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Why collaboration is critical to building the talent pipeline through quality apprenticeships in aviation

Guest blog from Karen Hewitt, apprenticeship manager, British Airways and chair of the Aviation Industry Skills Board

With a focus on employer-led apprenticeships, Karen Hewitt talks about the role of the Aviation Industry Skills Board (AISB) and how it is driving the case for relevant, high quality apprenticeships in the sector.

What happens when a group of likeminded and passionate aviation experts come together to raise skills and help professionalise their industry? 

That was the question I asked myself eight years ago when I first joined the Aviation Industry Skills Board (AISB) representing British Airways. In 2018, having recently been nominated Chair of this unique group, I’m tremendously proud to share what we’ve achieved and excited about what is yet to come.

The AISB was originally formed in 2007 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, Civil Aviation Authority, The Honourable Company of Air Pilots and the Royal Aeronautical Society. The Department for Transport (DfT) also attends AISB meetings and is currently keeping members informed of developments on the government’s aviation strategy.

Working strategically to improve skills

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.

In 2011 People 1st took responsibility for aviation apprenticeships and has been on the journey with the AISB members ever since, facilitating our activities and managing key pieces of work. Most significantly, four years ago we applied to government to be recognised as the aviation trailblazer developing new apprenticeship standards for key aviation occupations.  Our very first development was the airside operator standard, followed by three ground handling standards which are all live. The aviation cabin crew standard is in the final approval stage with the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) and we are half way through developing the first officer, pilot standard.

The AISB operates inclusively with a genuine desire to ensure the actions we agree are appropriate across the sector taking into account the unique needs of all businesses including SMEs, and the expert opinion of training and assessment partners. Our members have a strategic overview of all our activities, but we make sure the relevant occupational experts from all aviation employers are involved through a number of Special Interest Groups (SIGs), with the chairs of these sub groups drawn from the AISB. We believe it’s an excellent model for a sector group because we work strategically knowing what the end goal is and, at the same time, ensure all those that have an interest and expertise in raising sector skills are part of the process.

A leading role in quality apprenticeships

Together with my fellow members, and as I start my term as chair of the AISB, the focus is on how we can increase participation in quality apprenticeships. We now are well on our way to having a comprehensive range of apprenticeship standards and will consider new areas for development in the coming months.

I am also delighted that aviation businesses are taking an active ownership of apprenticeship quality and have opted to use employer-led External Quality Assurance for end-point assessment so we can be confident that aviation apprenticeships are working in practice and achieving the best outcome for businesses and apprentices. The AISB will oversee the external quality assurance which will be conducted and managed by People 1st.

We firmly believe that the efforts of the AISB are starting to really make a mark on the aviation industry, but there’s more to be done. It is often confused with the aerospace industry (employing circa.126,000) – but both are important distinct industries that are interdependent on one another. It is important to the AISB that government recognises both industries’ individual challenges and priorities.

For example, even though the aviation sector is reasonably diverse, a high proportion (58%) of the workforce are male. For too long  aviation pilot has been perceived as an elite occupation for the privileged few and is male dominated, with less than 6% of female pilots and co-pilots in the UK. We want that to change. With the support of the Institute for Apprenticeships and DfT, we believe that the new first officer, aviation pilot apprenticeship standard could play a significant, if not revolutionary, contribution to progress social inclusion.

In 2018 the AISB will be reviewing its direction, firming up its plans and making further strides to raise the skills of our staff and benefit from our investment in apprenticeships. If you’re interested to find out more and see how you can join us on the journey get in touch here today.


Members of the AISB

The Aviation Industry Skills Board (AISB) is chaired by Karen Hewitt, British Airways, supported by vice chairs David Brewster, Thomas Cook and Julie Whittle, Swissport.

Members of the board include: Virgin Atlantic; Heathrow Airport; Menzies Aviation; Easyjet; Gatwick Airport; TUI; Flybe; RAF; MAG; Bristow Group; Monarch Engineering


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