October 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Incentive News

Dawn Penfold After a two-year dry spell, the job market for incentive professionals is beginning to show slight signs of turning around for some segments.

The trend reflects the tentative nature of the U.S. economy. “Although the economy is showing persistent signs of a turnaround, the signals have been mixed in terms of the job market,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of New York City-based employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

According to two surveys of job-hunters conducted by the firm, search times were getting shorter (3.4 months in the second quarter of 2003, down from a high of 4.16 months in the last quarter of 2001), while the percentages of people finding equivalent or better jobs was 76.94 percent in the second quarter of this year, down from 82.77 in the first quarter of 2003.

Dawn Penfold, CMP, president of New York City-based employment firm The Meeting Candidate Network, sees an upside to the incentive job market. She said more clients are hiring incentive professionals today than they have since the fall of 2001. The positions, she said, are chiefly in the pharmaceutical field for planners with several years’ experience.

Penfold has seen virtually no openings at the entry level or in top management slots, but she said her firm has noted a marked increase in the demand for temporary, on-site incentive planners. “Trip directors, in particular, are in high demand.”

Her outlook is more sanguine than that of Sheryl Sookman, principal of The MeetingConnection in Novato, Calif., who has not seen significant change in any areas of the incentive job market. “Clients started out with great intentions this year, but some had to scale down their programs and resize, so the positions were not there,” she said.

At incentive companies, job openings virtually are limited to experienced salespeople who can “blast past corporate reception areas and win those contracts,” said Todd Englander, president of Todd Englander Associates Inc., an executive search firm based in New York City.

As for the future, the employment pros are more optimistic. Sookman said she’s getting indications that clients are looking toward 2004 to fill positions.

Penfold thinks the market for independent contractors will continue to grow, while Englander predicts the field will open up for planners who know about online incentive applications and can keep abreast of fast-changing geopolitics.

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