Industry Education and Networking: Opportunities to Grow and Connect
A year and a half ago when lockdowns began, remote industry and professional education became a productive solution as we looked for ways to fill in the gaps. Our trade associations and industry providers were quick to offer free and discounted access to their existing catalogs of online classes within their professional development programs.
This was a win-win for both the providers and their members and customers as they were seeking to remain relevant and provide intellectually stimulating content to a very eager audience. Folks who had not found or made time for education and training either revisited or discovered these resources for the first time. Some even went as far as to complete their professional certifications. If we only had known how long this interruption in our lives was really going to be, I would guess many of us would be well on our way to completing our MBAs right now.
As the pandemic raged on, regional associations staged online education sessions in absence of their traditional in-person trade shows and regular networking events. Education and training was the primary avenue used to connect and continue to offer value to their memberships.
With in-person trade shows and events returning, it is well worth considering their education offering and sessions as an integral part of your event experience. Realistically, trade shows this year and in the immediate future are going to be more modest in attendance with less show floor activity. As we take a fresh look at traditional in-person events and experiences, participating in professional development sessions can certainly help maximize the ROI of both our time and money at events. In addition to the knowledge, the extra networking opportunities and connections can certainly make the events more worthwhile.
As we push reset on our businesses and maybe even our careers, it seems prudent to review the professional development opportunities that have been available all along. From a very practical standpoint, we may find the overall knowledge and specific topics of renewed value now. There is no shortage of archived content.
Whether you are looking to expand your general knowledge of the industry or become more of a specialist in your current role—and perhaps in an expanded or even all-new one—there are options to expand your knowledge and/or hone your expertise. It is even worth considering exploring sessions that are more targeted to your customers to get a better understanding of their challenges and how you can better focus your efforts to help them and add value. You could also consider suggesting some sessions to both your junior and senior colleagues to help your company’s efforts overall.
Professional and industry-specific sessions can help improve your knowledge in general and technical areas alike. Industry trends and macro-economic topics can help jumpstart your strategic thinking skills. As we all return to more in-person opportunities and face-to-face interactions, let’s face it—new and refined industry-specific (NOT related to the pandemic) conversation topics are needed and will be well received. Personal growth sessions that cover organization skills, introspection and communication skills will also help us move forward with more interesting and rewarding interactions.
The networking opportunities at education sessions should not be discounted. I can attest to customer and colleague relationships that are over 20 years old from attending industry training events. As we continue to navigate these much more tumultuous times, these kind of events will certainly provide opportunities to meet needed new industry peers and colleagues and reconnect with others, as many people are of course now showing up at different companies—now more than ever.
Mark Jenkins, managing director of Pioneer Balloon Co., has been involved in the promotional products industry for more than three decades. He has led the national sales and marketing efforts of three different suppliers. Jenkins is a road warrior, traveling nationally an average of 36 weeks per year, visiting distributors and participating in trade shows, sales meetings and industry events. A former PPAI board member and chair, he has been active in volunteering, bringing his industry knowledge, perspective and leadership to the table. Visit his website here.