The Future Keeps Calling, Why Won’t You Answer?
I have to give two shouts out: the first to Joan Eisenstodt for all of her great work with students and their programs, and the second to Susan Katz and Neil Schriever for their great work with the New Professionals Task Force. Without the dedication and hard work of these people, along with our chapter volunteers, we would not have the involvement, insight, and contributions of the student and new professionals groups that we rely upon today.
One of my favorite things to do is to talk with students and new professionals from around the global community, and I go out of my way to do this. I make it a point to stop and talk to those brave souls that will wear a “FIRST TIMER” ribbon, and just generally try to talk to people that I don’t know. Why? Because I always learn something new.
During Convening Leaders I was checking emails in the Learning Lounge and two students from the University of Wisconsin Platteville sat down to figure out what sessions they should attend that afternoon. I introduced myself and we began to talk about their PCMA expectations and experiences, both good and bad. This conversation led me to start digging a little deeper in all subsequent conversations I had with students in San Diego. What I found was that they do not feel that most professionals are interested in talking with them. This is not true in many instances, but the overall feeling was that they felt dismissed once their student badge had been seen. Was I surprised? No, not really. Saddened, but not surprised.
A few years ago, PMA was fortunate enough to be selected to take part in a generational study that was commissioned by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). A research team came to Fresh Summit, our annual meeting, and interviewed hundreds of people about the different viewpoints between generations, especially as they related to the exhibition industry. We found out that we had a very similar problem with students feeling ignored, even though our foundation focuses a good chunk of its time on promoting student development and placement.
There is a huge hunger on the part of these folks to learn and understand who and what we are, what we do and how we do it, and where they could fit into the puzzle. Students specifically are trying to decide what they are going to do in the real world and they need our help to do that. There is a gap of mistrust that exists between students and faculty, so they look to professionals to help them understand what it takes to prosper in our world. Several stated that they would love to be able to go to a session with a group of professionals that would talk to them about their jobs and responsibilities, then allow for lots of Q&A, and end with some informal networking. The key, they told me, was that the professionals had to WANT to be there.
So, what seems to be the problem? Are we above talking with people that are trying to learn about who we are and how our community works? These people are the future of the business that we profess to love so much, but is seems as if we don’t have the time to spare to ensure its continued success and prosperity. Was it this way when I was new to the community? I guess it was, which may be one of the reasons I go out of my way to spend time with people that I don’t know – yet.
Don’t get me wrong, these are not people that will directly help your career reach new heights (although internally people will wonder how and why you have such a great team), they will not serve as references for you, nor will they be able to introduce you to that person you want to meet. The great thing about them is that they speak candidly and honestly, since they have no fear of whom or what you are. I was impressed that they have business cards, many with pictures of themselves to remind you when you are going through that stack of cards following an event. They are sponges, blank slates, and empty canvases starving for information that they can only get from us.
I get a ton of great information from conversations with these groups of people, both at PCMA and PMA events. If you have any thoughts about continuing your event beyond the next five years, I suggest you spend some time with students and new professionals at your next event.
The next time the future calls, I hope you will find the time to answer.