Are event planners becoming an endangered species?

A career in the business events industry may look less appealing to a younger generation, but these four academics are hopeful for change.

From left: Magaret Chan, associate professor, Universiti Teknologi MARA; Julie Aziz, director of hospitality, City University Malaysia; Lisa Tung, programme director, Taylor’s University; Teh Pek Yen, senior lecturer, Sunway University
From left: Magaret Chan, associate professor, Universiti Teknologi MARA; Julie Aziz, director of hospitality, City University Malaysia; Lisa Tung, programme director, Taylor’s University; Teh Pek Yen, senior lecturer, Sunway University Photo Credit: Cheryl Teo

In the ‘Business Events Talent Pool’ panel discussion during Malaysia Business Event Week (MBEW) 2022 on 29 August, four academics came together to discuss the root cause of the MICE industry’s manpower crunch, starting from the supply chain itself — the students.

The panel of experienced experts included director of hospitality at City University Malaysia, Julie Aziz; programme director of Taylor’s University, Lisa Tung; senior lecturer at Sunway University, Teh Pek Yen; and associate professor from the Universiti Teknologi MARA, Margaret Chan.

Speaking on behalf of the panellists, Aziz introduced the group as “the institutions that actually provide the manpower for your business events, for your industry, and for all the activities carried out”.

Collectively they believe the main issue behind the current talent crunch in the business events sector is the lack of interest among students in studying business events management, which some universities also offer in the form of the hospitality management programme.

Causes of dwindling interest

Tung, Teh and Chan hypothesised that the on-again, off-again resumption of business events over the course of the pandemic might have deterred both students and their parents in pursuing a career in the sector, citing concerns with job security and the well-publicised layoffs experienced during 2020 and 2021.

Besides potentially viewing this career choice as unsafe and unstable, the panellists also suggested that in the absence of events, students have never had a chance to experience any live events and have subsequently never developed an interest in the sector.

Chan further highlighted the big move towards digitalisation across all sectors over the course of the last two years, and shared that her students have expressed interest in pursuing a career in technology.

More broadly, Chan said students were questioning 'What are we doing at the university today with the current traditional content, and why are we studying this?' when more exciting digital event formats, such as meetings in the metaverse, happening right now.

Cultivating a passion for MICE industry

As part of the panel discussion the four academics also brought an arsenal of solutions to make a career in events management more enticing. On their end, they are allowing their students to manage actual events and are even letting them manage hybrid booths to let them get a better feel of the industry while integrating their interest in digital applications.

Teh said that Sunway University is going to where the potential students are — social media — to promote and showcase the thrill of managing events by posting short behind-the-scenes videos on TikTok featuring the various elements of running a virtual event.

But beyond that, the panellists implore the business events sector themselves to contribute to efforts of nurturing future MICE leaders. Seeing a gap in what is being taught in a tertiary syllabus versus what is going on in the real business events world, these academics said they would like to see more MICE practitioners collaborate with universities and get involved either by helping to restructure programmes for accuracy or talk to students as guest lecturers.

“In my role, I’m here to teach the students about the industry, so upon graduation, the student can follow your path and stay on in the industry,” Teh said.

“If my programme doesn’t align with your demand, what’s the purpose of the education?”

Echoing Teh’s sentiments, Tung said: “All education and business events stakeholders should work together to highlight to the general public what the business events industry is all about, to pass that knowledge to everyone else and to also share the many opportunities that await students.”

Offering students structured internships in business events organisations is also another solution, said Tung. She confessed that many organisations asking the universities for interns merely just need someone to temporarily “fill in as replacement”.

Adding to Teh’s point, Aziz shared an anecdote about one of the delegates present at MBEW — Holiday Tan Jia Chee, project executive of Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) — who joined MACEOS as an intern and “now holds one of the higher-level positions and is the right hand woman of the whole team”.

“MACEOS had an internship programme that was so comprehensive that the students learn from scratch and became one of the staff,” Aziz continued. “There must be a more comprehensive internship [strategy] to sustain the talent.”

“What we are trying to say is, we need help,” Aziz said. “We cannot do this alone. You are asking us for manpower, you’re asking us for interns, you’re asking us for graduates. But we do not have enough at this point in time to give that to you.

“We need to sit down and deliberate and come up with a plan to attract more young people to join the business events industry,” Aziz concluded.