Many meeting and event professionals are surprised to learn that Metropolitan State University of Denver has been educating students to enter the world of meeting planning since 1972. Back then, we were known as Hospitality, Meetings, and Travel. Fast-forward 47 years, and we see that the original department has changed much like the city of Denver and state of Colorado. We are now the School of Hospitality, Events, and Tourism, with our own building known as the Hospitality Learning Center, an adjacent hotel SpringHill Suites by Marriott, and a standalone Bachelor of Science degree in events and meeting management.
A review of the 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the number of jobs for meeting and event planners in 2016 was 116,700, and the projected numeric change in employment from 2016-2026 is 12,700. Against this backdrop of growing numbers, EVTM faculty needed to determine if our new courses were preparing graduating students for an entry-level position in our industry.
Demand from college students wishing to study the business of event management has fostered a proliferation of events courses to be added to hospitality programs within U.S. universities (Cecil, Reed, & Reed, 2011). For example, Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, Iowa State University, New York University, and MSU Denver joined the ranks of schools in 2016 that offer EM as a standalone degree program.
To determine if the newly designed courses at MSU Denver were preparing students for an entrylevel position, a database of more than 250 meeting and event planners from around Colorado were randomly selected to be surveyed.
The study in general indicates that the learning objectives of upper-division EM courses are preparing students for an entry-level position in the meetings and events industry. There was an open-ended comment section at the end of the survey and there were some interesting thoughts that require further study. One comment in particular says, “Clear learning objectives are one thing, but I still see skill gaps when a student starts this type of job!”
From an educator’s prospective, we cannot teach every aspect of an event and meeting professional’s job. In support of the respondent’s comment, a deeper dive into skills gap issues could be done because the comment has further research value. A recent PayScale report (2016) indicates that only 50 percent of managers agree that college graduates are ready to start their careers. This implies a perceived skill gap by hiring managers. Dice Insights (2017) gives perspective in this way: “Current employees do not meet the hiring standard and the rejection rates are sky-high. Managers hold out for perfection and these vacancies are negatively impacting business results.”
To reduce the skill gaps and subsequent talent shortages, academics need to partner more often than not. Currently, events faculty at MSU Denver belong to major event associations, and our goal is to expand current industry relationships.
While we value quantitative aspects of our research, we appreciate the sincere comments that make us think deeper on how we can aid in filling skill gaps for college graduates. Our goal is to prepare students to industry standards and beyond. Aligning learning objectives involves all parties coming together to assist in curriculum development, enact internship programs and offer hands-on learning in the classroom.
Cynthia Vannucci, Ph.D., CMP is a full professor and Shawn Jung, Ph.D. an assistant professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver in the School of Hospitality, Events and Tourism.