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Ride the Wave
If marketers are able to hold tight, they might cash in on the unpaid dividends their experience and loyalty has accrued.
s the job market dried up in late 2008, individuals who might otherwise have been promoted or sought greener pastures hunkered down and resolved to weather the storm. Instead of new, inexperienced individuals moving into exhibit- and event-marketing roles as others vacated them, incumbent exhibit managers retained those positions. As a result, the current community of exhibit and event managers possesses more institutional knowledge and experience than at any point in recent history.

Six years ago, a mere 50 percent of exhibit and event marketers had held their positions for more than three years. Today, however, that number has inched upward by 15 percent. But analysts fear a convolution of variables could change all that, and our entire industry.

Dubbed "the turnover tsunami," the theory postulates that years of stagnant salaries could converge with improvements in the job market, resulting in a mass migration of veteran employees to new positions with different organizations. The implication is that an epic and unstoppable brain drain could cripple American employers. And the fact that our industry recently experienced back-to-back declines in average total compensation (a phenomenon that has only happened one other time in the past quarter century) lends credence to the theory's plausibility.

But the theoretical tsunami gains even more momentum when you consider that an entire generation of baby boomers is inching toward retirement. Those most likely to fill the gap left by retiring boomers are known as millennials or Generation Y. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Gen Y will comprise 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2030. But these millennials are far less likely than their Gen X counterparts to remain loyal to any given organization – or any given industry.

Ninety-one percent of millennials expect to hold a job for three years or less, and they demonstrate a greater tendency to jump into and out of a mélange of unrelated careers, from a job in retail to one in advertising, then on to an entrepreneurial stint, with unpredictable appearances in the face-to-face marketing realm. Bottom line, the tsunami could very possibly become a recurring event, rendering industry experience and institutional knowledge relics of the past.

Just last month, many celebrated the strong November jobs report, which predicted an uptick in hiring for 2014, signaling that the tsunami could be well on its way. But for those exhibit and event professionals still dreaming of a long, fruitful career in this industry, the tsunami might actually offer a few silver linings, assuming they proactively prepare – and manage to survive the surge.

Today's employers take industry experience and institutional knowledge for granted, if for no other reason than they've gotten both free for the past five years. De rigeur raises and bonuses were previously built into compensation packages to reward loyalty and provide a fair valuation to those intangible employee assets. But when the economy collapsed, so did the expectation that these predictable adjustments would occur. Experience, for the most part, was devalued as a result. Similarly, loyalty no longer held any monetary value because hiring freezes left employees with few alternatives. And loyalty out of necessity is rarely viewed as an asset.

I suspect that if marketers are able to hold tight and settle into a mentorship role for a revolving door of millennial marketers, they might cash in on the unpaid dividends their experience and loyalty has accrued. For when the tsunami hits and the boomers retire, the sole survivors will be the only ones with enough institutional knowledge and past experience to usher us into the future.

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