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NEC Group prepares for staff shortage following Brexit

Suppliers urge events industry to 'embrace' EU referendum decision and continue being creative to attract business

Pictured: NEC Group chief operating officer John Hornby

The NEC Group will double its efforts to train local catering staff in preparation for the possibility of fewer EU migrant staff, as suppliers say the UK events industry must embrace the EU decision to move forward.

NEC Group's chief operating officer John Hornby has told M&IT it will increase its local training and apprenticeship programme to help fill potential gaps in about two years. He said EU migrants employed as casual staff were still the minority, estimated to be in the "low double digits", but said the group size was still meaningful.

It comes as suppliers report business as usual in the hours following the result of the EU referendum, with no change in event bookings or enquiries.

The NEC Group includes the National Exhibition Centre and the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

Hornby said while the EU Referendum decision wouldn't have an immediate impact on staffing levels, the Group was starting to prepare for one once the exit is completed in around two years.

"We benefit from a free flow of labour from the other EU countries, in particular with our catering service. For some time we've already been putting in place apprentice programmes to make sure we're a bit more self-sufficient to draw upon local skills to fill gaps within the organisation," he said.

"Nothing will change immediately for a couple of years with that. We've got time to re-double our efforts to become a bit more self-sufficient in time. So it's a matter of continuing what we're doing and probably doubling what we're doing as well."

On the possibility of the number of association events declining to the UK, Hornby expected little change, adding that international associations made up a small amount of the NEC's business.

"The vast majority of our convention business is national associations anyway. Looking more broadly, certainly there will be challenges to attracting European based international associations. But we've every confidence that the industry will continue to find creative ways of attracting new events."

International associations based outside Europe would still find the UK an attractive destination, he added.

NEC Group CEO Paul Thandi added it was important to embrace the new challenge.

"Although this will be an unsettled time for Government, the focus will undoubtedly be on the diplomatic process of negotiating new, advantageous, trade agreements for the UK," he said. 

"We face our own, industry-specific challenges too. We’re not part of the Schengen Agreement, irrespective of the EU referendum result, which puts us at a disadvantage when trying to attract international events to the UK. This is arguably an even greater challenge now, but we’ve got a fantastic offer to sell and it remains business as usual as we continue with the great work we’re doing to make our business the best it can be and to thrive within this country, the EU and globally."

Lesley Williams, head of business tourism at Convention Edinburgh, added: "While it is far too early to know the full impact of the results of the EU Referendum, it remains very much business as usual for Convention Edinburgh and our members. Europe will continue to be one of our priority international markets for conferences and events in the city."

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