these days takes time and effort to build up, and people with that experience should be fairly remunerated for it. There is an inclination within some crewing companies to undercut each other, and that’s doing us all a massive disservice. We’ll just be racing to the bottom. At which point quality would be non-existent – it simply would not be achievable.


Robin: What’s reassuring is that – although budget is always a factor – we’re noticing that more frequently people will pay for quality. The exhibition organisers that we’ve been working with recognise the difference between cost and value.


Valuing people whatever their background


Mat: Valuing people for their individual talents and efforts, whatever their background – this way of working has its roots in our social mission - is ingrained within everything that we do. Certainly within the crew it engenders a sense of loyalty and community spirit. It means a lot to the team that just by working with us they are helping to do some small good in the world - and so we get better results.


We’re finding that this approach is keeping us at the forefront of the crewing industry and very much in line with the most innovative shows. We think this should be an increasing concern for others in the business of supplying and delivering exhibitions too if we are to collectively keep up with corporate and consumer demands.


The tide is turning


Robin: The tide is turning. As a leading social enterprise we’ve had corporate delegations from all over the world ask to speak to us about how they can generate social change, and even more so recently. A great starting point for them is procurement – buying from and supporting organisations that can provide evidence of human impact hence passing it up the chain.


Exhibitions need to expand their view of sustainability – it’s not just the environmental impact of the shows that corporates want evidence of, it’s the human impact too. Exhibitors we work with are starting to showcase the impact they are generating simply by working with us and they’re telling us that it’s helping them to stand out. There’s an opportunity for others to ride this wave.


Rethinking recruitment


Robin: The next area for the industry to scrutinise and really look into is the human impact they can make, not only by procuring differently but also by recruiting differently. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about future pipelines of talent. The problem is that the discussion seems only to be revolving around building partnerships with universities in order to hire graduates. There is no mention of partnerships with schools or colleges, and certainly no mention of charities that we’ve seen.


Mat: We attend job fairs run by charities to recruit people making their way out of homelessness. Over the last couple of years in particular we have seen more corporate presence at these fairs. The rest of our sector should definitely get in there too. Organisations can gain a lot from diversifying their workforce this way: energy, creativity, loyalty.


Another channel that we’d encourage the industry to embrace is the hotly anticipated Event Management Apprenticeship. There is a massive practical element to working in the events industry, even the non-practical roles benefit from an understanding of what it takes to physically put an event together – whether that’s a conference, a TV show, an exhibition, a festival - without any hands-on experience it’s difficult to fulfil those roles properly. And the Event Management Apprenticeship will provide that hands-on learning.


Robin: We’ve been involved in the process of developing the syllabus, bringing our years of training marginalised and non-marginalised individuals on the nuts-and-bolts of the industry to it – the physical actions that bring an event together.


It has the power to put people from all sorts of backgrounds onto a level playing field when it comes to chances for employment. University training does not come cheap anymore. An apprenticeship will open the industry up to much more varied pipelines of talent.


‘It’s a bit like method acting”


Mat: Part of the reason that Robin and I gel with our clients and crew is the very practical, hands-on experience that we’ve both had on the ground. Of being left in the sh*t on an event site and getting ourselves and others out of it – many readers will identify with that no doubt! But that experience translates very well into a service role.


It means that we know what questions to ask clients at the outset of a project – what information to request in order to build a more reactive and flexible service. We’ve been able to make efficiency savings for clients’ working in this way that would amount to fairly substantial sums of money. It’s a bit like the method acting theory – that having experience of what it is you are trying to deliver will result in a better performance.


Powered by the people


Mat: We’re getting ready for future challenges by investing in training, apprenticeships, equality and diversity. I don’t know that we’re breaking new ground, but we see it as a way of improving what we’re doing.


Robin: This industry is powered by people and, as an industry, we should be investing in people at all levels, and from all backgrounds, to continue raising the bar.

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