More than 350 students attended the first-ever ‘student day’ at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Friday – showcasing career opportunities in the events and hospitality industry.

Young people from colleges across Scotland – as well as one intrepid student from London – travelled to the EICC to hear from inspiring figures who had forged successful career paths in the £40bn UK sector.

Among them were Emma Little, CEO and Founder of events Venue Finding agency ExecSpace, who had overcome considerable adversity to make her company a national success.

Having been ‘on her knees’ after losing investment at an early stage of her career, she inspired the audience  by telling them to ‘never give up’ on their dreams.

ExecSpace is now a multi-million pound company that counts among its clients household names such as Standard Life Aberdeen, Aggreko and Scottish Government.

Tristan Nesbitt, General Manager of the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh, challenged negative perceptions of hotel work, saying he employs young managers in their 20s who are far ahead of their peers in career progression terms and get to travel the world.

And Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, reminded the college and university students that there are 145,000 jobs to fill in the tourism industry in the next five years and most importantly that they shoud never be ‘afraid to fail’.

Advised to ‘dream big’, ‘never say no’ and that there’s ‘always a solution’, the young people were provided with a series of motivational messages, backed up by real-life stories of wit, humour and sacrifice in the name of getting the job done, and to a high standard.

Marshall Dallas, Chief Executive of the EICC, said: “Today was absolutely fantastic. Our vision is to create an environment which inspires ideas that change the world. That’s a pretty weighty vision and today I think was the first day of really realising part of that vision; it was so wonderful to see over 350 students from all over Scotland, as well as a student from London.  For them to get the opportunity to meet and hear from the experts that were on the panels today was fantastic.”

Dallas added that the EICC is taking its role as a steward for events industry careers very seriously after research showed that young people were not being actively encouraged to enter hospitality careers.

He said: “One of the statistics that concerned me and continues to concern me is that only 17% of parents will try and push their children into hospitality because there is a myth that it’s underpaid work with long hours. It’s the most exciting industry on the planet in my opinion and it was just great to share that today with 350 students.”

He also paid tribute to 29-year-old Dean Matheson, a Sales Executive at the EICC, whose idea it had been to organise the first-ever #EICCStudentDay18; Matheson, a graduate of Edinburgh College, had spent a long time galvanising the nationwide college community, organising conference calls, taking notes and inviting educators in to try and understand what learners would most appreciate knowing in an open day.

As a result, the students who attended the event during the national Year of Young People were taken on a tour of the building before sitting in the Pentland auditorium to hear from a cast of industry experts.

Matheson said: “It’s been an incredible day; having studied at Edinburgh College I was really passionate about giving something back, and it ties in with our vision statement. Marshall really inspires us to go out and do the best that we can and I was very proud and privileged to be part of a team who were really open to this idea; it gave me the free rein to run with it, as well, and to put on something that I think we can do annually.

He added: “It was really important to me that we put on something that we didn’t just think was good to do; I didn’t want to tell them only about us but to give them a broader view of the industry as possible because the industry’s not only about working in conference centres – it’s working in agencies, it’s working in hotels and hospitality. The purpose was to and give students an overview to allow them to dream big and make the right career choice. I hope this does become a legacy event for the EICC – I’m very proud of it and very passionate about it and I would be happy to lead it again.”

The EICC is also pioneering a Business Event Management Masters Degree in partnership with Edinburgh Napier University, which is the first higher education institution in the UK to offer a Master’s degree in Business Events.