//Industry insights: Apprentices of all ages

Industry insights: Apprentices of all ages

Gary Noakes looks at the modern apprenticeships that are providing unparalleled opportunities for industry newbies and stalwarts alike

You might be a one-branch travel agency needing a junior consultant, a long-serving employee wanting to progress or even an airline that needs more pilots – in each case, apprenticeships could be the answer.

A shake-up of the way apprenticeships are funded and run means there’s now a wealth of opportunities, not just for the young and inexperienced, but also those wanting on-the-job training in a new area or help with expensive qualifications like a commercial pilots’ licence. 

Thanks to changes in funding mechanisms over the past three years, the range and scope of apprenticeship opportunities have increase dramatically. Since 2017, companies with a pay bill of more than £3 million have paid an apprenticeship levy of 0.5 per cent of payroll. They can effectively reclaim the bulk of this money if they employ apprentices, either tutoring them in-house or via a training specialist. “The idea behind the scheme is to give businesses more control and input into content; the government believes apprenticeships should be business-led,” said Vicki Wolf, ABTA’s education manager and member of the Travel Skills & Quality Board. 

Previously, apprenticeships were centred on a particular qualification, and although some still include this as part of the package, it’s more about the ability to do the job and pass an in-house assessment.

In 2020, SMEs are the big government focus, something that will benefit small independent travel agencies. Most travel agent apprenticeships are 18-24 months, with the minimum timespan being 12 months. 

The rules stipulate 20 per cent of training must be “off the job”, which can deter some SMEs, but Wolf said this need not be the case: “It doesn’t necessarily mean out of the office; it could mean just not selling, maybe learning a new system or going to a conference.”

Moreover, working with a training organisation means learning can be structured around the day-to-day running of an agency. Collaborating with other travel agencies, such as those found within the same Abta region, can also help. “If they all come together with training, it’s much more cost-effective for the training company and apprentices get a better experience because they meet others,” said Wolf.

The Travel Consultant Apprenticeship, which ABTA helped develop, covers leisure and business travel and lasts 12-24 months depending on previous qualifications. Proof that such schemes work is the fact that about half of Hays Travel’s senior managers are former apprentices. Hays recently began recruiting 729 new apprentices, including 30 to work in its Sunderland head office.

Sophia Rice, ABTA’s operations and support coordinator, is a Travelife apprentice. “I chose my apprenticeship with ABTA as it is an established and influential organisation in the travel industry,” she said. “The opportunity to work for Travelife for Accommodation was a huge bonus as it is a leading certification scheme, and with sustainability becoming such an important global issue, I felt this role was the right choice for me.

“I have learnt so much since starting at ABTA, whether it has been industry related or general business operations, and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to develop my professional career here.”

ABTA is keen to emphasise apprenticeships are not just for new entrants. ABTA members are also training existing staff in new skills like IT, HR, finance, digital marketing and general management. “This is not just for young people, if there’s an area in which they don’t have qualifications, [older employees] can do it,” Wolf stressed.

In September, the whole concept of vocation-based training will be enhanced further when the government launches T Levels, a two-year technical qualification. T Levels will be equal to three A Levels and will qualify as UCAS entry points. 

They require students to spend 80 per cent of their time in the classroom but at least 45 hours on placement in industry, which can be split between two organisations.

T Levels will be offered in selected schools and colleges and the initial three subjects will expand to 25 by 2023. There is no date for the introduction of a travel-specific curriculum, but subjects including accountancy, human resources and cultural heritage and visitor attractions are already confirmed.

In addition, the first UK pilot apprenticeship has been launched by the industry and pilots’ union BALPA, supported by Tui Airways. The idea is to make the profession more inclusive – currently, recruits have to find around £100,000 to fund their training. Under the scheme, funding from the Apprenticeship Levy of up to £27,000 can be used towards First Officer training, with a top-up contributed by the sponsoring airline in addition to an apprentice salary.Becoming a pilot in this way is about as far from the traditional image of an apprentice as possible. It’s an indication of how far the concept has come – apprenticeships were once regarded as something from the past; now, they’re the way ahead.