Creating The Next Generation of Tradeshow Managers

When my son was in first grade, his teacher asked what his mother did for a living.  His response was “she does shows,” following it with “in Las Vegas.” Needless to say, I got some interesting looks at parent-teacher conferences. How many of us involved in the tradeshow industry have gotten that quizzical look from friends at dinner parties? The one that says, “Sounds like a glamorous job with the travel and everything, but I have no clue what it is you actually DO.”

In high school, I never imagined a career as a tradeshow director—I barely knew what a tradeshow was. Like a lot of people I know in the tradeshow industry, I did not go to school for a degree in event planning, or anything related to hospitality. I stumbled onto this about 11 years ago when I just needed a job to get through graduate school.  By the time I had my degree though, I couldn’t imagine not being involved in tradeshows. It wasn’t a job anymore—it had become a career. 

Tradeshows are a viable career with many benefits, so how can we do a better job of communicating that to the next generation of professionals? Not everyone will stumble into this and we could be losing out on some real talent. In the construction industry, for example, workforce development has been an issue for a while now as baby-boomers are hitting retirement age. Many organizations are reaching out to teens in high schools and colleges to communicate the good news about construction jobs. The same effort could be done for the tradeshow industry. We should be raising awareness about our industry, the benefits and the important role it has in our economy to the future innovators of our society.

This can be an easy job because the message is starting to get out. US News and World Reports ranked “meeting, convention and event planner” as one of the best jobs in America in 2012. I have been encouraged to see that Milwaukee’s local technical college is now offering an associate degree in event planning, which includes a semester on tradeshow management. Industry promotion of specialized education, internships and outreach to teens at the high school and college levels will help inform the next generation of the many benefits a career in events and tradeshows can offer. 

While the tradeshow associations are doing their part to increase awareness, here are some things I think we could do as show organizers:

  • Scout new talent. AEM offers several internship opportunities in various areas of tradeshow management for local college students. This allows us to scout for new talent, and potentially bring on enthusiastic new employees.
  • Actively reach out. Invite an event-planning class to visit your next show, and give a personal tour. This is a great way to provide meaningful insight and excitement to perspective event planners considering a career in tradeshows.
  • Raise awareness. I am speaking to my son’s high school business class on the economic impact of tradeshows in the international marketplace to help raise awareness and discuss the industry’s fiscal benefits. I will probably start that speech with “Hi, I do shows.”

Melissa Magestro is Senior Director, Exhibitions for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), responsible for overseeing all exhibit sales activity for AEM tradeshows, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG and ICUEE -The Demo Expo. She is also Show Director for the IFPE exposition and for CONEXPO Russia at CTT (held in Moscow). Reach Magestro at