I’ve noticed many restaurants in our area have taken advantage of the time they’ve been Covid closed to redecorate, update, and re-do infrastructure such as parking lots, projects that have likely been on the “to do” list for a long time, but that would be disruptive to perform under normal circumstances. Their investment demonstrates confidence in our future, and also provides an allegory for collegiate events planners.
Most of us have finished work-arounds for spring awards ceremonies, board meetings, and even commencement. While the majority of us have managed to hang on to our jobs, now that commencement is in the rear view, the real belt-tightening will begin. The majority of campuses will remain closed for the summer, with fall reopening still in question. On our campus, no in-person events are scheduled for the foreseeable future. Some schools have announced no large events and no off-campus groups allowed for at least a year. It’s tough to justify keeping events planners on staff under those conditions. I know of colleagues who have already had hours and benefits reduced. It’s time for events planners to craft a strategy to protect employment and build for the future. Here are some suggestions:
Make Yourself Indispensable by Offering to Help. Take the initiative and offer your services to one of two areas that need help right now, development and admissions. Because events planners deal with people on a personal level, we often get to know alumni and friends in very different ways than other staff members, something bosses may not realize. We know everything from guests’ stories about their college experiences to their work lives, to their food preferences. We often have their administrative assistant’s names and know how to get on the person’s calendar, or know all about when they change jobs and why, or what ails them. This knowledge can be of great benefit to fund-raising staff, and let’s be honest, during the regular crazy-busy flood of events, we don’t often take the time to share. Make yourself indispensable by putting this information to work for others. Volunteer to spend your summer building lists of people who might be good advisory council, board, or committee members or who might otherwise be prime candidates for increased involvement. Offer to brief prospect researchers, help vet lists, and update databases.
Admissions offices are working on overdrive right now as they scramble to confirm fall enrollments and prevent admitted students from changing their minds. Predictions are that up to 20 percent of students may not show up for fall. Your people and tech skills may be useful in helping admissions staff reach out to admitted students to encourage them to enroll.
If you choose to try a volunteer strategy, talk to your boss now before cutbacks are announced. Once you have been indicated for reduced hours, a furlough, or worse yet, layoff, it’s too late because your salary has already been factored into a draw-down formula. Assisting other offices may not only keep your paycheck coming, it shows you are a team player. It is also a good way to sample other career options in advancement that may open doors for your future.
Invest in Yourself. If a reduction in hours, or a layoff does come your way, use the opportunity to reinvent yourself for the future. This is a great time for some introspection about where you want to go in your career, and how to get there. Like the restaurant that is adding extra seating even though they are closed, use the gift of time that we have been given. It is rare and invaluable. Significant career progress in higher education means that a master’s degree is mandatory. If you don’t have one, enroll in an online program now. If you don’t want to pursue a degree, there are many other online resources to enhance your skill set in everything from protocol to commencement, to food and beverage, to meeting management. Edx.org http://Edx.org offers high-quality, university-based courses for free on a wide variety of topics. If you want a certificate for your efforts, there is a modest fee. The Protocol School of Washington http://psow.edu has put some of their training online. The North American Association of Commencement Officers http://naaco.com offers a certificate program, as do meeting management associations such as MPI http://mpi.org.
Test Your Wings. How many of us have an idea for a side hustle or self-employment that has been sitting on the “someday when I have time,” burner? Now is the chance to go for it. I know a man whose hobby is cooking bar-b-que for tailgate crowds of 100 people. His dream has been to someday have a food truck. He’s using his furlough to try it out. Another friend has long wanted to open an Etsy store to feature her custom-sewn creations. A layoff and the need for stylish masks has prompted her to get started. Her shop opened last week to great success. The opportunity to showcase her skills and build a customer base will lead to an easy transition to other products once the need for masks has passed.
When I lost a university job years ago during an economic downturn, I started publishing a subscription-based newsletter for events planners, something that I had dreamed of but didn’t have the time to do. With nothing on my hands but time, I gave it a shot, funding myself with credit cards after banks refused to give me a loan. Five years later, I sold my successful company to a much larger publisher. The exposure of that venture brought me attention on a national level that has propelled my career ever since.
So, don’t wait to be a victim or falsely assume that you won’t be affected by job cuts or hours reductions. Now is the time to go on offense and take charge of your situation. It will pay off in the future.