Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Jul 14

Is Doing An Event Management Degree Worthwhile?

I get asked this an awful lot. There are a lot of Event Management course available in Ireland and farther afield now, but are they worthwhile? Are they teaching you the right things? Will they help you get your dream job in events?

A little context

Here in Cuckoo we're firm believers in the events industry being a people one. It's right there in the screen-grab from this very website. 

Some people are 'good event people' and we feel we're among them. 

I could line you up 10 people I work with whom I consider to be good event people and, off the top of my head, I reckon 4 of them have studied event management in a college. The others have learned their trade on the job. They're good at events and are suited to it. 

People learn in different ways. Some people will value a college degree and will learn well in that environment while other will learn more effectively on the job, doing the work. 

Taking ourselves here in Cuckoo as an example:

  • Martin has learned the vast majority of what he know about events from working events. He didn't study event management in college although he does up skill in event-specific course like the Temporary Demountable Structures one we went on a while back. 
  • Marian will be returning to DIT in September to continue with her Event Management course. 
  • I did a Postgrad in PR & Event Management having studied Business & Marketing before that.

The big question

We put a call out on Twitter and among people we know in the industry to see what they thought. 

We asked people involved in the industry in all sorts of ways - graduates, company owners, bloggers, current students, academics, professional event managers and more. 

What we got back was a lot that we expected and plenty of perspectives we didn't expect. 

What you told us

Julius Solaris runs and he had an assured response as follows:

Rosemary from , a celebrity booking agency, made a very valid point when she said that 'I think you need to be a particular type of person to do eventing - a degree doesn't make you that person!!'. This tallies well with our own feelings as outlined above. This was a feeling that many people expressed, actually. 

Eoin O'Grady, sound engineer and owner at AMP Sound reckons '4 months in the field would be much more useful than four years in a classroom'. 

I can see exactly where Eoin is coming from with this one. To be fair, as I pointed out at the time, it very much depends what you're doing in the field versus what you're learning in the classroom but I definitely see the point he's making. 

We do a good bit of work with Barry County over in Guardian Paramedics who specialises in providing medical cover for events and he sees an event management degree as 'NICE to have, not NEED to have.' 

Another full time event professional who asked not to be named reckons '...degrees do not offer value when considering the length of time committed to them and the cost in terms of both fees and lost income...I believe that few people take them seriously unless accompanied by appropriate levels of experience.'

Again I take this point. It can seem like a lot of wasted time if you're in a classroom being taught things you know won't stand to you out on the ground. 

Conversely, though, there was also feedback in favour of doing an event management course for various reasons. 

Brady Miller is an #eventprofs I've been following on Twitter for a while now. He works as Director of Special & Academic Events at Indiana University in the States. I was interested in Brady's perspective on this topic. He was good enough to send me on a detailed email. A few of the salient points included:

  • 'I definitely think there is merit in having an event management degree. There are parts of the industry that can be learned in a classroom or in a similar manner.' 
  • 'Technical elements, in particular, are something that lend themselves very well to classrooms. Even if, as an event manager, you won’t ever be the one up on a lighting grid actually hanging the elements, it’s nice to know the difference between a PAR can and a MAC 350 when trying to visualize how you might design a show – and at what price.'
  • 'All that being said, I would find it difficult to imagine that someone straight out of university with no internship would have the practical skills to truly hit the ground running – or at least running fast. There is a lot that has to either be absorbed by working with a good events team and following best practices or simply by (gulp!) trial and error.'

Brady's take on this is a very measured one. I cant say I disagree with him.

John May is a graduate who didn't do event management in college but knew he wanted to work in events. He'd been involved in events while in DIT when I worked there and he was definitely suited to events.

When he finished his degree he spent the Summer volunteering and working at as many events as he could to gain as much practical experience as he could. John is currently over in Glasgow working on the Commonwealth Games as a Venue Transport Manager. Here's what he has to say on this. 

Orla Kinsella is a Conference & Event Manager with a hotel in Dublin as well as a some-time-Cuckoo-Events staff member and she has an interesting perspective on the value of a college course, saying 'I feel the degree very quickly weeds out those who think it's party planning or a glamorous life as we all know it's not!'

I must admit that's not something I'd considered till Orla made me think about it. It's a very valid point. 

Mary Weir is an experienced festival / civic events project manager for Dublin City Council and has worked on many large events here in Ireland. She points out that 'All learning is of value! Practical industry requires a real practical education as part of the degree' 

For me, Mary has hit the nail on the head. More on that later on. 

Kasey Daye had a very interesting angle on event management course too, in saying 'I believe to do something as a career, one must feel passionate to want to know ALL.'

Speaking as someone with a constant thirst for knowledge and drive to be the best events person I can be, I have to agree with Kasey on this one. 

I did a Postgrad in PR & Event Management that was similar in that it was 3 months in class and then 6 months on placement. I didn't learn a whole lot new during those 3 months, being honest.

I had experience of being involved in events from my time in UL for years though. We did have some great people from industry lecturing on the course and I made connections then that stand to me today. I can see value in those 3 months, beyond the 'syllabus' as such. 

Ruth McDonagh and Caitlin Kobrak expressed similar sentiments in an exchange with us on Twitter too. Ruth is the Event Operations Manager for Hell & Back and Caitlin is an award-winning event blogger over at . They reckon you get to build other skills while in college which are great.

The point,  I guess, is that when we're assessing the merits of a degree in event management, we need to understand that time spent in college can be worth a lot more than just the degree at the end. 

Jack Casey is a current event management student and he '...learned faster when put into an event scenario rather than in a lecture.' but he also pointed out that ' terms of problem solving, event analysis, and logistics my degree provided me with everything I needed'.

That's a useful, balanced perspective from someone studying event management at the minute. 

There are differing opinions even among those who see value in doing an event management course. The question of the content of the course and the balance between theory and practical learning is a very important one. 

Nikki Baume works full time in events now, having done an event management course that was 3 months of class-based learning followed by 6 months of practical placement in industry.

I asked Nikki if she felt the 3 months in class were worthwhile and set her up well for event work in the real world to which she responded 'Definitely. The difference being we were graded on managing a charity event, writing proposals and sponsorship documents - not 1 exam.' 

Barry from Guardian wondered aloud on Twitter ' many degrees out there, as part of actual classroom, show students how to operate a genny?'

Barry is, of course, referring to a generator and he echoes the sentiments of a lot of people involved in events in wondering if the courses currently available are teaching students the practical skills involved in running events. 

We did 2 blog posts recently on Random But Key Skills All Event Managers Need. If we do a 3rd installment, knowing how to use a generator will likely be included. 

What's wrong with the courses?

We're not going to change anything with this post, I'm sure, but based on the answers to the title question, as well as anecdotal feedback we get from people in the industry and looking to get into it, many courses are lacking in one way or more.

  • Lecturers on some reportedly haven't worked in industry ever or for a very long time. That's not going to be great for the students' learning.
  • Some courses feature NO practical elements at all. Students can come out the far end of 4 years on them having never been near a sound desk, generator, marquee, stage, planning meeting, statutory meeting, debrief etc. That's not ideal. 
  • Some courses feature modules that seem wholly irrelevant. We don't say that lightly, either. 
  • There seems to be a desire among students for more guest lectures and more people from industry coming in to speak with them. 

These observations came up over and over again too. 

Ronan Traynor, owner of Verve, the Live Agency, put it quite succinctly:

Fiona Cronin, an event management graduate, made another very interesting point that not a lot of people considered.

The bottom line

A good Event Management course, with a well structured syllabus that includes practical learning, taught & facilitated by people with real knowledge of the industry has great value. 

That's how I see it. 

At the minute, from what I can establish, the event management courses in this country are falling short on equipping graduates with the practical skills necessary to work in events. Some do better than others, granted, but all are deficient to some degree it seems. 

While it's likely not a long term solution, we here in Cuckoo have some plans that will hopefully help plug that skills gap in the short term, at least. 

Stay tuned. . . 

Colm O'Keeffe
July 11, 2014, 12:29 PM

That's the one thing I found strange too was where the module that requires you to run an event was optional. I think it should be compulsory.

Where a lot of people that started our course got caught out was simply the title. The official title of the course is Business Studies with Event Management. A lot of them just thought of it as an Event Management degree and disregarded the Business Studies in the title.

Our modules in each year are as follows:

1st Year: Essentials of Business for Event Management, Media Communications & Personal Development, Research & Information Technology, Event Operations & Event Planning, plus one elective in French (1) or Volunteering and Community Events.

2nd Year: Business Decision Making & Applications, Event Law & Administration, Principles of Marketing, Information Technology & E-Commerce, Corporate & Entertainment Events, plus one elective in French (2) or Applied Event Management.

3rd Year: Human Resources Management, Public Relations & Sponsorship, Event Production & Design, Placement (500 hours approx.)

4th Year: Financial Management, Strategic Event Management, Event Marketing Management & Event Project Management, plus one elective in Entrepreneurship & Business Planning or Research Thesis.

As you can see it is a very business orientated course but people that apply for that should know from the start rather than just thinking this is all going to be about events.

I still feel a person has to be suited to working in the events industry regardless of their education. The education is secondary/an added benefit. I phrased that wrong in my last post and said it was vital.

Anyone I've worked with in the events industry tells me the same thing "There's only so much you can learn from a book"

Hatty Grant
July 11, 2014, 11:11 AM

As a student of Events Management at Brighton, this is a really interesting article. In the first two years of our course, we only put on two events - and placement is not compulsory (although I have taken one myself). This lack of a practical grounding is worrying, although academic skills and an interest in theory around events management is something I feel is really valuable.

As the president of our Event Management Society this year, I hope to introduce some more practical sessions that students can attend not as part of their degree but as an extra element that they can add to their CV.

July 11, 2014, 09:11 AM

Hi Colm,

So the one element of the course where you have to actually put an event together and run it is optional rather than compulsory?

Doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.

Neither does TOO MUCH focus on business and accounting etc. Nice skills to have and areas to have an understanding of but, surely, they're secondary to ACTUAL event management skills.


Colm O'Keeffe
July 10, 2014, 06:16 PM

Really interesting piece. I'm currently undertaking the Event Management Degree at LIT in Limerick and have to agree that practical skills are necessary.

In the first year of our degree we are required to undertake 40 hours work experience, in 2nd year we have an elective (which I feel should be compulsory) called Applied Event Management where in groups the students organise an event of their own which includes a pitch of your event idea to lecturers and individuals from industry. In 3rd year we are required to undertake a 600 hour placement.

Also in relation to Fiona's comment about being told that they would be lucky if half of them finished. We were told something similar. A balanced mix of someone that will suit the events industry and an event industry based educations is vital.

The obstacle in our course (for some people) is that the course is 70% business orientated which does not suit everyone. Most people that started the course didn't realize they would be asked to do accounting related exams, train on Sage Payroll & Line 50 account and thought it would be all event related.

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