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Ops review to restart

by EN

EN speaks to ESSA vice chair Lou Kiwanuka about supporting industry operations professionals and the return to work.

August was a nail-biting month for event professionals who eagerly awaited news from the government’s event pilot schemes for the final approval for the restart date of 1 October 2020.

While the whole sector is impatient and excited to get back to what they love (albeit with new protective measures in place), there needs to be insightful processes, collaboration, and most of all communication to make sure event operations run smoothly going forward into the ‘next’ normal.

Back in February, before the world came to a standstill, Lou Kiwanuka, vice chair of ESSA and The Shaper Group managing director, launched The Ops Nest – a training and peer-to-peer mentorship programme for operational professionals in the industry. Its mantra “enabling brilliance not managing competence” highlights what Kiwanuka calls “a vital need for specific training and support for operations professionals in the exhibition industry”.

With face-to-face training no longer possible and Ops professionals facing an uncertain future, Kiwanuka set to work in using The Ops Nest platform to create ‘Ops in Lockdown’, weekly training sessions over four months of the UK’s lockdown period. Sessions saw attendees come together to learn from event experts discussing critical issues facing professionals and their team during Covid-19 and beyond.

Now, with the restart button just one month away, the events industry must ensure it is fully ready and up-to-speed understanding of the new regulations it faces.

The pressure is on to ensure no event becomes a “super-spreader” causing further lockdown and the potential chaos for the events industry.

In her role at ESSA, Kiwanuka has been an integral part of the Event Industry Alliance and its curation of the guidance, which has formed the conditions for restart pending government approval, working with fellow ESSA, AEO and AEV board members. The EIA has also set to work on building essential collaborations within the event supply chain to ensure success for organisers, suppliers and venues going forward into 2021.

Kiwanuka explains: “One of the greatest issues will be the need for more information across the event supply chain. From the off, we need to overhaul our event stakeholder meetings to include broader representation from suppliers in addition to the standard venue meetings with organisers. Coordination and communication will be key in creating safe and successful events – something that has been highlighted by every senior event industry professional who has featured on the ‘Ops in Lockdown’ sessions.”

There is a concern that the events industry will suffer from a major drain of talent due to people having to search for new opportunities.

However, Natasha Layal, managing partner at recruitment consultancy, Expocast, who partnered with The Ops Nest, believes there is a positive outlook. She says: “Some people will inevitably have to leave the industry to ensure they can pay their bills. However, most people are in the event industry because they absolutely love their profession so I’m confident they will return when the opportunities become available.

“Ability and willingness to learn new skills will be vital when the industry restarts – from new health and safety regulations and compliance to virtual operations, there will be gaps that need to be bridged quickly to nail that customer experience.”

Layal adds that it’s imperative for ops professionals to have the knowledge of what has changed and the ability to communicate that knowledge effectively and efficiently to contractors and exhibitors alike. “It will be crucial inmaking sure our shows run as smoothly as they did before the pandemic,” she says.

Beyond the new regulations and looking after attendee health, the pandemic has also weighed heavily on people both personally and professionally and one of the major focuses during the restart will be the welfare for event professionals themselves.

The Shaper Group has just this month joined forces with EventWell, the industry’s charitable social enterprise, to launch the EventWell Pledge; a peer-to-peer support programme to offer help to event professionals who have faced hardship as a result of the pandemic.

Kiwanuka explains: “EventWell Pledge has been set up to deliver an opportunity for our community to support from within, with an opportunity for people to give time or money as easily as for someone to receive it. We are a proud bunch but it is tough out there and this is our chance to make a difference.

“Whilst the pandemic has seen many industry sectors divide, the events industry has come together, and we need to continue this collaboration and unification to guarantee we leave no events professional behind.

“Working as a combined team will help our industry survive and thrive into 2021. We should introduce contractors to one and other at an early stage with the aim of working collaboratively on event delivery. Not only will this help with event organisation but also opens up all of our networks and helps businesses share expertise, experience for the benefit of their staff, organisations and ultimately the industry,” she concludes.

Overview of working practices for a strong restart

» Review of build-up and break down efficiencies

In order to deliver on new regulations and higher safety measures, organisers and venues will need to review how tenancies operate and what happens between tenancies. Stakeholder meetings will help maximise the efficiencies available.

» Increased communications between the 3 sectors about pain points

To switch on the supply chain, conversations around cashflow, commitment dates and production dates are necessary in the upcoming days.

» Manage Social distancing on site for industry teams

Micro-scheduling will be essential in order to segregate groups of people throughout the build and break phases – the most straightforward being the segregation of contractors and exhibitors.

» Welfare is key for wellbeing

This needs to span the whole event process – from contractor wellbeing, access to facilities, restricted and managed unsociable working hours, and accessibility for all.

» Simplification of process

Modular builds, shared resources such as plant hire, plug and play options are all ways to simplify a build on a stand, and across a show.

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