In the second part of the Shure and Sound & Stage ME roundtable, panelists touched upon issues like multi-skilled staff in the workplace and the need to stay up-to-date with technology
As governments across the Middle East work relentlessly towards bringing their visions to fruition, an important objective along the way is to ensure that the local population is empowered through training and development in multiple areas.
Over the years, sectors such as banking, telecom, and oil and gas have been the preferred areas of interest among young nationals, however, with the events industry in the UAE booming in the recent past, this area is also drawing attention.
While the glitz and glamour does generate interest, more must be done by event companies, universities and the government to promote it as a stable long-term career.
To begin with, a clear path must be mapped out to guide aspiring event professionals towards the right kind of training. Secondly, identifying a passion for this line of work is also essential, and most of the time this can be determined during training sessions says Bruno Vitanza, technical director at Almoe.
Recalling an incident in the not so distant past, he says: “I remember having a training session in a warehouse where a few freelancers had been invited. I was sitting behind a couple of them during the training and I could clearly see the lack of interest in one person who was shopping on Amazon while the session was in progress.
“Obviously, we never hired him, but its situations like this that expose a lot of people and show us who is and who isn't interested."
While weeding out those who aren’t genuinely interested is essential, understanding that the lack of interest may be a result of the events industry being quite nascent in the region is also necessary.
Bruno DaSilva, deputy head of sound and broadcast at Royal Opera House Muscat points out that this unfamiliarity extends to Oman as well where the events industry is also fairly new. However, he believes that this profession could catch on if the right guidance and training procedures are put in place.
“I think generating enthusiasm for the events industry is something that will obviously take time and will depend on how you train and educate people. But once this happens, it will definitely result in a change in culture and mindset.
“In fact, we now have two technicians in the sound and broadcast department who are Omanis. They trained with us for a year and then got appointed to a technician level, but initially, when they arrived, it was all very strange for them to have to load trucks and learn basic but important tasks like that. Nowadays, things are very different. They are very enthusiastic, they learn faster and have actually become very good at what they do.”
Lee Charteris, president of the ILEA’s Middle East chapter agrees with this, saying that he’s been fortunate to work with some great Emirati events specialists at FLASH Entertainment which is a government company that has strong Emiratisation practices.
However, he feels that the government can play a more active role in promoting this field as a career.
“While there are demands on companies in general to help the situation, there are also demands that the government help out as well. You can't just make a demand for Emiratisation if you can't support it in some way. While the government is focusing on education as a whole, it should not just promote industries like oil and gas or banking. They must make people understand that they have a future in other professions as well.”
After analysing the broader market, another important subject that the panellists at the Shure and Sound & Stage Middle East roundtable touched upon was whether event professionals should look to diversify their individual skills.
In Vitanza’s point of view, encouraging team members to look at verticals of expertise beyond their discipline and providing incentives to do so, could help many discover their true passion.
“We had a guy who wanted to be an audio expert but ended up specialising in video because he got more interested in things like playback and blending. Similarly, there are people who are in lighting but who actually want to do rigging because they love the adrenalin of it.
“I think when people learn to do everything and get some form of incentive for doing so, that's when they see personal growth and we as a company get to discover some great talent.”
DaSilva disagrees saying that they do not promote multi-skilled technicians because they believe that while one should possess basic knowledge to deal with any kind of technical situation, encouraging multi-skilled staff could result in employees not specialising in any area at all.
This also depends on the company's strategy, says Chicco Hiranandani, director of sales and marketing at Shure MEA. For example, while firms like Almoe require multi-functional resources, a specialist or niche company like Delta Sound, may only need its employees to focus on one area.
Stefan Wieland, principal consultant at SQRD agrees. “While eclipse has a specialised sound department, the staff at eclipse Venue Services are multi-skilled. They know how to do almost everything because sometimes it is just financially not viable to send in a specialist for a small event. So I think if this approach fits into one's business model its fine, but otherwise it makes more sense to separate venue services from specialised services.”
Though multi-skilled labour may not be the requirement of every organisation, having a workforce that is well-acquainted with the latest technology in today’s market is a must.
To stress on this point, Andrea Granata, technical support engineer at Shure MEA uses his own experiences as an example saying that after working for a decade in the events industry without having to use cables like RJ45 in his inventory, he is suddenly seeing it appear more frequently.
Even areas like IT have become a crucial part of the production process.
“In my last years of field work, I had to learn about things like IP addresses and switches that as an audio technician I didn't have to deal with earlier,” says Granata. “IT has entered our industry in a big way so this definitely is something that must become a big part of training.”
John Parkhouse, head of audio at eclipse and Andy Jackson, general manager at Delta Sound agree that having at least one networking specialist who can educate everyone else is the need of the hour.
“For us, it all fits under communications,” says Jackson. “Transport systems, system integration and network systems, all fall under our comms department. So for example, if we're linking the top of the Burj Khalifa to Downtown, to The Address Hotel and then to the Palm for New Year's Eve, that's going to done by people who actually understand systems and fibre.”
ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT
With the events industry rapidly developing, the roundtable participants unanimously agreed that for the market to mature further, the government must not only step in in terms of encouraging this field as a career but also in terms of supporting its various needs.
To do this, Charteris recommends that the entire industry joins forces and collectively lobbies the government.
“We need the government to come to us and talk about how the ministry is moving forward in this area and what its recommendations are. We also need to be a body that the government can approach and ask for opinions when they are taking certain decisions related to the events industry,” he says.
“The discussions that the ILEA have had with the government so far have been okay. Obviously there is always going to be resistance to change but I think we're starting to see some traction. Hopefully, before the end of this year or early into the next, we're going to get to sit and discuss a bit more about what we'd like to see happen and I'm quite optimistic about it.”
This regular dialogue can have a number of benefits for both parties. By seeking counsel, the government can ensure that large-events get executed in a smoother fashion.
For instance, during sporting events like Formula 1, having the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) come on site daily to understand what the radio frequency (RF) requirements are for the F1 concerts can be extremely helpful.
“We have the TRA come on site with us every morning when we’re working on F1,” says Jackson. “We sit with them and reel out everything that is going to happen on that day so that they are up-to-date at all times. This is a good practice because things sometimes change and what gets submitted three months in advance doesn't necessarily sit true on the actual day of the show. Once they go through all the frequencies with us, they tell us what we can or cannot use, and it's great to be able to work with them on things like that.”
Guidelines for events and concerts can also be made more effective if the government seeks advice from events experts before putting them in place.
Wieland recalls an incident wherein officials had set a decibel level cap for a hotel in Dubai of up to 90dB until 6PM, post which only 60dB was permitted.
“It came to a point where we actually had to ask one of them to switch on his dB meter so that we could show him that just talking in a normal environment came up to 66 to 71dB. How could we have a concert for 1,200 people outdoors and maintain a limit like 60dB?" he says.
"It is very easy for government entities around the world to pass regulations, but it is nearly impossible to always enforce them. Before these kind of unrealistic levels are set, governments must consider speaking with industry experts who can give them some sound advice."
Another benefit of government engagement is when permits need to be secured for certain equipment that is being carried around by an artist or troupe that is touring the GCC region.
Using West Side Story, which is coming soon to Dubai Opera and the Opera House in Muscat, as an example, Hiranandani points out that if these governments want to support regional tours like this, they must make cross-border procedures simpler.
“Extra burden shouldn't be put on the production company that is carrying a rack of IEMs or outboard gear from city to city for these shows. These companies shouldn't be hassled at customs because ideally the authorities should be in the loop of this already,” he says.
The Shure and Sound & Stage Middle East roundtable was successful in touching upon a number of critical issues such as the current state of affairs in the regional events industry, the impact of a slow economy and diversity of skills in the workplace among others.
Meaningful solutions with regards to proper training and the role that governments can play were reached that will surely send ripples across the region and positively impact its future.