Chris Criscione, MD of Equinox Design and vice chair of ESSA asks are we getting the skills we need?
Every industry thinks of itself as unique, and this is true, to a degree. Each industry requires a particular subset of skills that cannot be found elsewhere, in addition to the transferable skills and general knowledge that span its business sector. The exhibition industry requires a very particular skill set, as a result of its end product having such a short, fixed, lifespan.
Our industry delivers amazing experiences for exhibitors and visitors alike, but there’s a growing scarcity in the exhibition industry of people entering the industry with the necessary expertise, in disciplines from design to construction. They appear to be looking elsewhere for their careers.
The rise of experiential captured the imagination of many, and experiential campaigns are still being deployed by marketers across many industries. Experiential is the latest in a long list of new marketing activities that would, we were assured, spell the end of the exhibition.
Even within our industry we have seen trends like this come and go; Hugh Keeble and I sat on a panel over a decade ago, not long after the launch of the Easyfairs model, where he declared that the days of large exhibitions with a spectacular visual experience were at an end. Yet over the last ten years we have actually seen the growth and geo-cloning of some of this industry’s best shows, and no end of the spectacular visual experience is yet in sight.
Delivering these international landmark events requires knowledge, qualifications and skills across all of the disciplines deployed, but Hugh’s prediction may yet come true if we can’t address the growing shortage of qualified personnel applying for these key roles.
As an example, consider the role of exhibition stand designer; the person whose creativity and design sensitivities are crucial to the creation of an effective stand. University courses in stand design have closed, and those that are still running are reporting low student numbers.
Courses stopped at Hull and transferred to Lincoln University some years ago, reducing choice and, although the Lincoln course is still running, it now focuses more on museum design and less on commercial exhibition design. Overall, UK student numbers for exhibition design have dropped over the past 20 years from over 30 people graduating with specific exhibition design skills, down to just a few individuals today.
Graphic design and interior design was very popular a few years ago, then website design began to draw large numbers of creative career starters, and this was followed by games and interactive design. All of these new disciplines attracted creative designers that could have pursued a career in exhibition design.
The few that do find their way into our industry often need retraining on the job in order to acquire the knowledge and understanding that should be part of a dedicated degree course, unfortunately, industry standard CAD/IT skills are not even taught to the basic level required.
Many designers look to London as the epicenter of their industry, yet there are plenty of thriving creative companies outside the capital that work with international brands in the UK and abroad. Perhaps it’s the chance of international work for blue chip brands that can attract the best talent into the regions, but we do need to find a way to work with our education establishments to make sure that exhibition design is an exciting and vibrant option when choosing a design discipline.
If we can do this then we may have started to address one of the skill shortages that is facing the exhibition industry.
What are your thoughts #eventprofs? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and get the discussion going.