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    Is there a future for me, as a young professional, within the event / exhibition industry?

    By Katherine Gunningham

    The answer to this question may not be that simple. However, the journey to finding the answer might be very similar in nature, whether you work in the event / exhibition industry or any other industry for that matter.

    Ultimately, I have pondered and thus decided that the onus lies with each one of us to take charge of our careers and shape our futures. I’ve done some research and have spoken to a few individuals which led me to develop the following principles.

    Principle 1: Know thyself

    Know thyself. If you don’t know who you are and what you want in life, how do you know where you’re heading? If you don’t take some time doing introspection, and defining your aspirations and goals, you’ll end up being constantly disappointed in both your personal and professional life. This may be easier said than done, but even if you don’t have the full clear picture drawn out of who you are and what you want to become, even the smallest effort towards getting to this point will go a long way.

    Tip: Reflect on your working career to date and then, Jot down your top 10 goals for the next 3 years and stick it on your fridge or bathroom mirror. This will serve as a constant reminder and provide you with the motivation you need as you tick off the items from the list…

    Principle 2: Manage your manager

    “What? Are you mad?”, you might think. Let me explain what I mean by this.

    Some of us aren’t as fortunate as others to be working for the role-model-type boss. And even those ‘perfect’ bosses aren’t always ‘perfect’ in every aspect of the role they need to play – no one is perfect after all, but in most respects we do try.

    Make sure to set up monthly or quarterly discussions with your manager, and don’t pitch up empty-handed. Prepare a clear agenda before the meeting which you can also send to your manager in advance. Cover aspects like your performance agreement and progress - some organisations have formal performance appraisal processes in place – but if such a process does not exist, create your own one. Check in with regards to your career path at the organisation, and what would be expected from you to ‘move on’ to the next role – whether that role is a more senior managerial role, or a more specialised role and also explore where you could be involved in other areas of the company you work for i.e. being an association representative or helping out with a specific event – believe me usually your management team is juggling a couple of balls at the same time and for the most part would probably appreciate the offer for you to get involved.

    These discussions will also help in building a trusting relationship between yourself and your manager, and you’ll also get to know each other’s working styles.

    Sometimes, you may find yourself in a scenario where you’re unhappy in your current situation, and you may not know how to get yourself out of it. Your manager might not be the right person to give you the advice and strategic direction you need, which brings me to my next principle.

    Principle 3: Get a mentor

    “Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but she or he must have a certain area of expertise or be able to guide you.”

    Research has proven time and again the value of mentorship in enabling and accelerating individual development and growth.

    Usually, it makes sense to ask someone to become your mentor that has experience within your industry, but you can also achieve a lot of value from someone that comes from a completely different background but that you look up to. You’ll also be surprised at how willing people are to fulfil such a role, so don’t hesitate to ask.

    Set up quarterly coffee or lunch sessions with your mentor and prepare notes on specific matters you need guidance on.

    Bringing it all back to our industry… I’ve come to the conclusion that our industry has been led by a relatively older generation, but has seen an influx in many young, aspirational professionals who enjoy the industry and see a future for themselves within it. However, I believe there is a gap in middle management leadership, and as a result, I’ve noticed a lack of knowledge transfer as well as some tension between generations in how things are and should be done.

    So, is this a problem? There is a quote that goes “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude towards the problem.”

    I believe that our industry, and specifically here in South Africa, offers many opportunities for us young professionals, and whether you ‘make it to the top’ or whatever aspirations you have, is 99% up to you and the attitude you adopt. If this is where you are and want to be, take charge of your career and go for it!




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