Every year, we run a student volunteer programme alongside the Conference and Hospitality Show. We do this because our exhibitors told us that they would prefer the exhibition to be ‘trade only’ which would exclude students from attending.
So, we had the challenge of meeting the needs of our customers, whilst not forgetting that students are the next generation of our industry’s finest. We still felt a sense of responsibility to their learning and development. That’s when we launched the Student Volunteer Programme – an opportunity for us to achieve the much needed help on the day of our exhibition, give back to the community and provide a gateway for students to experience a full scale event first hand. We consider our programme to be successful, and yet other people tell me how they have struggled to get students to turn up for their volunteering post, let alone be engaged with the event. It struck me that we have developed a process for working with students and refined it over the years. Our processes are simple, but they do require effort and a genuine interest in helping the students enter the world of event management.
Tip 1: Work closely with the University as recruiting students isn’t as simple as putting a poster on the wall in the University and hoping that people will sign up.
We work closely with the head of the Events Department to not only promote and recruit volunteers, but also to champion what we’re doing and encourage the students to take part. We meet two or three times with the head, to keep them up to date, uncover any challenges they may be experiencing and to generally develop the relationship year on year.
Tip 2: Create an application process.
Do you remember that feeling when you got your first job? That feeling of accomplishment and pride? It’s the same when you’ve been selected for an important volunteering programme. We only want keen, motivated students working at our events and by creating an application process you can not only determine who really wants to be part of the programme, but you can also instil a sense of pride in the students once they are accepted. Our application process starts with a briefing session where Lynda Clayton who heads up our Student Volunteer Programme presents the challenge to them. She talks about the show, gives them advice about what research they should carry out, tells them about the kinds of activities they could be getting involved in and then shares the details of the application process.
Tip 3: Interview students!
This tip is closely aligned with the previous one. It’s the same principle that if students are interviewed, they will have a sense of achievement once they are offered a position. For the first time this year we introduced volunteer teams, headed up by a volunteer supervisor. The interview process was essential for this to be successful. Each volunteer could ‘apply’ for a supervisory position and the roles were given on merit. This not only gives the student valuable interview experience but also challenges them to consider their leadership skills. From our perspective, and interview gives us the chance to check that they have done their research and that they understand the event.
Tip 4: Make sure you have the right mind set!
What do you think of when you think of student volunteers? Free labour? Hard Work? If those feelings resonate with you, then please change your mind set slightly. Yes, students can provide ‘free labour’ on the day of the event, but there is a cost to your business if you do it right, despite being much lower than hiring in additional event staff. As for hard work, we would agree that it does require effort, but the rewards are worth it. Here at CHS Group, our mind set is that we are not only getting a great team of volunteers, but our programme feeds in to our sustainability efforts and our commitment to help develop the next generation of event planners. ‘Invest’ in recruiting, training and supporting your volunteers –your event will benefit by having a team of enthusiastic volunteers, eager to shine and do well.
Tip 5: Allow the volunteers to develop their skills.
What jobs do you give your volunteers on the day of your event? Is it just the mundane stuff that you don’t want to do? Once you’ve built them up and motivated them, the worst thing you can do is leave them in the cloakroom all day twiddling their thumbs. Find out what skills they would like to develop, train them in that area and then allow them to show you what they can do. We wouldn’t advise leaving them to their own devices without any supervision, but micro managing students will take up far too much of your time and will stifle their growth and their ability to wow you.
Tip 6: Recognise and reward your students.
Everyone loves to be recognised so by telling students (in public if you can) what a great job they’ve done and how they have contributed to the success of the event, they will go on to do great things. Think about how you can reward them too. We’re fortunate in that the university we work closely with holds an annual awards ceremony, so we sponsor the Shining Star award. The cost is minimal (less than £100) which goes directly to the winner of the award. This year, we had such good group of students we decided to award a ‘highly recommended’ student too. In addition, we give every student a signed certificate for their portfolio which helps them with future employment.
Tip 7: Think about the bigger picture.
Now that you’ve recruited, trained and motivated your volunteers, you’ve had a successful event, and rewarded the students for their efforts – could you take one more step? It’s not appropriate or even possible for everyone, but consider how you can help the students beyond the event. Could you tell people at your event that the students are looking for work placements? They might be able to help? We’ve had a good number of students find placement following their short time with us. Can you give a student a work placement yourself – it would be an excellent reward for an outstanding student? Offer them a reference? There’s also a bigger picture benefit for you. As well as the feel-good factor of helping students, a well ran programme with real benefits might help you to win a contract with a client that shares your values. At the very least, you might get positive press coverage following your event. To conclude, this process may seem a little laborious, but believe us it is well worth the effort.
Each year we work with a bright, talented, motivated team of students who help to make our event a success. For us, it’s all about your frame of mind. Do you just want some reluctant hands to get some jobs done, or do you want to give back to our industry and be part of the next generations’ development?