Young professionals entering the meeting and event planning industry need to have more familiarity with event technology and overall business strategy if they want to succeed in this rapidly evolving sector.

That’s according to the new 2017 Global Meetings & Events Forecast released by American Express Meetings & Events, which organizes more than 55,000 business events of all sizes worldwide. The annual report, considered a bellwether for meeting planners and the people who employ them, highlights corporate sentiment toward the health of the industry and evolving trends, and it deciphers a number of different emerging industry trends every year.

Traditionally, much of the role of meeting planning has revolved around logistics. In the last decade, that has evolved to incorporate the ability to implement new technology and new meeting design strategies. Looking ahead, the future of planning business events emphasizes the prioritization of business outcomes, and using technology to ensure and quantify those outcomes.

“We are clearly seeing changes in expectations around what meeting professionals should be doing, and how we should be contributing to their success,” said Issa Jouaneh, senior VP/general manager of American Express Meetings & Events. “As an industry, we’re looking to really elevate the profession in terms of not just execution skills, but also the value tied to creating real visibility around what meetings and events deliver for corporations.”

One of the emerging trend sections in the 2017 Forecast is: “A Changing Workforce: The Future of Talent in Meetings and Events.” American Express Meetings & Events collaborated with the hospitality faculty at University of Las Vegas Nevada (UNLV), the meeting planning department of Intel Corp., and the human resources department of American Express Global Business Travel to explain what is required to develop a well-prepared talent pipeline for the future.

First, the report establishes that the meetings professional is working in a growth industry, and the special traits that planners require are appealing to Millennials, including: variety, flexibility, a fast pace, and a strong team environment. It reads: “Increasing awareness and visibility of the industry relative to those attributes can help attract new talent.”

Next, the report examines the increasing number of university hospitality programs that provide training specifically in the area of meetings and events, and their overall role moving into the future.

“The industry tells us they really need hospitality students who understand business,” explained Dr. Rhonda Montgomery, department chair at UNLV, in the report. “For example, one global hotel brand told us they want candidates who understand how to read a profit and loss statement, and make decisions based on its implications. Our meeting and event classes also emphasize the importance of being able to identify the return on investment for all stakeholders of the event.”

Raul Vazquez, global commodity manager at Intel, added that he would like to see universities developing more sophisticated meetings and events education. He feels that incoming talent should already be trained on industry standard technology, such as attendee management and engagement systems, to reduce time on-boarding new hires.

“Familiarizing students with technologies like mobile apps can help new planners,” Vazquez asserted. “Coming in trained on these technologies would be ideal.”

Another challenge for the industry, students enrolled in meetings education are often preoccupied with images of the glamorous side of meeting planning, such as staying in luxury hotels and exploring exotic travel destinations.

Those perks are often part of the profession, especially for senior planners. Except, there needs to be a more institutionalized framework for developing meeting planner internships to help students gain a real-world appreciation and clear view of what companies will require from them in their day-to-day responsibilities.

A human resources professional with American Express Global Business Travel calls internships, “the longest interview of your life.” They’re also “a great way for students to see first-hand the needs of the industry, so the student is better equipped to determine if the reality and potential of the industry interests them.”

A Changing Workforce

However, the goal of internships isn’t to scare people away from becoming meeting professionals.

“Meeting and event planners today have to have more discipline around financials, data analytics, quality and performance, and strategic thinking,” said Jouaneh. “But at the same time, we need to continue to make this an attractive profession for people to enter. That’s the important balance. There should always be that excitement around being able to travel, work in different cultures and different countries, and try new things and new experiences.”

Toward that end, the “Changing Workforce” section in the 2017 Global Meetings & Events Forecast suggests that corporations and universities need to collaborate more strategically to help both companies and schools become “incubators of innovation.”

By building stronger partnerships with their business communities, universities can develop more relevant and effective academic curricula and meetings industry research. Likewise, corporations can derive better insight into what the next generation of meeting planners are excited about in the art and science of human connectivity.

Most importantly, the report summarizes: “Corporations and universities have a responsibility to elevate the meetings profession by emphasizing the strategic nature of the role, and the growing focus on meetings in organizations around the world.”

Jouaneh told Skift that the only way this is going to happen is if the highest levels of leadership in both business and academia pivot their thinking around the potential of meetings and events to drive business development. Meanwhile, he said, meeting planners need to be more well-rounded in terms of their skill sets.

“There certainly needs to be a change in management efforts required to transform the mindsets of everyone involved, both from an organizational perspective and also from an individual contributor level,” Jouaneh explained. “Clearly you need leadership, you need executive support, you need investment in training, and you need to have oversight and quality checks to monitor the progress. It’s a significant change, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Photo Credit: According to the new 2017 American Express Meetings & Events Forecast, corporations and universities need to co-create more meetings industry research. American Express Meetings & Events