Analysis: Generation game

The issue of ageism has raised its head in the events industry. But some say the scales are now tipping the way of the older employee. Abigail Wills reports.

In a letter published in Event's February 2005 edition, Jenny Cainer, founder and director of recruitment agency Marketing Professionals, highlighted the problems older creatives face while looking for work in the events industry. She believes they face a bias towards youth and that agencies and corporate companies are missing a trick by overlooking the over 30s.

Cainer believes recruitment companies have a role to play in advocating the employment of older job seekers. Some employers, however, claim that by doing so, the recruitment agencies would be preaching to the converted.

Grapevine HR managing director Grania Sweeting, who recently took home the Max Cuff trophy at the Incentive Travel and Meetings Association Awards for her contribution to the events industry, says she has never had to overcome ageist attitudes during her career.

Sweeting recently completed her Masters in human resource management and as part of her dissertation she spoke to eight leading UK event management companies on the subject of staff retention and turnover. Her research showed that the average age for an account executive is 25 and most stay in that job for two years. Account managers, meanwhile, are normally between 27 and 37 years old, and account directors are on average 36, staying in the role for six years.

Experience, she maintains, is far more likely to be an advantage than a disadvantage. "Experience is very much a primary concern when recruiting," she explains. "And as business in the industry is improving, I believe companies will be recruiting older applicants that have the necessary skills. Account managers may be good at handling projects but people management only comes with experience and account directors will normally be entrusted with the new business and client liaison roles."

Jack Morton's HR director Fiona Lawlor believes that the agency's roster of high profile, public sector clients means it recruits more experienced candidates because they add gravitas. "We always have opportunities for people at all levels and still need people with the broader skills and experience. It's about having the right mix," she says.

Pci:Live head of production Ellie Grech also believes that experience will always be relevant. "It depends on the project and the team as to what we look for in an individual, but a passion for the business is important," Grech insists. As long as people are able to see things in a young way, she adds, age is irrelevant.

"I don't care if our top sales person is the wrong side of 50 or nudging 25. What matters is how well they perform. We need honest people who are committed to their work, turn up when they are contracted to, and do a good job," says Jane Revell-Higgins, managing director of event management and publishing company Synergy Partnership.

It seems that the events industry is adamant that innate characteristics will outweigh concerns over age. But, Sweeting warns, experience comes at a price and that might be the real battle facing older job applicants.

The 2004 Event Salary Survey reveals that account directors can command upwards of £40,000 a year in some cases and that's a far cry from the £18,000 a recent graduate might settle for.

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