Four years ago, the Institution of Lighting Professionals set up a series of fun, friendly events in London especially for students, interns, apprentices and new entrants to the lighting profession. These talks give attendees the opportunity to meet an inspiring expert who will talk about lighting in a way formal education doesn’t always cover. Ahead of the memcom membership excellence awards, for which the ILP have been shortlisted for these social mobilty events, Jess Gallacher, Operations Manager for the ILP, talks us through the success of the initiative together with recommendations to any organisation who wants to build something similar for new profession entrants.
In common with many other Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) professions, the lighting community is facing a skills shortage. There is an ‘old, stuffy and boring’ misconception which has proved a barrier to new entrants. The very real lack of diversity had also been a deterrent.
With less young people entering, work pressures increase on existing professionals. This often means they have less time to volunteer for their membership body and promote our purpose and values to others. This affects membership growth and puts the profession in danger of going into a downward spiral.
The ILP needed to create an environment where people on the brink of their career would feel welcome to discover more about lighting, to inspire them to be part of a great industry, and join our community so that we can continue to provide public benefit. To us, it doesn’t matter what background someone is from, we want to help everyone realise they can achieve and enjoy a career in lighting. This is why we created How To Be Brilliant: a series of fun, free, friendly and accessible events which developed into a community.
We convince really high level professionals to come and meet with students. There is no benefit to the speaker – they don’t need to promote their company to students and we don’t pay them any fees. There is no return on investment for the sponsor, if you measure it in immediate monetary terms. There is no other initiative like this. Did that mean we were trail blazers or did it mean we were foolish?! All the market research in the world isn’t going to tell you if your idea will work in the real world. Our first get together attracted a grand audience of six people. So fake it until you make it. We persevered and it paid off.
With your scheduling, your communications, your quality. When you want to pull someone out of their comfort zone, knowing that they can rely on your format is going to give them that confidence boost to take the plunge and join in. Someone might follow you on social media for a while, someone may register and not show up. We understand sometimes it is easier to build up gradually to a new experience and we keep letting them know they will be welcome when they are ready.
When you do something on a regular basis, it is easy to slip into a mindset where you think everyone else knows all about ‘what you always do’. That really doesn’t help anyone who is a first-timer. At our most recent event, nearly 20% of the audience were there for the first time. It can be hard to join a crowd and so we explicitly encourage newcomers to talk to ILP staff, who will then introduce them to regulars. And so it happens that that newcomer becomes a regular themselves, rather than someone who came once and never again. At How To Be Brilliant we explain the purpose of the evening and what is going to happen, at the start of each talk and in all our communications.
Be truly inclusive
I don’t just recommend being equally welcoming regardless of gender, colour, sexuality, disability and whatever else it says in your policy. I recommend finding out what is stopping someone participating and taking away that barrier. For everyone brave enough to tell you about a certain need, there’s probably a bunch of other people with the same need who won’t speak up. Something as simple as letting people know your venue has decent toilets they can use anytime will help an IBS sufferer access what you are offering. Examine your privilege and work on your impact.
Be accepting of help
You won’t do this by yourself. The ILP was fortunate to have a volunteer with a great talent of persuading people to talk. To have a social media guru offering their skills. But more than that, accept help from the audience – that makes it two ways and that’s when the community starts to build. A simple message asking for attendees’ advice on the most convenient start time shows that you value their help in getting your event right. Some people feel lost in a crowd but happy to help on the welcome desk. We’ve had volunteers writing articles and taking photographs too.
Finally, remember to be brilliant! Make sure your speakers are independent, professional and relevant. Look out for people on their own and go and talk to them. Set a good example by being enthusiastic and attentive during the talk.
Good luck, and I wish you brilliance!