Meetings Professional International (MPI) announced a new certificate program last week for the “non-traditional” planner, and the immediate response from the established event planning community has included widespread discontent.

The MPI Academy is launching the new Meeting Fundamentals certificate program with its first class scheduled on April 25th at the association’s Dallas headquarters. The course purports to teach participants how to create meeting blueprints, develop meeting budgets, prepare requests for proposals (RFPs), conduct site inspections, and more. It was created with the support of developmental sponsor InterContinental Hotels Group and is pre-approved for CMP certification credit, granting six clock hours upon completion. MPI has also developed a corresponding training program to be held during its 2016 World Education Congress (WEC) called the Basics Boot Camp: Meeting Fundamentals. The program is scheduled for June 13 – 14 and includes the new Meeting Fundamentals certificate course.

Concerns among the established planning community include the fear that MPI is growing their base through the inclusion of “amateur” planners, and that there is simply no way to become founded in the industry’s many nuances simply by completing a six-hour program.

Additional issues appear to be the potential watering-down of the planner certification process, and confusion within the hospitality industry created by the addition of a new certificate.

“There's been quite an uprising in the SPIN community about this new ‘certificate’ program,” says Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder and chairwoman of the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN). “Most comments on our message board are negative, with some people even canceling their membership with MPI, and their registration for WEC. For an association whose motto is ‘We believe in YOU, the meeting professional,’ the overwhelming opinion so far on the SPIN private Facebook page is that this move by MPI devalues the true professional.”

Other SPIN members echoed Suckow’s concerns, in addition to voicing a few of their own.

“Two months ago, I rejoined MPI, with a plan to become more involved in mentoring and to give back to young planners just starting out,” said Bonni Scepkowski, president and CSO of Stellar Meetings and Events in New Jersey. “I registered for WEC, and was looking forward to working with people new to the industry. What a shock to learn that the new MPI has chosen to focus on amateurs, adding a meeting certification requiring no actual experience, and only six hours of coursework. These are students, not professionals.

“In an obvious bid to build membership, the leaders of MPI seem to have abandoned their mission, and have chosen a route of expedience to grow the organization,” she continued. “An association  like MPI should have, at its core, a mission that supports the planner and champions the message that an experienced professional will deliver quantifiable results far beyond those of an amateur, or 'occasional' planner.”

And Tracey B. Smith, CMP, CMM, a contract meeting manager for Tracey Smith Events/Marketing, also shared her concerns with Meetings Today.

“As much as I appreciate educating people to be more professional in the meetings industry, I feel this program is merely a modicum of education and not significant enough to achieve that goal,” Smith remarked. “These students will not have the skills they need to negotiate with suppliers, manage the problems that always come up, and take care of their attendees with aplomb, yet, they will mistakenly believe they are now professional planners. It will give the industry a black eye that will be very hard to overcome. Incidents like the Government Accounting Office's and AIG's lack of professionalism will again be big news.”

Seasoned planner and meetings educator Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist for Washington, D.C.-based Eisentstodt & Associates, and a regular blogger for Meetings Today, offered yet another take.

“MPI once had the Institutes program that was stellar and suited for entry level meeting professionals and for the occasional planner,” she remarked. “In the portion of the course I teach [on risk management contracts and ethics] for the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in their meetings certificate program, my day alone is eight hours of the many hours in teaching. Sometimes a bit of information and the lack of understanding of the full responsibility of planning meetings—such as MPI appears to want to do in six hours of class time over two days—is more dangerous than planners just reading in and learning from groups on Facebook, [or] from the many archived Webinars on Meetings Today. Call me a skeptic on this offering.”

MPI’s Kristi Casey Sanders, director of digital marketing strategy, provided her organization’s side of the story.

“The Basics Boot Camp: Meeting Fundamentals course is designed for people who have been working on meetings, but it’s just not in their titles,” she commented. “It provides best practices education, covering the basics and is the first step on our Professional Development Roadmap. When we introduced the course to our Plan Your Meetings audience, they’ve been enthusiastic about it and some of them plan 1,000 meetings a year.

"This course is in no way meant to be a replacement for the CMP, but rather a way for the non-titled planner to show their boss that they’re serious about this part of their job and is a small step towards becoming a meeting professional. At MPI, we believe that anything we do to enhance the understanding and professionalism of people in our industry helps everyone.”

Meetings Today will continue to monitor the situation moving forward and welcomes any reader comments and opinions on the matter.