A Higher Meetings Education: Future-Proof Your Career

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Flexible lifelong learning options to future-proof your career

The meetings industry is not so simple anymore. Today’s intense focus on key performance indicators, event-tech stacks and designing brilliant experiences has made the need for advanced education—from a university, association or DIY commitment—almost a requisite for getting hired…and for thriving. Smart Meetings talked to industry experts about why certification has become so essential, the commitment required and specific areas where event professionals are focusing to achieve their A-game.

More: How to Master On-Campus Meetings at Amazing University Spaces

Certified Meetings Experts

Karen Kotowski (CAE, CMP), CEO of Events Industry Council (EIC)—which awards Certified Meeting Professionals (CMP) credentials—confirmed that outside validation of advanced skills is becoming an essential step in a planner’s career path. A 2010 survey of 1,500 global human resources professionals by the HR Certification Institute found that both professionals and employers saw value in third parties verifying individual skill sets—if it is the right third party.

“It confirmed the practical and professional experience earned as a practitioner, and the respondents truly believed that their certification led to career advancement,” Kotowski said. The survey showed that the differentiator of a certification was even more important in a declining economy with greater competition for jobs.

“Employers are willing to pay for certification and consider it a better value for the money spent than one-time certificate programs,” she said. The former are experienced-based exams, and require recertification and continuing education to ensure the employee remains current in the profession. Occupational data from the 2016 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed that median earnings for workers with a certification or license were 34 percent higher than for those without credentials. More than half of employers surveyed said that certified employees had a positive impact on the profitability of the company.

In the events industry, certification has become synonymous with seriousness about growing and achieving. EIC (back when it was still The Convention Industry Council Board) surveyed attitudes about CMPs specifically, and credentialing for meeting professionals in general, and found that people went through the certification process to improve their quality of work, keep knowledge current and strengthen their resume.

Employers said that having credentialed employees on staff improved the reputation of the organization, increased employee knowledge, demonstrated an employee’s commitment to the profession and ensured knowledge is up to date. They also saw it as a way to increase customer satisfaction, as well as their employees’ engagement, productivity and satisfaction.

However, not all stamps of approval are equal. Reputation of the credentialing body, experience-based exams and recertification requirements added to the value of the distinction. CMP International Standards, for example, are updated every five years to cover the latest in strategic planning, project management, risk management, financial management, human resources, stakeholder management, meeting/event design, site management and marketing.

Pop Quiz for MPI Innovator Jessie States

Jessie States

Meeting Professionals International is known for supporting events industry career development through in-person (including one program that takes place at sea) and online certifications, but the organization took learning to a higher level when it announced at World Education Summit in Indianapolis in June that it would be launching a graduate program in meetings and event management with San Diego State University L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management in 2019.

Smart Meetings quizzed MPI Head of Meeting Innovation Jessie States, CMM, about the skills required for an “event-full” career for years to come. The Events Industry Council 2018 Pacesetter Award winner shared some important lessons about future-proofing your job.

How is the delivery of ongoing education changing?

Since MPI Academy launched in August 2015, it has successfully introduced more than 200 hours of live and on-demand educational courses, webinars, seminars and certificate programs that address the meeting and event industry’s greatest challenges with bespoke solutions, best and next practices and application-based learning formats. From our Basics Boot Camp and CMP Prep to the immensely popular Emergency Preparedness certificate, these programs are designed to help meeting professionals with the training they need to excel in today’s marketplace.

What skills are event professionals most interested in learning today? How has that changed over time?

Some topics are evergreen—negotiation, experience design, trends. But we are seeing increasing interest in the future-ready skills that will define the workplace of tomorrow, regardless of industry. These include critical thinking, creativity, resource management, judgment and decision-making, change management and innovation. These skills are being increasingly added to the technical and job-related skills they also need to acquire and refine.

The curriculum for the graduate program you are launching with San Diego State includes stakeholder management, finance fundamentals and demonstrating ROE (Return on Experience), but nothing on site selection or F&B. Is that a sign that event management has moved beyond logistics?

Logistics will always be an essential part of the role meeting professionals play, but as they move to higher levels in their careers, stakeholder and financial management, strategy and measurement will be increasingly important for them to not only understand, but also to excel at delivering. Students in the degree program we are launching should already have expertise in the logistical functions of the meeting professional role, and should be ready to discover the function, strategy and impact their meetings have on businesses, organizations, governments and NGOs.

Another focus area for the graduate course is leading change and innovation. What are the biggest changes planners need to prepare for—and how are they in a position to lead that change?

Meeting professionals must prepare themselves and their teams for constant change. But this isn’t any different from any other industry right now. No one wants to be the next Blockbuster, and to prevent that the greatest future-ready skill of all may be adaptability.

What is your personal philosophy about continuing education and the best way to stay current in the industry?

I owe it to myself to invest in my future by staying current on overall business and marketplace trends, spending time—and money—on right-fit professional development and focusing on the skills experts say will ensure I am future-ready for decades to come.

Editor’s note: After the issue went to print, Jessie States sat for the CMP test and passed it. Congratulations.

The Road to CAE

Camille Sanders has been working in the association industry since the late ’90s, when she was in college. Although she has moved up the career ladder, she wanted to take the next logical step for the sake of her career and organization. “I want to be a well-rounded association executive,” said the senior manager of membership for Water Environment Federation in Alexandria, Virginia. That desire to do more led her to start pursuing her Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential in March from American Society of Association Executives.

Smart Meetings asked the Liberty University graduate for insight on the journey to certification and for tips that might help others navigate the certification process, which can take from three months to more than a year.

Step by Step

  1. Sanders started by researching the resources available and found the CAE candidate listserve, which acts as an electronic mailing list for those studying for the exam—and others who have already gone through the process.
  2. She posted a notice looking for people who might be interested in creating a study group and found six people in the Northern Virginia area. Four had already submitted their applications and planned to sit for the test in December. Like Sanders, one other member was still completing the application process. “There was something powerful about coming together with colleagues to bounce questions off each other that made a big difference,” Sanders said.
  3. She asked her manager to use the office as for weekly meetings after hours, and two CAE-certified supervisors agreed to speak to the group about their experiences. Discussions ranged from questions about best HR practices to how to read a nonprofit financial statement and advice for strategic organizational planning. “It is an all-encompassing overview of association business,” she said.
  4. She loaded up on the required and recommended reading: Association Law Handbook, ASAE Handbook of Professional Practices in Association Management (aka, Big Red Book), The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, How to Read Nonprofit Financial Statements, Membership Essentials: Recruitment, Retention, Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources.
  5. She set her test date for December, reassured by knowing that the other four people in her study group who took the test had passed. “It is rightfully rigorous, but I feel that if you put the time in, you will emerge with the ability to see the 30,000-foot view,” she said.

After carrying a book around and studying every minute of free time for months, Sanders plans to reward herself with a vacation once she has reached her goal. And when the time comes to step up to a director level, she will be ready.

An Academic Approach

As event teams across the country begin to be recognized for the critical role they play in marketing and revenue, an up-to-date skill set becomes even more essential on professional resumes. Institutions of higher learning are stepping up to prepare undergrads and returning mid-career students for whatever comes next.

Lynn Minnaert, academic chair and clinical associate professor at Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at NYU School of Professional Studies says the academic focus has changed completely in the two decades she has been teaching. In addition to project-management skills focused on stakeholder roles and business classes worthy of an M.B.A. curriculum, the course of instruction stresses creative aspects of designing experiences. “We are not just event-making machines,” she said. “You have to know when to leverage technology to add value and when to pull it back and use the human touch.”

Minnaert has seen an influx of students who fell into an event career accidentally, loved it and wanted to acquire specific skills to be even more successful. Budgeting for Events is a noncredit course at Tisch that gets more popular with each passing year.