No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

What can we learn from CIPD Harrogate?


The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development's conference and exhibition at Harrogate is a long-standing annual event which occupies more and more space in the town each year. It is undoubtedly successful. More people attend the event; more trade stands vie for space; there is good press coverage in the broadsheet newspapers and on Radio 4; the platform and fringe programmes are well attended. In the face of this obvious success, why should we question the future of Europe's largest HR and people development event?

All organisations learn by adopting a questioning approach, and the CIPD is no exception. As delegates made their (slow) way home from Harrogate, many will have been asking themselves quite what they have gained from the event. It's worth applying some straightforward business questions to the process of measuring the value of the event. For the average conference delegate, the cost of their conference pass, accommodation, expenses and travel will be of the order of £1,300 - plus their salary for the period. For an average trade stand exhibitor, the cost of the pitch, transport, materials, telecoms, accommodation and expenses can be ten times that amount - again plus staff salary costs during the week. For both delegate and exhibitor, the question this week must be whether Harrogate provides them with a return on this investment.

Harrogate is a showcase - of latest thinking, of best practice, of innovation, of business opportunities. The problem for many people is how to select what to see and do, and how to maximise the benefits. At times, the Harrogate experience can feel somewhat like the Edinburgh Festival: non-stop action, multiple venues, competing attractions, mainstream and fringe, tired feet - and still the sense that you don't know if you've seen the best. This may be great for an arts festival, but does it work for a business development event?

A lot of thought goes into the conference programme each year and the quality of speakers remains impressively high. Whilst recognising the 'pull' of big names from the US or Europe, we would question whether there may not also be more home-grown talent whose work and ideas could be demonstrated from the Harrogate stages. Many delegates have come to expect the platform presentations, but is some cases they lack a real sense of engagement; if this is to be a genuinely learning event, there needs to be more opportunity for delegates to actively participate in the sessions, and this in turn means experimenting with different formats for some sessions.

Over the years, the exhibition has grown in both size and scope. Flicking through past exhibition catalogues is like tracing the changing fashions in the sector. Each year seems to have thrown up a different dominant theme: top-class venues, payroll software, elearning. This year, the focus seemed to have moved on to online recruitment services - leaving open the question of how many of these companies will still be around to exhibit next year.

Undoubtedly for many delegates, visitors and exhibitors the real benefit of Harrogate is the more intangible networking opportunity. The exchange of business cards, the corner meetings, the tentative agreements, the new introductions - these are the central elements in creating new business. By its very nature, such networking is informal and often opportunistic. Perusing the programme in advance is no guarantee of the connections which might result. The sheer size and diversity of Harrogate is both its strongest asset and its weakest link. You just can't meet all those people! And very few visitors will have been through all five exhibition halls.

It is a credit to the CIPD - in this year of its royal charter - that it can mount such a large and significant event and which so many people feel is a 'must-attend' event. But has the event outgrown Harrogate? The pressure on space and the scattering of venues is limiting some of the opportunities which an event of this size can create. It is commendable and desirable to locate the annual conference well outside London - but now is the time to explore whether other venues such as Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester or Glasgow might offer a more integrated networking, showcasing and business development opportunity.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!