Recruitment & restaffing in focus
As live entertainment operators around the world predict that 2022 could be a record-breaking year, the scramble is on to get depleted staff numbers back to full strength. Gordon Masson reports.
A recent report in the UK suggested that 90,000 jobs had been lost in the cultural sector because of the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting that millions of people globally have experienced an impact on their livelihoods and many may have already taken the decision to work in a different sector.
That dilemma is just one of the challenges that human resources executives and recruiters are facing ahead of a year that many live entertainment experts are predicting will be the biggest ever for concerts, festivals, and other shows.
“Just before Covid we had about 110 employees; now we’re at somewhere between 85 and 90, but we want to be at 120 by the end of this year,” reveals TicketSwap corporate recruiter Ruben Pluimers.
Heather Papst, who is director of people, North America, for TAIT, tells IQ, “In terms of our employee population, at the end of September our headcounts were at 85% of our end-of- year target, so we are on track to meet the goals that we set out in terms of recovery, readiness, and mobilisation.
“We have recalled and rehired just about everybody from the group that was furloughed. We’ve also rehired people who actually left us and had to take another job in the interim, and then we have 100-plus brand-new hires to the organisation.”
Papst adds, “In the US, it’s a tight labour market. Our unemployment rate keeps dropping, which is obviously a good thing overall, but it means that there is more fierce competition for talent.”
Detlef Kornett, a member of the executive board of Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG), which has operations in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, the UK and Ireland, notes that each country has its own challenges and it may well be that business will not be up and running everywhere until Q2 or even Q3 of next year.
“Restaffing is, of course, different country to country, but with continental Europe we have been able to keep staff during the crisis because there have been much better support mechanisms on the part of the governments – more favourable furlough schemes and other systems – so the staff are all fully on board, even if they are not all working at this time,” says Kornett.
“So we still have people on furlough, but in terms of overall numbers we’ve actually got more people than pre-Covid because certain sectors, such as arts and exhibitions, have grown and needed to employ more people.
“When we look at the UK, we’re a little bit below staff numbers compared to pre-Covid, but that also has to do with changes in our makeup – we lost a theatre to renovation in the West End for Thriller, so the personnel that dealt with that production are gone. But overall, we’ve man- aged to keep the UK group together as much as possible, and they are all back at work. Our ticketing people at Gigantic were back before the promoters, for obvious reasons, but everyone is very busy now.
“With Ireland, it feels like we launched the company the day before Covid, so we’ve been struggling with that and our office set up there is still in crisis mode, and while people are floating in and out, the more formal business structures are a bit delayed.”
As the live entertainment business faces the task of filling thousands of employee roles, those involved in recruitment are pursuing different avenues to find candidates for those vacancies.
“In terms of recruitment, things have changed,” says Pluimers. “We’re doing some Face- book and Instagram campaigns now and what is different now is that we also have some local vacancies – in the UK and in Spain – whereas be- fore Covid everyone was in our Amsterdam HQ. Those local hires also entail a different approach: I don’t think we had used the IQ Jobs Board before Covid, for example, but for these local hires we need much more promotion, because al- though TicketSwap is very well known here in the Netherlands, in other countries we do not have that presence yet and therefore we need more visibility to tell people about the vacancies.”
It’s an indictment on our industry that a roadie can switch to being a delivery driver, make the same money and actually feel better about it
In line with everyone else in the business, HR executives have been using Zoom to streamline the interview process, while the video conferencing technology is also being utilised for training purposes.
Kirstie Loveridge, AEG’s SVP human resources, says that technology is proving invaluable.
“Absolutely everyone is back in the office now, but we’re still doing some of our training virtually because we realised that people were time poor even before Covid, and with the build up for 2022 being so busy, time constraints are even tougher, so it makes sense to keep our training programmes virtual at the moment. We’ve also found that we get better take-up that way,” she says.
Looking at TAIT’s long-term personnel strategy, Papst says, “At the end of the day, we are a manufacturer, so continuing to find a solid pipeline of skilled and entry-level manufacturing candidates is vital. By and large we’re not relocating those people, so continuing to find those skilled individuals to bring into our fabrication and manufacturing is something we are always focused on, because locally that is a very tight labour market.”
In addition to informing high school pupils about TAIT’s work, Papst reveals that the company has revitalised its employee incentive programme to help with recruitment, “because we know that the talent we already have also know the best talent that isn’t here yet,” she says. The company, she tells IQ, is implementing local community outreach to reignite connections with non-profit organisations and skilled trade institutions, while a virtual job fair is also upcoming.
Loveridge tells a similar tale. “In terms of our recruitment strategy, we’re doing everything that we did pre-Covid, but we did launch some partnerships with diverse job boards, which have been bearing fruit, while staff referrals have also been strong,” she says.
“Where we’re finding it hard is the hourly paid events staff. It’s maybe a bit arrogant to say that we’ve never struggled before, but it’s really tough. So we’re looking at all the ways we can approach that challenge: social [media] attracts quite a lot for us in terms of that space, for instance. We’re trying everything and hoping that, come the key time, we can keep getting the numbers.
That dilemma is a major concern for Sacha Lord, who is night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester. “We had Parklife recently and for that event we need about 900-1,000 people in security,” says Lord. “Previously, I’ve just taken it for granted and gone out to three security providers: one firm does the outside; another firm does the bars; and the third firm does the entry systems. But we had to beg, borrow and steal this year, from the whole of the UK, sourcing 20 people from here, 30 from there, etc.
“Luckily, our event was in September, so we could understand findings from other festivals that had taken place before us. As a result, we made the decision to over-staff by 35% to make sure we hit those numbers, which thankfully worked out for us. We were very fortunate because I know that quite a few festivals were understaffed – not through their [own] fault but purely because security providers dropped numbers at the very last minute.”
It’s a situation that Kornett believes will impact everyone internationally, as live events resume in earnest, noting that hourly paid staff for security and front-of-house roles have been hardest hit. “We have letters from our partners that state that they are more than happy to take on jobs, but they cannot guarantee that they will have enough staff,” he explains.
“The logistics industry has grown through the roof and lots of people from those hourly paid jobs went over there and now won’t even think about coming back as they realise they can be home at six o’clock.”
Nonetheless, Kornett is confident that DEAG and its peers will prevail. “We’re optimistic that these things will shake out over time,” he says. “Months ahead of time it may look bleak, but by the time the events come around it might be different, because everything around live events and music has a fascination, while UPS parcels lose their appeal after a short period. So, we may have lost a lot of people to logistics, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t come back once we’re fully up and running and everyone can see the excitement again. I’m confident that will happen and that we can also find other ways to integrate staff and recruit people from other areas.”
While Kornett sees the logistics sector as a competitor for hourly paid staff, the challenges facing recruiters are more wide ranging, given that nearly all industries, worldwide, have been forced to make redundancies or furlough staff during the pandemic.
“Here in Amsterdam we have a lot of fintech companies and they can definitely pay more money to new hires, so they are among our biggest competitors in the jobs market in the Netherlands,” says TicketSwap’s Pluimers. “In the UK, we see a lot of competition from some of the bigger music-related companies like Ticketmaster and AXS. And because the UK market has been reopened for a couple of months now, it’s also a bit tougher to fill roles. But on the other side, we are a start-up, in UK terms, so we’re looking for entrepreneurial people who are willing to go on this journey with us, rather than someone who is maybe looking for a safer, corporate job.”
I don’t think we had used the IQ jobs board before Covid… but for these local hires we need much more promotion
With her European lead on personnel for AEG, Loveridge reports, “Any vacancy in a CRM/digital/data space is a real challenge. Also, project management roles are proving interesting because they are industry wide.”
She continues, “We thought we’d struggle with finance and IT positions, but that hasn’t been the case with all of them, to be truthful. But we do have some really specific network infrastructure engineers where there weren’t many of them pre-Covid, let alone post-Covid, so that has been tricky.”
Speaking from his base in Manchester, Lord tells IQ that he believes the road to recovery could be a long one. “We’ve got a real job on our hands to persuade people to come back into this industry,” states Lord. “Speaking with my Greater Manchester hat on, we have found a pot of money to help develop skills within this industry, which I am hoping will pave the way for people to return. But it’s not just events, it’s restaurants, it’s bars, it’s hotels… across the board the night-time economy is really struggling.
“We’re a long way from recovery at the moment. I think it’s going to take us at least three years to get back to where we should be.”
Of course, the competition for candidates is also pushing up payroll costs, which in turn could also lead to ticket price hikes. But Kornett is not convinced that employees – especially hourly paid people – will benefit. “Staff costs are certainly going to increase,” he warns, “but the structure of our industry doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be paid better. It’s an indictment on our industry that a roadie can switch to being a delivery driver, make the same money, and actually feel better about it.”
Across the Atlantic, TAIT and its peers are some months ahead of their European counterparts, meaning that the priorities for Papst are also a bit further down the recovery timeline.
“The bulk of our hiring, by design, peaked in July and August, and while we have some hiring left to do, the challenges we’ve turned the corner on were either bringing all those people back, or bringing all those new people into our system,” she says. “We now have to make sure that everyone has onboarded well and successfully, that they are having the right conversations with their manager, and that they understand the scope of their responsibilities. So it’s really a kind of shift of focus to engagement.”
I’ve never seen calendars like it – there are arenas that will open Monday through to Sunday across the UK
She elaborates. “It’s about ensuring that those who are now here – even those that left us, whether for a brief time or a longer period of time – are coming back to an organisation that’s on the other side of a pandemic. In the back- ground, of course, we’re still dealing with the pandemic and ensuring that we have the right resources and the correct level of conversation with our employees about overall wellbeing to include mental health wellness, which is a topic that I’m glad to see has risen to the surface of a lot of conversations. So we need to make sure we have the right resources either within the company or by reaching out to outside vendors to ensure that employees know that they are heard and supported with everything that they are dealing with.”
That mental health theme has been one of the strongest to emerge throughout the live entertainment industry during the past 20 months, and making sure employees receive the appropriate levels of care has become a major part of the HR remit.
“We made such a stance and supported people through the last 20 months that it would be really remiss of us to just take that off the table now,” states Loveridge, “so we are continually investing in therapy sessions, coaching sessions and all sorts.
“We’re recruiting our first mental health first aider. We’d started down that process before Covid hit, but now we’re getting back on track to do some training for that crowd that want to volunteer and be mental health first aiders.”
Loveridge adds, “You cannot underestimate people’s resilience – it’s been a long hard 20 months, now followed by people being really, really busy and looking at a calendar in 2022 when they will potentially be even busier. We need to be there to support them.”
That’s a mantra that’s repeated in Pennsylvania, where Papst reveals, “Where we’re focussed now is employee safety, wellbeing, and overall health, and then making sure that people feel engaged and that they are building the right relationships, whether they are back after a year or whether they have never been here before, and this is their first job out of college. How do we focus on helping the organisation build that rapport? It’s really about laying the foundation between now and the end of the year so that we are as ready as we can be going into 2022.”
Kornett also believes a further recruitment drive will be needed as the volume of business increases. “We will undoubtedly have to add new staff to cope, but it’s all a matter of when business in 2022 will start, depending on each territory – will it be Q1 or Q2 or as long as Q3? That will determine whether we will need additional staff or not.”
And he observes, “We’re going to have new people ruling the world and they will be riggers. They are like gold dust. Everybody needs them and wants them and all at the same time. So, we foresee some real pinch points coming toward us on that front.”
For Lord, there are still some major hurdles to overcome as the night-time economy recovers.
“Next year, there are so many new tours taking place. But combine that with all of the tours that have been postponed and pushed back… I’ve never seen calendars like it – there are arenas that will be open Monday through to Sunday across the UK,” he says.
And Lord is one of a growing number of voices that is calling on government to delay its planned VAT rise, otherwise he fears the industry – and those who work in it – will just lunge from one crisis into another.
The UK government slashed VAT on tickets to 5% during the pandemic. That was recently increased to 12.5%, but ministers have revealed plans to go back to the full 20% in March 2022.
“The VAT hike that we’re going to see over such a short period of time I think will be another hammer blow to the industry,” says Lord. “When you are looking at a lack of staff, a lack of produce, and then this price hike, when we already know that things like fuel prices are soaring and other prices are being hit by inflation, it’s just a really, really bad idea.
“Considering all the debt that people have taken on, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a VAT freeze at 12.5% until at least the end of March 2024. Otherwise, that 15% hike in the space of six months will be a lot for many businesses to handle.”
Having recruited nearly 300 people across Europe in recent months, Loveridge is keen to share some of the knowledge gained to help others in territories that are yet to kickstart their rehiring process.
She advocates using interview panels, utilising experts from a range of disciplines rather than relying on heads of a single department or division.
Looking ahead toward a packed 2022 schedule, she notes that operators are going to need their show partners to be up to full speed if they are going to stand any chance of coping with the hectic events calendar. “There’s definitely a concern around other companies and their staffing – suppliers, security, etc – but I think that until we actually see it and experience it, we won’t know,” she says. But at that hourly paid event- staff level, I think people will probably continue to staff over and above what they actually need, as a precaution.”
She concludes, “There’s an age-old adage: ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you’ve always got.’ But we’re now all in a time when you cannot do that. I’m really pleased with the work that we did pre-Covid for the diverse recruitment charter that we put in place, and actually getting people to work and recruit differently, because we will never have these numbers of job vacancies again. So, whether it’s been through diverse advertising, using different job boards, or even how people have been interviewed, it’s been a great exercise.”
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IQ 105 out now: International Ticketing Report
IQ 105, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite monthly magazine, is available to read online now.
The November 2021 edition is spearheaded by the International Ticketing Report 2021: IQ’s indispensable annual health check on the global ticketing business.
As the live entertainment industry endeavours to build back its workforce, the issue also explores the world of Recruitment & Restaffing, as we speak to those responsible for creating and implementing recruitment strategies.
Elsewhere, Lisa Henderson talks to Coldplay agent Josh Javor of X-ray Touring on the remarkable ticket sales for their sustainability-focused 2022 tour – and the emotions of celebrating that success without his late mentor, the legendary Steve Strange.
For this edition’s columns and comments, we hand over to A Greener Festival’s Claire O’Neill and Primavera Sound’s Marta Pallarès.
And, in this month’s Your Shout, we ask the industry to recount their favourite (or least favourite) horror story from their career.
As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks. However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:
IQ subscribers can log in and read the full magazine now.
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Recruitment & restaffing: Filling the post-Covid talent gap
As promoters, venues and production companies in the UK make plans for full-capacity, non-restricted events from July, their peers elsewhere are watching with interest as the industry in Britain plots its way back to normality, or the ‘new normal’ as many people are calling it.
A number of test events, without restrictions, have already been held, boosting confidence among politicians and medical experts and setting the scene nicely for the reintroduction of full-capacity shows. But with thousands of professionals no longer working in live events, because of a combination of redundancies, furlough measures, or, as is the case with many freelancers, finding employment elsewhere to pay the bills, the industry finds itself in a precarious position.
“Catch-22 is a good way of describing it,” says Catrin Lee, ASM Global’s human resources director for Europe. “It’s about trying to find that right balance between hoping for the best but planning for the worst.”
That sentiment is echoed throughout the industry, with people remaining understandably cautious as the pandemic has provided a number of false dawns and surprise setbacks.
In rare cases, such as in Sweden, where the government approach to the pandemic has been very different, venues have not closed their doors. That allowed tenant sports teams to continue activities, but bookings still took a hit due to the lack of international touring. As a result, the UK’s roadmap is being keenly followed by professional bodies around the world, who are hopeful that its success may lead to an expedited return for touring.
European Arenas Association president John Langford tells IQ that the subject of restaffing and recruitment is a major talking point between the association’s venues. “EAA members are closely monitoring how operations in the UK are going to handle the restaffing dilemma, given that country’s progress in the battle with Covid means that venues could fully reopen within the next month,” he says.
Those charged with creating those restaffing policies in the UK are rising to the challenge. “The first few months of this was just me writing spreadsheets to work out what we need to do and what levels we work to, and then tearing it all up and starting again,” recalls Zac Fox, chief operating officer of London-based promoter Kilimanjaro Live. “It’s been really hard to decide what to do, because sometimes by the time it comes to carry things out, everything changes and you don’t do the thing that you had planned.”
Nonetheless, the dilemma that the live entertainment sector finds itself in has called for some brave decisions, with senior management at firms large and small in the supply chain acknowledging that they need to take on an element of risk to ensure they are ready to restart operations, hopefully from July onwards.
That’s certainly the case at AEG Europe, where Kirstie Loveridge, senior vice-president of human resources, explains that existing staff have been given return-to-work dates, while a significant recruitment programme is under way. “The key for us was trying to give our employees who are still on furlough some certainty, so we did that and made all the changes effective 1 April,” Loveridge tells IQ. “Some people are already back, but the people who are on furlough know when they are coming back, and that was the biggest challenge in this. Some were in April, others are May, June or July, but basically we committed that by the start of August everybody will be back on full-time and full pay.”
She continues, “When that was clear, we said to department heads that they could recruit back for any people they had lost – replacement hires – but a lot of those jobs won’t be needed to start immediately, so a lot will be August starts. We have a lot of recruitment out and under way, but it’s not as if everybody is hiring for roles to start on 1 June or anything – it’s all quite staggered at the moment.”
“We’re giving people the choice of where they work from and the hours they work, outside of a core set”
While thousands of company employees found themselves furloughed or redundant as a result of the pandemic shutting down activities, the situation for freelancers who relied on live events for their income has been dire, with many finding themselves ineligible for government assistance.
That dilemma has been nowhere more evident than in the production sector, although as Production Services Association (PSA) general manager Andy Lenthall observes, some operations have been able to provide alternative work related to the battle against Covid. However, that isn’t without its problems either.
“It’s not just the people, it’s the companies who have had to pivot, and they’ve found that there are some industries where they don’t have to stand their people in a muddy field, they don’t need to make them sleep in a tent for a week, and they don’t need to stand them in front of speakers. And they can go home at night,” Lenthall says. “Some of those companies are actually pulling out of the live sector, and that’s a wholesale move, so in terms of crowd management there are big issues there.”
Lenthall refers to recent research carried out by the UK Crowd Management Association that warns of shortages of stewards for events, noting that many workers have found employment elsewhere in the knowledge that live events will be one of the last sectors to resume operations.
“On the production side, obviously you’ve got the 80/20 split between freelance and employed, so it’s not so much about recruitment as it is testing whether your freelance database is populated with people who are available,” continues Lenthall. “From our point of view, one crew company I know is operating a red, amber, green system with freelancers: red is for people who have said they are out and not doing it anymore; amber is for those who have gone out and got another temporary job but will stop doing that as long as they can see enough work in live to replace what they are currently doing; and green is those people who are on the doorstep lacing up their boots, asking ‘When do we go?’”
And Lenthall is optimistic that, in the UK, the 19 July deadline will be the catalyst for many of those crew members to get back to the jobs they love. “The promoters are at the sharp end and they’re the ones who are writing the cheques to everyone else. So if they’re feeling confident, hopefully that confidence will start to work its way down the market,” he says.
Indeed, Lenthall points to PSA data to back up reasons for confidence. “We have access to the numbers of people that are buying public liability insurance, and we can use that as a bellwether for the health of the business,” he explains. “In normal times, if someone’s public liability insurance policy ends in March but their next gig isn’t until April, they will renew it the day before that gig, because it’s an annual policy.
“In April 2020, renewals for public liability cover were down by 95% over the previous year. But April 2021 was about 60% of what it was in April 2019 – so you’ve got people buying cover because they have shows. That doesn’t mean to say they have work to the same level of 2019, but they do have some work that they require insurance for.”
He adds, “The [UK’s] cultural recovery fund has allowed some companies to organise the socially distanced gigs that we’re seeing, and every gig needs at least one button pushed, and that’s our [production crew] boys and girls – and they might break it, so they buy their public liability cover…” But, although there is definite light at the end of the tunnel, Lenthall adds a caveat that applies to the industry across every territory.
“If you have people who want to do a bit of stewarding through the summer, they are going to be leaping into the hospitality trade first, because they [hospitality] are back before live events.”
“There is a huge amount of talent out there, so there is definitely going to be competition”
A jobseeker’s market
With job vacancies on the increase as restrictions ease, those in charge of recruitment are finding themselves in unchartered waters.
ASM Global’s Lee, who is overseeing the company’s restaffing policy across Europe, says, “We have a number of roles that we are looking to recruit, so we are going out and actively searching for people, and that recruiting process will continue over the next several months, for sure. But it’s a tough call about when you start that and press ‘go’ on that button, as you have to think about the candidate experience throughout that as well.”
With the ever-present danger of a surge in Covid infections, those in charge of human resources are having to gamble somewhat. “It’s really complicated as we have no precedent for this situation,” says Lee. “Every business should have a degree of agility in its ability to be flexible, but this is just on a whole different scale.”
Fox tells IQ that Kilimanjaro – like many of Deutsche Entertainment AG’s companies – has been able to keep almost all of its employees. “The flexi-furlough really helped because we still had a lot of work to do – moving concerts, dealing with customer services for all the cancelled ones – and flexi-furlough allowed us to have a lot of the team just working reduced hours,” she says.
However, the company still finds itself in a situation where it is looking for new staff. “The reality is that we have a record-breaking number of shows on sale at the moment, and they all need services – we need the marketing teams to be working on them, the ticketing team needs to keep up to date with all those ticketing figures, and they’re often working with venues that are short staffed, so it’s been hard work for them.
“Ultimately, we need to be in a strong position for when [the restart] happens because we’re not a company that needs to recover; we just need day one to happen and then we’re laughing.”
Competition is going to be fierce, though, across the entire live entertainment business, as many experienced and well-connected live events professionals find themselves in demand.
“A lot of promoters are worried that they cut too deep and I’m sure the same is true across agencies and production companies, we well,” states Lenthall, noting that live music has always relied on personal relationships. “If you have promoter X versus promoter Y, who are always competing for band A, band B and band C, they have made people redundant who they didn’t want to make redundant, but they had to.
“Bands don’t perceive a company as their agent – it’s an individual that just happens to work at this company,” says Lenthall. “The same is true for the account managers for lighting, for freight, for sound – all of those things. If that talented, affable person who gets on with a roster of clients is no longer there, people want to know where they are going to be. So whoever picks up that talent first will win out. It’s not a race to get the band to promote; it’s a race to get the talent that lands you the band.”
That point is not lost on the human resources experts.
“We’re recruiting at the moment and the calibre of applicants because of redundancies elsewhere is just off the scale,” reports Fox. “We’re interviewing ten people per vacancy, rather than two, because they are all great candidates. It’s a great time to recruit if you are in this industry because there are some real stars out there looking for work again.”
ASM’s Lee agrees. “We know that there is a huge amount of talent out there, so there is definitely going to be competition between us, meaning people can, to some degree, consciously choose where they want to take their careers, where they want to be located, and what are they prepared to consider in their next career step.”
And AEG’s Loveridge adds, “We’re recruiting now and we’re not finding any shortage of talent. We’ve found that people are really doing their homework before they accept offers now.”
“This could be the most exciting time to come into live music, while everything is up in the air”
The new deal
One positive to come out of the pandemic is that very few organisations seem to expect their employees to return to their office desks for set eight-hour shifts, five days a week. That’s allowing HR execs to become creative by devising new guidelines for company employees – and new hires.
“We’ve decided to trial a flexible working policy when we go back, as we want to keep all the positives that people have experienced through this,” reveals Kilimanjaro’s Fox. “We’re basically going to just give people the choice of where they work from and the hours they work, outside of a core set. We’re so used to being away from each other now, but we’ve still proven we can be really effective. So, if we can have a regime where people can arrange their lives a bit more easily, rather than being forced to spend their time on commuting at the same time as hordes of other people, then why not?”
AEG is trialling a working week that should see most people back in the office at least three days a week. Loveridge comments, “People just want something different. There’s the flexible of ‘I just want to drop my kids off at school and go to their sports day,’ and there’s the flexible of ‘I want to work at home one or two days a week,’ so we’re trying to accommodate everyone.”
Lee, meanwhile, acknowledges that every employee in every country has different needs, and some of them may require retraining to refresh memories about tasks they haven’t performed for more than a year. “We have one master overview that we are using as a foundation for each venue to look at and work out what is needed for Fred or Bill or Jane to come in,” Lee explains. “If you have not done your normal day-to-day job for 14 months then your motor skills might be a little rusty. They may also feel a little bit nervous about being back in and having that whole integration with lots of different people again. Communication is going to be key.”
“We’ve done masses of work around the diverse recruitment charter and hiring, because if there is ever a chance to make a change in a business, it is now”
While familiarising existing employees with their old roles will be a crucial part of the restart, bringing new hires up to speed is also a major consideration, especially while social distancing remains an element of day-to-day life.
“Training is an issue, particularly because we are all still working from home,” admits Fox. “To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to go – there’s going to be a lot of ‘suck it and see’ and a bit of ‘hoping for the best,’ but we’re hopefully choosing resilient people.”
Looking across ASM’s massive portfolio of venues, as well as its extensive catering business, Lee tells IQ, “We have people who have worked constantly throughout the pandemic; others have been on furlough throughout the whole period; and we’ve also had people working on a flexible basis. We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all necessarily in the same boat.
“So we have a suite of interventions that we’re looking at, such as online training, pre-reading that we can send out to people, there’s Zoom stuff we can do with people, as well as face to face. But we need to look at each role and what is the appropriate content for their training programme, and then, how do we best deliver it.”
AEG’s Loveridge tells a similar tale, “We’ve pulled together a programme, which we are calling Stronger Together, which started with ‘learning at work week’ and continues through to the beginning of August when everybody, in the UK at least, is back,” she says.
“For new employees, training is going to be a bit more virtual at the moment, but in the same way that we’re approaching diverse hiring, we’ve pulled apart our on-boarding programme to make it more experiential – we’re looking at letter box gifts and we’re scrapping all things like probation periods. But if you pass your on-boarding, we’re going to plant trees and things for employees and have our own forest.”
Indeed, with the reset button firmly pressed, Loveridge sums up the opportunities that she and her peers have to improve the live event industry landscape in terms of diversity and equality.
“We’ve done masses of work around the diverse recruitment charter and hiring, because if there is ever a chance to make a change in a business, it is now,” she states, adding that AEG has formed partnerships with different job boards in different locations to meet those aspirations.
And although the past 15 months have undoubtedly been the worst in live music business history, PSA’s Lenthall is also concentrating on the positives. “There are a lot of people coming out of degree courses without any experience whatsoever but with new ideas and with their hands on new technology,” he says.
“There’s all this new technology that can be applied to what was there before to help expand the industry through new channels and across different media – just look at live-streaming, for instance. So, from that point of view, any new entrants are going to have their hands on that technology more than anyone who has been furloughed or is relying on self-employment income support.
“This could be the most exciting time to come into live music, while everything is up in the air.”
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Resurgent live music sector faces staff shortages
UK industry bodies including LIVE (Live music Industries Venues and Entertainment), the Concert Promoters Association, the Events Industry Forum and the UK Crowd Management Association have written to the prime minister regarding what they describe as crippling staff shortages across large parts of the UK economy.
The live entertainment and events associations are joined by trade bodies representing other sectors, including hospitality, food and drink and retail, in calling for government action to help remediate the situation, with the letter suggesting that EU workers could be allowed to return on a short-term basis to help fill the empty roles.
“While the overall picture is complex, one short-term solution with immediate benefit would be to temporarily ease immigration requirements for the large numbers of workers, particularly from the EU, who have returned to their homelands during the lockdowns. This has contributed greatly to the shortfalls,” reads the letter, which can be read here.
“Indeed, a study in 2020 by the UK’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence estimated that 1.3 million migrants left the UK between July 2019 and September 2020. This figure was based on UK labour statistics, and represents over 4% of the UK workforce.
“Unfortunately, evidence suggests that those unemployed within the UK workforce seem unwilling to take on many of the jobs where there are vacancies in the industries we represent. To help resolve this we ask that all those who have worked in the UK over the last three years are given the freedom to return to work here with less restrictive immigration regulations on a short-term basis.
“One short-term solution with immediate benefit would be to temporarily ease immigration requirements”
“A relaxation of the rules does not need to be open ended but it needs to happen quickly if we are to support the recovery of the UK economy.”
The letter comes as entertainment and hospitality businesses in other countries also warn they are facing a staff shortage as they begin to reopen this summer.
In the Netherlands, live music association VNPF is warning that the industry will likely be short of staff when full-capacity shows restart later this year, with many professionals having left the industry over the past 16 months.
Both venues and festivals are short of people, VNPF director Berend Schans tells NU.nl, with the former sector having laid off an average of 20% of their staff last year and the latter probably even more. “Exact figures are lacking, but because that industry [festivals] has been hit even harder than venues, and they have received relatively less government support, I would say that the situation there is even more serious, especially in view of the lay-offs at Mojo Concerts and ID&T, for example.”
Similarly, France, the US and New Zealand are all facing post-pandemic labour shortages, particularly in the hospitality sector, and while the issue has been exacerbated by Brexit in the UK, experts have been warning of shortages for months.
“This will need a government intervention to ensure that the industry has the ability to provide enough staff”
The UK Door Security Association (UKDSA) said back in march that venues and clubs could face trouble reopening as planned following an exodus of security staff during the pandemic.
In addition to EU workers who have gone home, many qualified door staff were forced to find work elsewhere when venues were closed in March 2020.
According to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), over a quarter of the UK’s total security workforce were non-UK nationals in 2018. The UKDSA estimates that over half of the vacancies in the sector may be left unfilled when business restarts gets back to normal later this summer.
“This will need a government intervention to ensure that the industry has the ability to provide enough staff,” says Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association. Concerning new elements in the SIA door supervisor licence which require more training for door staff, Kill adds: “While the training is welcomed, it is not timely given the current economic situation across most of the sector, and consideration needs to be given to it being pushed back to 2022.”
Read IQ’s feature on the challenges of recruiting and restaffing post-pandemic in the latest, 100th issue of the magazine.