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Special Events

Learning By Doing

Classroom learning may be a great career step for aspiring event experts, but it's not the only education source. These days, ambitious industry initiates are finding all kinds of valuable opportunities for interactive learning.


Held in conjunction with The Special Event 2002, the annual trade show sponsored by Special Events Magazine, the Hands-On-Hundred work-study program gave industry newcomers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn and network behind the scenes as they worked on large-scale professional events at the show.

To take part in this first-ever behind-the-scenes training session, program participants committed to work at least two five-hour shifts. The program sold out in eight weeks.

“You pay $500 for the week and receive the entire education package and get to attend the events you work at,” explains Betsy Wiersma, CSEP, head of Denver-based Wiersma Experience Marketing and director of events and sponsorships for The Special Event. “It's a quick fix to meet the who's who.” Participants supported the setup, management and cleanup of show events and administrative activities.

The hard work was worth it, volunteers report. One participant wrote in a post-event evaluation: “What a terrific way to add a new dimension to the educational opportunities of the conference. It was a great learning experience and networking opportunity, and a lot of fun.”

The program did so well that it will be part of The Special Event 2003, Jan. 8-11 in Orlando, Fla., Wiersma says. “This upcoming year, participants will also get a special VIP cocktail party to meet the leaders in the industry,” she adds.


A great way to build industry skills and get credit for hands-on experience, an internship benefits both the intern and the employer. Pembroke Park, Fla.-based M.E. Productions, for example, offers nonpaid internships because company leaders believe that young people can deliver fresh ideas without limitations, according to Linda Hamburger, M.E.'s manager of marketing communications and a marketing instructor at Florida Metropolitan University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Once a marketing intern at M.E., Racquel Lindsey worked for the company 12 weeks as part of a study program. And she says she'd do it again. “One thing I've learned is that when you are open to other people suggesting things to you, you learn so much more.” Lindsey gained valuable experience and even a job offer from another company that saw her work, she adds.


On June 10, 60 “Little Brothers” age 8 to 14 from the Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay, a community service program, spent an afternoon at the Boston Marriott Copley Place absorbed in experiential activities offered by the hotel and Conferon, an independent meeting planning firm with a regional service center in Boston.

In the “Spirit to Serve” program, the kids were escorted to the hotel's front desk to sign in like guests and given keys to the room. “They got to see how hotel guests are treated,” says Paula Kramer, meeting and event manager for Conferon in Boston. “They were surprised to find out all the things that go on and how interesting it can be.”

The children learned with the chefs how to decorate strawberries, saw how security surveillance works and discovered how to transform ballrooms into party palaces. At the event planning station, they played a game to develop a fictitious conference. “It opened up their eyes to the wider variety of career options, and I hope it will breed a whole new group of young people who will get involved in the hospitality industry,” Kramer says. The program was so well received that the three sponsors are considering running it again next year and including the Big Sisters organization as well.


South Africa has a huge skills demand, but very few skilled people, according to Gillian Gilbert, project manager for the Tourism Learnership Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. A joint initiative between South Africa's Business Trust and the Department of Labour is working to promote job skills, upgrade customer service levels and provide opportunities for its youth through projects such as the Tourism Learnership Project. Like an apprenticeship, a learnership “is practical work experience together with practical learning,” Gilbert says.

There are two types of “learners” in the project: employed learners, who have jobs and are undergoing training in addition to their jobs, and unemployed learners, who are placed with employers and are learning the basics. At the end of at least a yearlong learnership, the unemployed learners may not necessarily have a job, but, Gilbert says, “They have a better chance of getting a job.” Learners get a stipend that covers their travel expenses, and most employers pay in addition to that.

Today, there are 260 learners receiving training in special events. They are being exposed to different disciplines within the event industry from security to decor to lighting, says Janet Landey, CSEP, joint managing director of Party Design in Johannesburg and founding president of the South Africa chapter of ISES. The learners have worked on events from Christmas parties to carnivals. “The most important challenge for us was to ensure these learners would be ready to work as volunteers at the World Summit on Sustainable Development,” Landey says, held Aug. 4 through Sept. 2 in Johannesburg.

When learners complete their learnership successfully, they will receive a Level Four National Qualifications Framework certificate for entry-level event management.

“It is the most unbelievable project — miracles — as you see these young people growing in front of your very eyes,” Landey says. “You can just imagine what confidence and dignity a previously unemployed person gains when meaningfully employed on a project like this.”


For information on The Special Event 2003 Hands-On-Hundred work-study program, call 800/927-5007, 203/358-3751, or visit For an M.E. Productions internship in sales, floral, graphics or marketing, fax a resume and cover letter marked “internship application” to 954/458-4003. For Spirit to Serve, call Kathleen Collins, Conferon, 781/278-2530. For the Tourism Learnership Project, e-mail Janet Landey at [email protected].

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