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Two thirds say they need to delay or cancel work as skilled workers are slow to return to the industry.

There is a shortage of events staff - and university graduates aren't cutting it

Tom Andrews

A "pronounced" shortage of skilled workers is putting summer events at risk.

Two thirds of companies (69%) say they will need to delay or cancel work, with three quarters of employers doubtful enough capable staff will be available as the busy season approaches.  

The survey by entertainment industry association Plasa and We Make Events, a campaign sparked by Covid, found the number of full time freelancers in the sector has halved.

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Pre-Covid, 72% of the UK live events workforce was skilled freelancers. Now, 75% more businesses are contracting freelancers, the report suggests.

But their ranks are in decline. So far, 50% are yet to return to full time work, with site crew, technicians, riggers and engineers in high demand.

However, recruitment is lower than before the pandemic and many roles remain vacant: "The 1% drop in companies employing 251+ employees and freelancers alone translates into an estimated loss of 5,000 jobs," Plasa's report states.

Respondents said "a lot of excellent people with years of skill and knowledge have left the industry", placing more pressure on experienced professionals.

One said pay and conditions were so bad that it was hard to justify returning to the sector.

"I have applied for multiple positions which pay less than working full time for a supermarket."

Graduates are no good

Events companies are having to retrain graduates of industry-relevant university courses in house because they lack the skills to hit the ground running.

There appears to be a crisis of confidence in graduates' abilities, with only 10% of survey respondents saying they are "ready to work".

About a third of engineers, site crew and technicians need retraining, and it often takes six months "to get them to a standard where they're worth employing," one respondent said.

"Graduates are only of use if they had hands on experience of real world situations and a love of the industry," another commented.

This is a concern given 38% of companies say they'll need new apprentices in the next 18 months.

"Collectively, these issues raise concerns that there is no quick solution," the report warns.

Cost of doing business

Whilst the survey was multinational, most respondents (65%) were based in the UK. Nearly all of them (96%) also work in Europe. 

Many attributed delays in specialist goods like lighting desks, mixing desks and speakers and fast growing prices - sometimes several times higher than inflation - to Brexit.

"It's a car crash," one respondent said. "We are moving some operations to the Netherlands as the UK is an economic basket case now."

73% anticipate a loss of work and sales, while 45% took on additional debt to get them through the pandemic.

The number of businesses in the survey turning over less than £50,000 grew by 56%.

"The bottom line is that the ongoing challenges facing the live events sector, as outlined in this report, could further impede economic growth," Plasa and We Make Events say.

"And even though the public is keen to make up for lost time, there is a real potential for these restrictions to result in losing a large number of awe-inspiring experiences that the live events sector is renowned for."