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The aviation industry: Pioneers of an employer-led skills agenda with a future talent pipeline developing through quality apprenticeships

For the past eight years there has been a strong drive towards employer-ownership of skills, and whilst the government introduced its first initiative of this kind in 2011, ahead of curve, in 2007 a group of likeminded and passionate aviation experts started working together as part of the Aviation Industry Skills Board (AISB) to raise skills and help professionalise their industry.

The AISB was originally formed to help aviation employers source relevant training and development. Since then it has grown in strength and numbers to include leading UK airlines, airports, ground handling agents, travel companies and representatives from the military, The Honourable Company of Air Pilots and the Royal Aeronautical Society. The work of the AISB also works towards the Department for Transport’s proposed aviation strategy - Aviation 2050: the future of UK aviation - in ensuring the industry has at its disposal a ready supply of talent to meet both current demand and future need.

Over the last five years, facilitated by People 1st International, the board has been working to maximise the skills of existing talent and build a pipeline for the future through the development of apprenticeship standards that form clear career pathways across this dynamic sector. The standards have been designed so that they apply across the sector, allowing organisations to incorporate their own ways of working, products and services into the learning and development, whilst ensuring it meets one national standard.

With five standards now live and others in development, businesses and individuals are starting to reap the benefits that these employer-led standards bring.

Ground handling apprenticeships: widening the spectrum of progressive industry careers and helping employers tap into early talent

Available since 2016, the three ground handling apprenticeship standards form progressive career pathways - from aviation ground operative at level two, through aviation operations manager at level four. The standards have been developed by leading employers including London Heathrow Airport, Swissport UK, RNAS, London City Airport, Bristow Group, Royal Air Force, Menzies Aviation, Army Air Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Logistics Corps, Edinburgh Airport Manager, British Airways and dnata UK, and incorporate the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to operate safe, secure and compliant ground handling operations.

With aviation often characterised for its popular careers such as pilots, cabin crew and check-in, these new standards are helping to widen perceptions of the available careers in the industry. The standards provide a structured progression route for roles that are focussed around the safe arrival, turnaround and departure of aircraft at airports, military bases, heliports and other airfields.

Menzies Aviation, which provides front-line airport services both above and below the wing, employs over 4500 staff in ground handling roles across the UK and sees the standards as a route to engage with a wider audience for talent attraction.

“The ground handling apprenticeship standards provide us with a valuable route to tap into early talent that we can nurture, develop and upskill, which ultimately creates a strong talent pipeline for our management roles.

“Having joined forces with colleagues across the industry to develop the standards, we can be assured of their quality. For us, they provide a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent – and are a fantastic solution to developing a skilled ground handling workforce.” - Peter Gardner, Talent Development Manager, Menzies Aviation

British Airways already has more than 95 apprentices registered on the standards and has seen their first cohort of 14 apprentices successfully achieve their end-point assessments. They believe that the apprenticeships help staff feel valued and ultimately more likely to stay with the business:

“The new ground handling standards not only give apprentices the opportunity to excel in their role, but also to gain a wider understanding of the operation and the interlinking functions, allowing them to take on new and exciting challenges and progress into future careers in the operation, with a range of opportunities including potential for leadership development in time.

“Importantly, they help our employees feel invested in, and provide us with significant business benefits in terms of engagement and retention. We’re a strong advocate of the employer-led approach to the development of the apprenticeship and have already seen a number of the benefits this brings.” – Mike Rogers, Apprenticeship Levy, Quality & Standards Manager, British Airways

With the standards having now been in use for nearly three years, employers are more aware of their organisational needs and are currently working to evolve these standards to add specific occupational roles and remove those that are no longer required.

Cabin crew apprenticeships: Marking a new way for individuals to join the travel and aviation sector

With a perception that a career as cabin crew requires a background in travel and tourism, the new apprenticeship standard for cabin crew is opening the role up to individuals that may not have previously considered themselves as skilled for a career in the skies.

Developed by leading employers including BA, BA City Flyer, Flybe, Royal Air Force, Monarch, Easyjet, Thomas Cook, Virgin Atlantic and Eastern Airways, the standard develops apprentices skills to enable them to provide excellent customer service to passengers while ensuring their comfort and safety throughout a flight.

Live since June 2018 and combining safety-critical learning with customer focus, the apprenticeship has opened a new entry-level pathway into the profession and is helping to build the confidence of apprentices to become successful crew members.

Easyjet, which already has 43 apprentices undertaking the standard, believes it has widened the scope of people applying for their cabin crew roles:

“For us it’s critical to have a continuous pipeline of talent. We need the right people that are resilient, customer focused, willing and motivated to learn. The cabin crew apprenticeship standard is a perfect to solution to help us achieve this as its opening the door to individuals that may not previously have considered the career.

“Having worked with employers across the industry to develop the standard, it’s also given us the opportunity to ensure the standard is aligned with our on-boarding training programme. Ultimately, this ensures all of our crew are trained to the same standard, whether they’ve joined via an apprenticeship route or not.” – Kirsty Clifford, Talent Partner, EasyJet

Virgin Atlantic see the standard as an opportunity to access a wider talent pool:

“Across Virgin Atlantic we are passionate about using apprenticeships to improve skills and development opportunities in our business. Having been actively involved in developing the new cabin crew apprenticeship standard, we are really proud to now be able to offer this exciting new training programme to our new hire cabin crew. Over 60 people have joined our cabin crew apprenticeship training programme in 2019 so far, and a further 40 will be joining us later this year.

“We believe apprenticeships provide a great opportunity for us to widen our diversity and inclusion and we actively encourage applications from all walks of life; this means all backgrounds, ages and experience. Apprenticeships are still a great way to start your career, but apprenticeship programmes aren’t just for school leavers anymore – they can be a great way to change your career and train for that dream cabin crew job you’ve always wanted.” - Angie K Lemkes, Apprenticeship Manager, Virgin Atlantic

With the cabin crew apprenticeship standard being the only formally recognised training programme across the industry, where crew are trained to one agreed industry standard, this presents a number of opportunities to both individuals and employers in terms of transferability and progression. Employers on the AISB cabin crew special interest group will be looking at how the industry can capitalise on this opportunity moving forward.

Pilot apprenticeship: Enabling social mobility and creating a wider talent pool for aviation employers

The first of its kind in for commercial airline pilots in the UK – the pilot apprenticeship standard has been developed by specialist sub-group of the Aviation Industry Skills Board (AISB) chaired by TUI UK and including British Airways, FlyBe, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

With the backing of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), and the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, the standard has recently been approved for delivery, paving the way for a more accessible career option for many, as well as creating a wider talent pool for aviation businesses.

TUI UK & Ireland has been proud to lead on the development of this industry-first scheme:

“We’ve been really proud to lead on the development of this industry-first scheme and we’ll now move to working on the necessary next steps to get the recruitment process live. As a pilot myself, I’m really passionate about what an exciting opportunity this apprenticeship represents to those looking to join the aviation industry. It means that becoming a pilot will be a more accessible career option for many, and provide a platform to diversify the profession.” - Captain Stuart Gruber, Director of Flight Operations, TUI Airways.

BALPA believe the apprenticeship provides a platform to diversify the profession

 “We’ve been working with the industry to get the first UK pilot apprenticeship programme off the ground. This is important to open up the profession to all those who are capable and passionate about flying, not just those with the deepest pockets. Anyone wanting to become a pilot usually has to find around £100,000 to fund their training which puts a flying career out of reach for too many people. Piloting should be an equal opportunities career; we hope the new pilot apprenticeship programme will make that a reality for more people.” - Wendy Pursey, Head of Membership & Career Services, BALPA.

View from the chair of the AISB

As chair of the AISB, Karen Hewitt, Apprenticeships & Emerging Talent Manager at British Airways sums up her view of what the board has achieved:

“Over the years, our members have acted collectively to drive skills related activities and although we exist in a highly competitive sector, there is no doubting the value our joined up approach brings to our businesses, helping us to maximise the skills of existing talent and build a pipeline for the future. 

“We believe the AISB is an excellent model for a sector group because we work strategically knowing what the end goal is and, at the same time, ensure the relevant occupational experts from all aviation employers involved in raising sector skills are part of the process.

“Our focus now for the coming year is to strengthen engagement in the apprenticeships we’ve developed across the sector as well as to evolve our skills and careers strategy that aligns and feeds into the Department for Transport’s proposed aviation strategy.”

To find out more about the work of the AISB visit: www.people1st.co.uk/aviation-industry-skills-board/

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