Time to Go All In for Our Next Generation Workforce

January 31, 2024

Tommy Goodwin

Tommy Goodwin is Vice President for the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), an association dedicated to the advancement of the business events industry. He leads ECA’s advocacy and member engagement work on behalf of the interconnected ecosystem of exhibitors, show and event organizers, suppliers, venues and destinations that comprise the global business events landscape.

In January, the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) released its 2024 public policy agenda. 

The headline: ECA is ‘all in’ on supporting government policies to help you attract and train the business events industry’s future workforce. 

Why? Our industry has a skilled workforce shortage. But it’s not just us. Our country has a skilled workforce shortage, and working together, we can make a difference. 

How is ECA helping? In Washington, DC we are advocating for two bipartisan bills in Congress with the potential to be game changers for the industry.

Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act

The first bill, the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act, would help more Americans get good-paying jobs by allowing students to use federal Pell Grants to pay for short-term job training programs for the first time.

How will this help? Last year, the U.S. government spent $23.9 billion on Pell Grants. 

By expanding which programs are eligible for Pell Grant support, the government can help close the skills gap and provide workers with the job training and credentials they need for careers in high-demand industries like ours. 

"It's not enough to just attract and grow the ranks of a depleted workforce,” said Chris Griffin, president of the Experiential Designers and Producers Association, which is deeply engaged on future workforce issues. 

“We must be able to train and develop new industry professionals into high-value employees, and this bill will help us do just that,” Griffin added.

Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act

The second bill, the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, would give Americans the flexibility to use 529 college savings plans funds to cover the cost of certain workforce training and credentialing programs. 

By covering tuition, exam and training costs associated with obtaining workforce certifications and licenses, this bill would transform 529 plans from college saving plans into career savings plans and help workers secure good-paying jobs like those that we offer. 

“We should take every opportunity to help individuals build up their careers and thus build up the economy,” said Jeff Evans, American Society of Association Executives public policy director and head of the Tomorrow’s Workforce Coalition. “Expanding 529 will do that, and ECA’s efforts have helped the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act gain more than 100 cosponsors in the House.”

What’s next

Here’s the good news: Momentum is growing in Congress for both bills.

In December, the House of Representatives Education & Workforce Committee advanced the Pell Grant bill with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. 

Meanwhile, more than 100 bipartisan members of Congress are supporting the 529 bill. 

In 2024, ECA is ‘all in’ to get these bills passed by Congress and signed by President Biden before the end of the year.

Want to get involved? On May 30, ECA will host its annual Legislative Action Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Come share your story and tell your elected officials why attracting and training the next generation workforce is good for our industry and the country at large!


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Partner Voices
Overview: The award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) goes the extra mile to make every day extraordinary by offering customer service excellence and industry-leading partnerships. From their dedicated in-house Rigging team to their robust Exhibitor Services, The Center of Hospitality brings your imagination to life by helping you host unforgettable meetings and events. With more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, world-class services and a dream destination, we are committed to making even the most ambitious conventions a reality. In October 2023, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve allocating Tourist Development Tax funding for the $560 million Phase 5A completion of the OCCC. The Convention Way Grand Concourse project will include enhancements to the North-South Building, featuring an additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space, an 80,000- square-foot ballroom and new entry to the North-South Building along Convention Way. “We are thrilled to begin work on completing our North-South Building which will allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “As an economic driver for the community, this project will provide the Center with connectivity and meeting space to host more events and continue to infuse the local economy with new money and expanding business opportunities.” Amenities: The Center of Hospitality goes above and beyond by offering world-class customer service and industry-leading partnerships. From the largest convention center Wi-Fi network to custom LAN/WAN design, the Center takes pride in enhancing exhibitor and customer experience.  The OCCC is the exclusive provider of electricity (24-hour power at no additional cost), aerial rigging and lighting, water, natural gas and propane, compressed air, and cable TV services. Convenience The Center is at the epicenter of the destination, with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. Pedestrian bridges connect both buildings to more than 5,200 rooms and is within a 15-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The convenience of the location goes hand-in-hand with top notch service to help meet an event’s every need. Gold Key Members The OCCC’s Gold Key Members represent the best of the best when it comes to exceptional service and exclusive benefits for clients, exhibitors and guests. The Center’s Gold Key memberships with Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World greatly enhance meeting planner and attendee experiences offering world-renowned venues, immersive experiences and creative resources for their events. OCCC Events: This fiscal year, the OCCC is projected to host 168 events, 1.7 million attendees, and $2.9 billion in economic impact.  The Center’s top five events during their 2022-2023 fiscal year included:  AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships 2023 200,000 Attendees $257 Million in Economic Impact MEGACON 2023 160,000 Attendees $205 Million in Economic Impact Open Championship Series 2023 69,500 Attendees $89 Million in Economic Impact Sunshine Classic 2023 42,000 Attendees $54 Million in Economic Impact Premiere Orlando 2023 42,000 Attendees $108 Million in Economic Impact