How to attract and retain young talent in the events industry: #eventprofstalk Twitter chat with Robert Kenward, Chief Talent Officer & Co-founder at YOU search & select

Last week, we co-hosted the regular #eventplannerstalk Twitter chat about ‘How to attract and retain young talent in the events industry’ with event recruitment expert Robert Kenward. Robert has worked within the recruitment and events sector for over 17 years and explored the world of hiring from all angles — namely as a candidate, client and recruiter. For the last three and a half years, he has run the recruitment agency ‘YOU search & select’ where he connects top talent with leading agencies within the live events, experiential and integrated communications sector.

From many talks with industry professionals, it has become apparent that a number of agencies face challenges in terms of attracting and retaining talent. In a highly people-driven business, are we falling short on securing top candidates for our businesses? 

Before starting to discuss the challenges of attracting talent, we wanted to define what ‘young talent’ in fact means. 

Young talent is not solely related to age, but also to the level of expertise and industry experience. According to Robert, ‘young talent is someone who is new to the industry or is a junior, mid-level entry candidate who has little direct experience but has bags of enthusiasm and transferable skills.’ Irina Graf from The MICE Blog added that ‘these are usually candidates with less than five years’ work experience but with basic knowledge of event management and a willingness to work and learn.’ Valerie Wagner from Hotel-O-Motion suggested that ‘these are newcomers or career changers who are new to event management or event planners with experience but new to new formats and new event orientation. Learning is a constant process. Talent shouldn’t be a question of age, and HR has the basic task of retaining talents and using them correctly.’ 

Why won’t new talent to the industry apply for my roles?

When a job advert goes live and not enough people apply, what can be the reasons for this? According to Robert, ‘one reason can be that they don’t know the company and haven’t heard of it. This can be the cause of poor consumer branding and marketing. Another reason can be that the advert is boring and focused on what the employer wants rather than what they can offer to successful candidates.’ Valerie added that ‘often recruiters forget to mention the value, why should someone apply for this offer. Communicating the ‘why’ is important.’ 

The choice of wording is important, so for example instead of using ‘you will need’, ‘we are looking for’ or ‘you must be’, use ‘you will gain’, ‘you will be exposed to’. Additionally, Robert explained that job adverts are usually push marketing when pull is what is in fact required. Calls to action are also usually ‘email CV’ or ‘complete this form’ rather than a personalised ‘give me a call and ask questions’ or similar. 

It’s recommended to tell stories or have others to discuss them; for example, image video interviews of employees, interviewing new, mid- and long-term employees to get them to express why they joined, stay and enjoy the company. 

Sabrina Meyers from Hot Hospitality Exchange added that ‘companies need to be visible on the channels or platforms that this young talent is exposed to and companies should utilise these platforms to engage this talent and catch their attention. Social media is key.’

Where can I find young talent? 

Not only should young talent be in the position to easily find their future employer, but also companies ought to be on the lookout for talent. According to Robert, social media is an important tool. Such media should be a huge part of any recruitment strategy. Furthermore, companies can ask their existing young talent to refer or advise, and lastly universities which offer event management degrees can connect recruiters with students and graduates. Also, these universities should be in constant contact with agencies so that when students approach them, they have available job listings and can facilitate introductions. 

Irina added that ‘in the events industry, many jobs are not advertised because they are taken by ‘word of mouth’ before going live, so the question here should be ‘where young talent can find you’ so companies constantly gain access to a new pool of candidates.’ 

Why does young talent I interview join my competition? 

According to Robert, ‘this can be due to a lack of consistent message throughout the selection experience; people who are interviewing them are not qualified recruiters. Because of that, the challenge that arises is that the messaging is inconsistent, and the interviewer is ‘looking’ for something rather than seeing what can be added. Young talent knows what they want and seem to be as much more focused on what they are looking for, resulting in both sides having different mindsets. If the company doesn’t allow for a 2-way interview format, they’ve lost before they even started.’ 

Irina added that ‘reasons vary and include the speed to respond to candidates, higher personalisation and better profile fit for the individual.’ 

How do I retain young talent? 

According to Robert, ‘companies should follow on from what they’ve promised when they hired the candidates. Furthermore, they should practice regular active listening touch points rather than focussing on progress reports. Companies should understand the reasons for the talent joining them in the first place and lastly constantly work on the employer/employee brand, which needs to be sting and consistent.’  

Valerie added that ‘companies should give their employees a chance to grow, encourage and challenge them. Managers have the task to train and promote their employees, and existent talent should be measured against this.’ Irina also commented that ‘companies should give their employees space to grow and take responsibility, take their advice on board and keep open communication.’

Chris Dack, Senior Tutor & Digital Marketing Programme Lead for QA Apprenticeships added that it is important ‘to provide an inclusive, creative brand culture which employees will feel inspired to contribute towards. Harness the energy young talent will bring.’

What advice can you give that I can implement moving forward?

To conclude, we looked at the best tips to implement for attracting and retaining young talent. Robert suggested to ‘conduct an internal survey for new, mid- and long-term employees and ask them why they joined, why they stay, what they think of the business and what they’ll improve. After this survey, they should act on the results. Secondly, revise the social media strategy to ensure that it aligns with your recruitment plan, is fit for purpose and that you actually engage with all potential candidates online. Evaluate whether it is all marketing and push communication, or do you add value and look like an employer of choice. And third, revise your website and whether it has a specific easy-to-find career page that looks enticing to future candidates or do future hires have to click though several pages then email their CV to a machine. If it doesn’t, fix it tomorrow.’ 

Irina added that ‘companies should be always on the lookout for talent and not only when they need to recruit. Companies should not expect to be approached, but instead approach the people who they think are right for their business. It’s a 2-way approach!’

Robert will be a speaker at our Event Planners Talk conference next year from 27–30 August 2020 in Bern, Switzerland. You can learn more about his business on Robert’s website and contact him for any advice about recruitment. We look forward to welcoming you to his session in Bern. 

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