Meetings and Venues — ‘Everybody Is Having a Difficult Time Attracting Talent’

Four women who lead operations at global convention centers share their thoughts about how they and their venues are handling the talent challenge.

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

4 women headshots

In their roles as venue executives, Patricia Muzquiz Cantor (from left), Joyce Leveston, Teri Orton, and Antonieta Gámez Sánchez are dealing with the talent crisis and its fallout.

As part of Convene’s continuing series spotlighting women heading up event venues, we asked a handful of them about staffing: how they are attracting and keeping talent, whether that has been more challenging than in years past, and if they have found any creative solutions to address the issue. We also asked these leaders to share if they’ve experienced high turnover or lack of staffing among the clients they work with and/or the companies in their supply chain. Here are their responses:

“The Hawaii Convention Center has always operated with a strong sense of ‘ohana (family), and our employees value that. We are constantly working on educating prospective employees about the many benefits of joining our team. We have been working to build our staff levels back up as meetings and events continue again without restrictions. That means welcoming some of our former staff back, as well as searching for new talent.”

Teri Orton, General Manager, Hawaii Convention Center

“As most of us experienced, due to the pandemic break, we had to let go of half of our staff. We had the opportunity to get back to business in June of last year. Since then, we have been working with the same reduced number of staff. It has been challenging, but step by step, we are recovering and beginning to hire new people. Our most difficult [challenge] is hiring people for catering, since a lot of them changed their professional path and are no longer available. We have been making some changes in how we hire staff in order to give them better career opportunities in our venue and offer better conditions.”

Antonieta Gámez Sánchez, General Director, Centro Citibanamex convention center, Mexico City, Mexico

“Like a lot of the world, The Great Resignation is having an impact on the hospitality industry specifically, and yes, I would say venue management/facilities are certainly feeling the punch. The Oak View Group (OVG360) is certainly part of that equation. We, like many companies, are having our
fair share of challenges in recruitment and retaining of talent and, and although COVID certainly exacerbated the situation hundredfold, we have known for many years prior to the pandemic that we were facing a ‘war on talent’ in our industry. We can look at many factors that have contributed to how we as an industry were not preparing ourselves for the future of change. We have not been properly preparing for a change in this generational shift (Baby Boomers exiting the workforce to Millennials and Gen Z entering the workforce), and how we would need to adjust, adapt, and plan for this shift in culture and ideology. The use of technology is another place where we are feeling the gap.

We are seeing this across our company, from front-line staffing to management, and the areas most impacted are food service, marketing, finance, and HR. The ability for many of these skillsets to cross over into other industries has challenged us to be more flexible in our more traditional offerings. We have increased benefits, expanded PTO, allowed flexible work schedules, created employee resource groups, and increased our community resource giving and participation. You see, people don’t just want to work for you, they want and need to have purpose. And the generational shift — [this next generation] is certainly one that connects with humanity outside of the office space.”

Joyce Leveston, CMM, CVP, SVP of Convention Centers, OVG360

“We have worked to be innovative to attract new talent. In particular, over the past several weeks, we have been conducting one-on-one meetings with staff to improve the working environment here, with a focus on retaining talent. We know that when we lose some of that talent, it is institutional knowledge going out the door. Everybody is having a difficult time attracting talent, including our partners. They’re having to increase their hourly rates to meet the staffing numbers we request. Internally, managers are working closely with our HR department to post positions not only on our websites and social-media platforms, but in other areas such as on our marquee to let people know that we are hiring. Applicants can also apply for various positions all at once and we have created committees that are interviewing individuals and determining their best fit in the organization. This helps applicants reduce the times they must show up for an interview.”

Patricia Muzquiz Cantor, Director of Convention & Sports Facilities, City of San Antonio

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.

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