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Formal recognition of excellence for event industry professionals

Back in 2015, EXSA, SAACI and IFEA pooled resources to set up the Council of Event Professionals Africa (CEPA) to establish standards and develop training and certification programmes for the events industry in Africa.

For much of the last 5 years since then, it has been a rocky road for the fledgeling Association. “While we had a clear picture of what we wanted to achieve, we were completely out of our depth trying to navigate the complexities of the SAQA landscape,” explains Sue Gannon, erstwhile GM of EXSA and one of the original CEPA Board members. “We knew we wanted to promote the adoption of professional standards in the events industry, and we understood that a formal designation registered with SAQA was the route we wanted to follow. What we didn’t recognise was the complexity of the criteria we’d need to satisfy if we wanted to develop and award a professional designation of our own.”

Five years of slow progress with the original SAQA applications highlighted the need for a different approach. “This was a particularly difficult time for us,” recalls Glenn van Eck, SAACI treasurer and like Gannon, a member of the original CEPA Board. “It was clear that a voluntary Board could not meet the detailed and time-consuming needs that were demanded of the SAQA certification process. We noted the rapid progress in achieving results for technical crews after the TPSA merged into SACIA and this provided the impetus to start a dialogue between CEPA and SACIA.”

Over a few years, this dialogue progressed, and a win-win scenario became evident to both organisations. “This is always a drawn-out stage as Board Members of a body like CEPA want to ensure that the legacy they had envisioned would not be compromised,” says Kevan Jones, executive director of SACIA. “Patient conversations saw progress as the relationship and trust developed. The CEPA Board and the founding members decided that they would best be able to serve their members by reconstituting themselves as a special interest group within SACIA.” Once that decision was made in mid-2019, the CEPA and SACIA Boards established an interim Council to integrate CEPA into SACIA’s governance and operational structures, a process that was completed shortly before the declaration of the State of National Disaster on 15 March 2020.

“We had our first meeting of the newly constituted CEPA Council during the annual Meetings Africa exhibition at the Sandton Convention Centre during late February,” recalls Jones. “Two weeks later the covid-19 pandemic was upon us and the entire events industry came to a grinding halt.”

“Initially we assumed that the COVID pandemic would be over in a few months and we’d be back to business as usual,” says Jones “so we ploughed ahead with the development of our new designations and submitted them to SAQA for review in June 2020. The review panel asked us to make a few small changes but they were eventually published in the Government Gazette on 14 August 2020 and approved by the SAQA Board on 20 November 2020. Five years of work and we now have three new designations for event managers that are awarded based on an assessment that reviews a candidate’s education, work experience and work ethic. Each candidate is also required to provide a portfolio of evidence supporting their claim of competence, and write an examination that tests the breadth and depth of their knowledge.”

The entry-level is the Event Associate designation which signifies an individual’s broad commitment to a career in events management. Individual’s applying for this designation will generally have an NQF level-5 qualification in event management, with at least one year’s relevant work experience. They’re probably working under the supervision of an event manager and are expected to display well-developed interpersonal skills, as well as competence in event administration, marketing and event plan implementation.

Next step up is the Certified Event Practitioner. This is a designation that signifies an individual’s comprehensive commitment to a career in events management. An event practitioner will generally supervise an event and perform tasks such as finding and booking venues, liaising with clients and suppliers, handling logistics, managing budgets and invoicing, organizing accreditation, managing risk and presenting post-event reports. The practitioner will be competent in event administration, marketing and event planning. The designation also demonstrates the event practitioner’s commitment to continuing professional development in the events industry. Individual’s applying for this designation need to have an NQF level-6 qualification in events management and at least three years of relevant work experience.

The highest designation is the Certified Event Professional that signifies an individual’s deep commitment to a career in events management. An event professional is responsible for organizing, mobilizing and/or coordinating the staff, event participants, officials, and administrators for the successful execution of an event. Individuals at this level need to have an NQF level-7 qualification in events management and have at least 5 years of relevant work experience. “At the professional level we’d expect candidates to have a deep knowledge within a particular event genre,” explains Jones. “In assessing candidates at this level we’ve partnered with several Associations to ensure that our assessment can be genre-specific. For example, we’re working with SAACI to develop assessment tools for conference organisers and with SAMIC to develop assessment tools for music promoters. We expect to have a comprehensive set of assessment tools available quite quickly so that we can assess applications from individuals working across almost any event genre.

The SACIA Board is also very aware that many people working in the events industry do not have any formal qualifications in the sector. “While the National Qualifications Framework underpins our designations, we encourage individuals who otherwise meet the requirements but lack any formal qualification to apply for recognition,” says Jones. “It’s a bit more work to prepare your portfolio of evidence but, individuals who have the proven skill, knowledge and competence can earn a formal designation that’s listed on the National Qualifications Framework.”

It’s difficult not to allow Janet Landey, president of IFEA Africa, to have the closing comments on the development of these designations. “Although CEPA was only registered in 2015 it’s a project that the founding Associations have been working on since the launch of the EMBOK (Event Management Body of Knowledge) in South Africa in 2004. This was designed to encourage professional development programming and credentialing products that offer international recognition and career portability for Association members,” says Landey. “Since that launch we’ve worked closely with the Canadian eMerit programme to develop designations that are aligned with international standards and best practice. To say that I’m pleased is completely inadequate.

It’s a process that’s taken a huge effort from many people over an extended period. We’re pleased that the SACIA team were able to walk the last mile with us – to help us over the finish line, but it’s important to recognise the work put in by many individuals who care deeply about the future of our industry. Now that the designations are listed on the National Qualifications Framework, the industry itself needs to step up. We need to encourage individuals to apply for a designation, and we need to encourage employers to require staff to earn a designation appropriate to their competence. The last 15 years will have been a complete waste of time of industry professionals don’t grasp this opportunity to earn a designation that recognises their skill, knowledge and competence. These designations will be a key factor in developing our industry in the future so step up and submit your application today.”

by Kevan Jones – Council for Event Professionals (SACIA)

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