Travel Weekly’s annual Business Breakfast looking at training and development in the industry marked the launch of the 2018 edition of Take Off in Travel. Robin Searle reports

Companies that abuse the new approach to apprenticeship funding or look only to recoup levy contributions without a strategic training plan will “fundamentally fail”, according to a leading expert.

Andy Smyth, early talent and apprenticeships manager for Tui UK & Ireland, said: “Some companies who are paying the levy will be looking at their tax bill and thinking ‘how do we get that back?’. They see A plus B equals C.

“It’s not as simple as that and anyone who takes that approach will fundamentally fail. You need to be looking at the opportunities these funds offer, and tailor your training so it benefits both your staff and your business.”

Steve Barrass, vice-president of dnata Travel, raised concerns that both levy-paying and non levy‑paying companies could abuse the system to save money.

He said: “The funding needs to be used for training and development, not salaries, so you ask how companies are viewing apprentices – do they see them as workers or students, and could some companies use them for cheap labour?”

Smyth said: “It’s a serious point and there will always be a small percentage who abuse the system. But anybody who wants to use this as a cheap labour model will find that their apprentices won’t stay, so it’s not sustainable.”

Barrass added: “Companies need to come to terms with the environment, and it has forced us to think hard about how we get the best out of the levy.

“We would have preferred (to be incentivised with) tax relief rather than having to foot the bill, but we need to ensure the levy contributions aren’t just lost.”

Tui’s Smyth says ‘don’t ditch the graduate schemes’

Companies should not axe graduate and other training schemes to focus exclusively on apprenticeships, guests were told.

Tui’s Andy Smyth said: “Ditching graduate programmes is the wrong thing to do – you don’t want everyone going through the same process. University is the right thing for a percentage of the population and talent comes from everywhere.”

Saga’s Jeannette Linfoot said the company had reinstated its graduate programme after a 10-year break alongside its apprenticeship scheme, recognising the need to have a broad talent pool.

And Abta’s Vicki Wolf said colleges and universities were increasingly engaging with the industry to ensure their courses produced quality candidates.

She said: “A savvy student who may be considering an apprenticeship could also be looking at universities, and the ones that appeal will be those who can demonstrate a strong relationship with industry.”

Dnata’s Steve Barrass said companies had “a responsibility” to develop relationships with educational establishments in areas where they had a strong presence.

Scheme ‘can benefit existing staff’

New apprenticeship standards and funding will allow travel companies to improve skills for staff at all levels and should also help firms retain talent, the Business Breakfast was told.

Although some incentives remain in place to bring through young apprentices, there are no longer restrictions on the age of those taking apprenticeships, meaning they can be a useful tool to continue training for middle management.

Jeannette Linfoot, managing director of Saga’s tour operations, said 150 middle managers had recently applied for just 50 Level 5 apprenticeship places.

“The levy has led us to rethink our approach, and has also allowed us to think not only about finding new talent but also upskilling our existing team,” she said.

“We are paying half a million quid through the levy, so it is not an insignificant amount, and we need to think strategically about how we use that money to improve our business.”

Vicki Wolf, Abta education partnerships manager, added: “Higher-level apprenticeships can be used as a retention tool. If you are at risk of losing someone then you may be able to retain them with training and career progression.”

Andy Smyth, early talent and apprenticeships manager for Tui UK & Ireland, said: “Getting rid of the age thresholds should allow companies to facilitate progression.

We see ongoing training as a way for people to move up the ladder, and as one role is vacated then someone else steps up to fill it, so the benefits cascade.”

‘Travel promotes long-term career prospects’

The travel industry is improving its reputation for offering long-term careers, but there is still work to be done to change perceptions.

Saga’s Jeannette Linfoot said: “We are doing a lot of activity to promote the sector.
“It may have previously been viewed as a non-serious business, but you won’t find a harder-nosed trading environment, so that perception is changing.”

Saga is one of 23 companies supporting the 2018 edition of Travel Weekly’s prospectus-style Take Off in Travel magazine, which is now in its sixth year and has been produced in association with Abta and headline sponsor dnata Travel.

Dnata’s Steve Barrass told the Business Breakfast: “We need to shout about the opportunities a career in travel offers, particularly to travel and work overseas.”

He added: “Bringing youth and talent into the industry is something we are very passionate about, and our partnership with Take Off in Travel is one way we rdemonstrate that.”

Take Off in Travel 2018