Access explores how crew shortages will likely impact the events industry in what is predicted to be an extremely busy 2022.

What do the pandemic, the Commonwealth Games, the festival season and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee have in common? All of them are causing a strain on crew numbers heading into 2022 at a time when the supply of personnel has significantly diminished.

With more events due to take place across the sector and less hands on deck to deliver them, there are fears a lack of security personnel, in particular, could become a nightmare.

While it’s easy to blame all the world’s ills on the pandemic, it’s difficult to escape the reality that many events workers have left the industry due to its closure at the height of Covid’s powers.

For many, the pandemic revealed the fragility of the live events industry. Uncertainties around lockdowns, changing regulations and capacity caps have meant that other, less impacted, industries have become increasingly appealing for many freelancers.

Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) CEO Michael Kill says the problem the events industry faces is that those who have left the industry are reluctant to return, with confidence being a major factor: “No one wants to leave a role which has security to one that could still be impacted by the pandemic.

“For me, there’s a clear public safety issue here. There’s a perfect storm where we know that requirement for staff will be up in 2022, public health is going to be a bigger issue in 2022, yet we are only going to be operating at 80% of pre-Covid staff capacities.”

It’s not just the realities of the pandemic keeping staff away from working festivals. With crew members leaving to join more stable industries, sometimes the grass is greener in a role that allows ex-crew members more time off, higher rates of pay and less challenging working conditions.

Production Services Association (PSA) chairman David Keighley is also concerned about the way the situation is shaping up. He says, “In events we are used to working 12-18-hour days and being on tour while getting one day off every 10 days to two weeks. Now people have moved to other sectors and are getting paid more money while having their weekends back. Our industry is going to suffer because people aren’t going to want to come back.”

The domino effect

Many senior events professionals believe that the staff shortage is likely to be a longterm problem, with the majority of those who have left being unlikely to return.

Halo Solutions CEO and co-founder Lloyd Major is among them. The security specialist says, “If you think about someone who leaves events and joins Amazon, they have a lot of advantages. We in events have relied on goodwill, as we have staff travelling for half a day and living in semi-squalid conditions while working. What we need to do is inspire the next generation and really work to improve working conditions.”

Keighley points out that the pandemic has not only changed staff numbers but also the expectations of workers. He says, “If we look at next summer, we have a Commonwealth Games and a Queen’s Jubilee in the middle of festival season, so it was always going to be a nightmare. This has been compounded by the pandemic, which has completely changed the way that people work.”

Among the potential impacts of the supply and demand disparity during the next summer season could be event organisers and promoters having to scale back their operations and/or crew and security suppliers having to turn down business. Keighley says he has already heard of such action being taken: “There is certainly a crew shortage now but it is going to be a massive shortage next summer. One promoter I have spoken with has already had to cancel four tours next summer as they can’t even get a quote for crew.”

Insufficient staff will mean a whole host of uncertainties for the supply chain. In the short term, the practical realities of not having the staff legally required could put pressure on all corners of the industry. It will potentially not only mean events being cancelled but for some venues it could mean capping capacities in order to meet security personnel per head requirements.

“The UK is so heavily regulated in terms of security per head and crew numbers needed during peak business hours that in the night-time market we are seeing many businesses being unable to operate to their full potential due to lack of staff. In some cases we are seeing events have to be cancelled because of this,” says Kill.

Security matters

Crew supply, generally, looks set to be a tough challenge in 2022 but events security is in the frontline of the issue. Event security has once again felt the heat of the media spotlight following the tragic events at Astroworld, and on a far smaller scale the disturbances at Wizkid’s November gig at The O2 arena. Not only have these events raised concerns but they do little to attract people back to the industry.

Halo Solutions’ Major says, “No one wants to go to work and feel harassed or threatened, so of course incidents like what happened at The O2 arena with Wizkid are going to impact hearts and minds. It’s always going to make some people more hesitant to come to work and it’ll make security contractors want to uplift their deployments and all of that has an impact, emotionally and financially.”

With social media awash with images of crowds storming through barriers and pushing past overwhelmed security staff, the hazards of the job have become mainstream news and have surely led to a decline in the number of people signing up for a career in events security. But according to the Security Industry Authority (SIA) the reality is very different.

“We are aware that some operators and security suppliers are encountering difficulty in attracting security operatives to work as door supervisors,” an SIA spokesperson told Access. “Data from our licensing system shows that the number of door supervisor licences and licence applications is the highest it has been in the last 10 years and the number of people undertaking the training required in order to apply for a licence remains healthy.”

While that is encouraging it is not, at least initially, guaranteed good news for the events industry as those trained staff will not only be spread across the events sector but areas such as hospitality and retail. The new staff will also meet demand for roles that have been created during the pandemic at sites such as testing centres. When the pandemic finally subsides, it is hoped that those security personnel will look for a career in the events industry.

Solving the puzzle

Doom and gloom may be in high supply when it comes to considering crew numbers going into next year, but surely there is a way the industry can solve the probem. It’s one thing to wait for crew to return naturally, as roles in testing centres dry up, but what can the industry do to actively force the issue?

One suggested avenue is to make jobs more attractive for prospective employees, something industry body SIA appears to be promoting. It says, “We appreciate that, like other sectors of the economy that recruit lower wage roles, security companies and buyers may be finding it challenging to recruit licence holders. However, we believe that it is the responsibility of employers to take steps to make these roles attractive so as to encourage people to apply for these roles.”

However, with events, especially festivals, often being run on very fine margins it is not always possible to simply up wages, there are practical realities preventing it.

Technology on the other hand is playing a big role in events today, away from hybrid events, technology such as e-ticketing and facial recognition software is revolutionising the way events are operated.

Major says, “The industry is on the edge of its ‘Facebook moment’, similar to what Amazon did to the high street, there’s going to be an amalgamation of all sorts of new technologies that, by 2025, will fundamentally change the face of the industry.”

So, is technology the answer? The be all and end all? It’s too soon to say, but with many industry spokespeople holding out hope that the pool of events crew will naturally fill back up, Major’s predicted ‘Facebook moment’ could be some way off.

This article was published in the winter 20/21 edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here.