September 2010 issue

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Workshop buzz

Agent workshops are an important part of our industry, bridging the globe by bringing together educators and agents from all over the world to do business. Gillian Evans takes a closer look.

So what’s so good about workshops where agents and education consultants meet with language schools, colleges and universities and other companies related to the industry? Well, according to Jorge Taboada, Director of Universities & Schools of America in Argentina, “[Workshops provide] the best access to up-to-date information needed for serious and professional work. Also you [get to] know personally the key people to develop your business.”

There are many different types of workshops: workshops for providers and agents from all over the world; workshops that are open only to educators that are part of an association or group; regional workshops that bring global educators to agents from a specific region; destination workshops that bring agents from around the world to educators from one country or region; and sector-specific workshops that are open to providers catering for just one sector of the market.

All workshops offer both educators and agents an unrivalled chance of networking. “I attend workshops to meet new agents, to follow up with existing agents, gain additional knowledge about the current international student recruitment industry, to network with colleagues and to stay up-to-date with what’s happening within the industry,” relates Dena Luong, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the School of English at Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, in Canada.

Like Luong, Pierre Lincourt at Université du Quebec at Chicoutimi, QC, Canada, values the networking opportunities of workshops with both agents and other university and school representatives. “[It’s] very important to meet people in the same business field as yours,” he explains. “It helps to put things in perspective since they all encounter the same situations within their business and are able to make you feel better about the way you handle your own things.”

Terry Falck, Marketing Executive at Harrow House International College in Swanage in the UK, says he likes attending workshops “to meet our partners and give them information about the coming year and hopefully find new agents in the countries we are looking for”.

Apart from the scheduled meetings during the day, other opportunities for networking are provided during social events, such as evening dinners, drinks receptions and city tours. The ICEF Berlin Workshop Party is a social programming highlight, complete with buffet, live band and plenty of dancing. Meanwhile, Jane Gilham, Alphe Manager, outlines the social events at the Alphe Conferences: “Each has a networking drinks reception on the evening before the first day of meetings, which is usually quite informal. On the middle evening there is a networking dinner, and at Alphe UK London, delegates get to attend the Language Travel Magazine Star Awards on the Saturday night. These networking events are always very well received and help to build relationships that have begun at the workshop table.”

Taboada agrees. “Social events are the ‘salt and pepper’ of the workshops,” he says. “The working stress disappears. You can socialise and make new international friends. Social events during workshops help a lot to develop business.”

Claire Easterbrook at the International Language Centre at Mount Aspiring College in Wanaka, New Zealand, also emphasises the importance of the social events. “Sometimes what you don’t cover in your ‘normal’ workshop day you can catch up with socially,” she says.

Many workshops such as StudyWorld, Ialc and Fedele also organise familiarisation trips, which provide an opportunity to get a taste of a number of schools and locations. Rafael Lopez, Marketing Director at the Montreal International Institute of Language Arts in Montreal, QC, Canada, asserts, “Through fam trips, agents get to know the real school and the students.”

Fam trips can be organised by the workshop organiser or arranged by groups of schools who get together to invite interested agents to visit their schools after or before a workshop. They can be a good way for agents to maximise their time away from the office and visit areas or schools that they may not be familiar with.

“Fam trips are a good chance to visit many schools in a limited time,” agrees Mamiko Tautschi at Cosmolingua in Switzerland. “Usually [they are] very well organised by participating schools. Apart from the fact that we can learn more about the cities and surroundings of schools, they are also very useful to compare the location and facilities of different schools.”

For many workshop organisers, fam trips are an add-on that can make the difference when agents are deciding which of the many workshops to attend in one year. Spanish schools federation, Fedele, is planning to add three regional fam trips to its annual meeting next year. “The three regional fam trips are a new concept giving the possibility to visit schools in three different areas of Valencia (Eastern Spain), Castilla-León and Madrid (Centre) and Andalucia (the South),” says Mariana Dima at Fedele.

For Ialc members, being given the chance to host a workshop – which is rotated every year to a different member – is a unique chance to show off their school and area to the best advantage. Jan Capper at the association says, “Our workshop is traditionally hosted by a member. The whole school puts its heart into the event as it’s a unique chance to show agents your school and city. Galway in 2010 was fantastic – truly special evening events with world-champion Irish dancers and an exotic theatre troupe.”

Some workshops offer other add-ons, such as seminars or sample language lessons for agents. Capper explains the development of seminars for agents at the Ialc workshop. “We’ve been running seminars for members for several years as part of the annual general meeting. They’re very popular, so in 2009 we launched a modest seminar programme for agents as well. Last year’s topics were Marketing through Social Media and the Ialc Partner Agency Scheme. We had good attendance and good feedback, so in 2010 we offered seminars [again].”

As well as fam trips, the IH workshop includes an “alternative programme” for free agencies, which promote the IH brand. Christina Margraf, Business Development Manager at IH World Organisation, explains, “This programme usually includes presentations about IH, the hosting school in particular and the workshop destination.”

For attendees, seminars can be a good way to gain more information about a particular area of the industry, such as visas or student trends. Taboada says he finds some seminars at workshops very useful. “I remember a workshop in Canada where I attended sample language lessons and I selected the school to work with for this reason. I just saw the quality of the institution [first hand]. The same happened this time with other agents from my country.”

But the main reason for attending workshops is to enable school representatives and agents to meet in a formal setting and present their businesses to each other. It can therefore be highly frustrating if agents do not turn up for their appointments, says Luong. “Sometimes appointments get cancelled last minute by the agent or they arrive late or they simply don’t attend. I feel these issues need to be addressed since schools pay a substantial amount of money to attend these workshops. There are no consequences for those who show up late or who attend the appointments but are clearly disinterested. Perhaps there needs to be more of an incentive for agents to attend meetings,” she says.

Ensuring the quality and seriousness of the agents that attend workshops can therefore make or break a good event. Among ICEF’s portfolio of events is the Higher Education Workshop, held in Paris. At such a highly targeted event it is vital that the right agents attend. To this end, says Korinne Algie, Marketing and Communications Manager at ICEF, “The agents must prove that they are actively sending students to higher education institutions, usually through references from HE institutions, before they are accepted to attend. This is in addition to the usual screening requirements. Feedback shows that educators really appreciate the focus of the event – there is no time wasting with non-compatible agents.”

Other workshop improvements suggested by schools and agents include a longer appointment time, more space between tables, and making workshops more affordable. John Allinson, Principal of Parkland International Language School in the UK, says that attending a workshop is not financially viable for them. “I miss the buzz and friendship that can be found at these events. The hard financial facts are that it is quite a large amount of money to spend in return for agent-originated clientele. A small business like ours needs to expand its private contacts and the more lucrative profit margins they engender.”

Introducing distinct areas of specific providers into one area of a larger workshop is also a relatively new idea for ICEF. “The Work and Travel Zone (WTZ) worked really well as part of the Berlin workshop,” says Algie. “By bringing the WTZ into the event we were able to give work and travel providers greater opportunity to network across a broad range of agents, educators and other service providers. It also made them part of the buzz that is the Berlin workshop,” she adds.

Expansion and change
Workshop organisers continue to develop their range of events, either by expanding the destinations of the workshops, targeting them at particular market sectors or adding features to their existing workshops.

For example, this year Alphe UK offers a Directors’ Club to owners and board members of agencies and schools, which focuses on the importance of informal networking at agent workshops. Gilham explains more: “Directors’ Club members can attend Alphe, have full access to the conference, café and all dinners and events but do not need to make any formal 30-minunte appointments.“

Meanwhile, English UK, which hosts the annual StudyWorld workshop in London, has been expanding its range of “boutique“ workshops. Together with the British Council, UK Trade and Investment, and VisitBritain, English UK organises overseas educator-agent workshops under the name of English UK Fairs. This year, a fair was held in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in March, which brought together 21 English UK members and 43 agents. A further fair, this time in Hanoi in Vietnam, is to take place in November. “The success and popularity of these events is based on their small size and friendly, relaxed atmosphere – they give educators and agents a better chance to get to know each other and develop productive partnerships,” says Jodie Gray, International Marketing Manager at English UK.

Gray adds that they are planning on increasing the programme of overseas fairs to three per year for 2010. “Positive feedback from our member centres and the agents who have attended our previous events indicated that there is a strong demand for smaller boutique fairs focused on the English language teaching centre.”

Alphe has also extended its reach recently with the launch of its seventh event, Alphe Istanbul, after identifying a gap in the market. “We decided to launch Alphe Istanbul as there are no other workshops in this important region,” explains Gilham. “Our first event this year was a great success, with 74 schools and 95 agencies taking part.”

ICEF has also expanded its range of workshops to offer three separate America events, instead of the all-encompassing ICEF Americas workshop which was held until 2008. Now the workshops are split between Latin America, which takes place this month in São Paulo, Brazil and North America, most notably Miami and Toronto. Algie outlines the reasons behind this move. “As the US market warms up to using agents – particularly in the higher education sector, and Canadian institutions become increasingly pro-active in their recruitment strategies, the demand for the ICEF North America Workshop has increased. For example, we sold out both Miami in December and then Toronto in May less than six months later.”

All this activity in the workshop sector is proof of the huge demand there is from both educators and agents for such events. As Daniel Bertole, Director General of Instituto de Idiomas Ibiza, puts it, workshops are the places where “people and information come together”.

Workshop stories

“We gave away an airfare at what was then the Arels fair in the 1990s. I saw the winner last year in Japan. He told me he had given his airfare prize to his host family lady so she could fly to Japan and meet her ex-homestay students”
Scott Wade, Alphe

“Angus Tuck and Helen Cox of South Australian College of English deserve a medal for their determination not to let a volcano stop them attending the Ialc Workshop. Their flight from Australia was one of the ones cancelled and they were offered a new flight a week after the event. So they kept their suitcases packed and were ready to leave at a moment’s notice. They called the airlines every day, eventually grabbing two seats last-minute and travelling 24 hours to arrive for the second day of the workshop and gala dinner!”
Jan Capper, Ialc

“I know two educational agents that fell in love at a workshop 10 years ago till today”
Jorge Taboada, Universities & Schools of America

“Two agents from India were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. The husband surprised his wife by taking to the stage at StudyWorld’s 40th anniversary evening reception and announced to the audience it was their anniversary and presented her with a beautiful ring”
Jodie Gray, English UK

List of events

Alphe UK
Location: London, UK
Event open to what type of educators: Universities, language schools, secondary schools workdwide
No. of schools in 2009: 183
No. of agencies in 2009: 237

Location: Shanghai, China 2011
Event open to what type of educators: Ialc member schools
No. of schools in 2010: 102
No. of agencies in 2010: 107

Location: London, UK
Event open to what type of educators: Accredited or government-approved language schools and higher education providers
No. of schools in 2009: 226
No. of agencies in 2009: 306

English UK Fairs
Location: various
Event open to what type of educators: English UK members only
No. of schools in 2009/2010: 30
No. of agencies in 2009/2010: 40

IH Workshop
Location: Valencia, Spain 2011
Event open to what type of educators: IH affiliated schools
No. of schools in 2010: 38
No. of agencies in 2010: 46

ICEF Higher Education Workshop
Location: Paris, France
Event open to what type of educators: officially accredited international universities, colleges, select providers of foundation and pathway courses
No. of schools in 2009: 46
No. of agencies in 2009: 63

ICEF Belin
Location: Berlin, Germany
Event open to what type of educators: Universities, language schools and secondary schools worldwide
No. of schools in 2009: 451
No. of agencies in 2009: 640

Location: Cork, Ireland 2010
Event open to what type of educators: MEI members
No. of schools in 2009: 45
No. of agencies in 2009: 71

Location: TBC
Event open to what type of educators: Instituto Cervantes accredited Spanish language schools
No. of schools in 2008: 57
No. of agencies in 2008: 20

Anza Workshop, 2011
Location: Gold Coast, Australia
Event open to what type of educators: all accredited educators in Australia and New Zealand
No. of schools in 2010: 142
No. of agencies in 2010: 147

British Boarding Schools Workshop
Location: Windsor, UK
Event open to what type of educators: British boarding schools
No. of schools in 2009: 55
No. of agencies in 2009: 71

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