Chris Kemp, CEO of Mind Over Matter Consultancy and Professor of Crowd Management at Edinburgh Napier University, has years of experience in risk management and crowd safety. Here he addresses ways in which the industry could tackle a shortage of security staff.
Every day I speak to people disillusioned with the difficulty of finding people to work as free-lancers, event staff, security personnel and hospitality providers. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people from these sectors either lost their jobs, moved into other employment in sectors or just gave up hope of events ever coming back during Covid. In many sectors, rounds of redundancy were applied as part of a business saving process. This, let’s be blunt about it, helped many businesses to survive.
Now there are other problems. How will we replace staff on the ground who have found better paid jobs and are no longer on the grid. Some now earning £16-£20 an hour in warehouse or delivery positions an amount well above their previous wage. A secondary cause is a brain drain from middle management, where staff have swapped the event space for the more corporate private medical professions. Others sought new challenges abroad, especially in the middle east where the number of projects continuing to run with attractive wages is staggering.
So where does this leave us? It leaves us in a place where we are afraid to be. With the promise of ever more events for next year and every band on the planet wanting to tour, we are left with a gap in the provision in all the areas where we need trained specialist staff. This has been exacerbated by Brexit and the difficulty in employing people in key specialist areas aggravated by the barriers to trade with other countries. But all is not lost if we do some simple things, however help will be required from the Government.
We have also been presented with another more pressing challenge. Post Covid (if such a thing exists), where we are seeing a liberalisation of events. Those attending from all cultures are embracing their new freedoms. There is also an expectancy that venues and promoters enable the full delivery of the event within its cultural context. Often this is not easy for the parent culture to manage causing a mismatch in expectations. The need for well trained staff especially in customer care at all levels to support what can often be an uncomfortable context and environment, from indie metal to rap, has become important. Youth are taking their music seriously and it is critical that we don’t fall behind the curve in understanding the sea change. Security, medical, police and venue staff need to work interoperably with all stakeholders to meet the challenges of overexuberant fans within a changing demographic. On our new MSc in Crowd Design, Management and Risk Analysis the team will be exploring the changing face of the crowd and providing tools for those working in this area.
But what about wages? Companies are struggling to meet the staff needs and to retain or attract staff to roles which pay less than the sector average. Firstly, why not bring in a fair wage for working in these areas supported by a government subsidy. Secondly, create a sector wage for jobs at different levels encouraging companies to be less competitive and to up their service and support game offering value to those who work for them. Thirdly, make the volunteer sector a go to for a wider range of jobs by providing volunteers with specific training to help with bespoke events through a sector wide database.