Abta is facing demands from members for recognised professional qualifications to help with staff training, recruitment and retention.
The trade association last week welcomed City & Guilds as an education partner – the first that awards vocational qualifications – joining eight universities and colleges.
Early discussions about professional recognition for qualifications have begun with City & Guilds, but Abta remains open to working with other organisations.
Vicki Wolf, Abta’s business development manager, said: “We are very much in the early stages of discussions. The first step was to get them to join as partners and to progress from there.
“This is a highly professional industry and it does not necessarily get the recognition it deserves. Our members want recognition for the professional industry that it is.”
Last week, industry leaders marked the launch of Take Off in Travel 2016, Travel Weekly’s annual careers guide for students, by discussing the staffing and training issues facing the industry.
The Travel Weekly Business Breakfast at The Travel Convention heard about the “demographic time bomb” and skills gap facing the industry as a result of the UK’s ageing population.
Speaking after the event, Wolf agreed travel had to address this potential crisis. “You are going to have to compete more and more in the future for this decreasing pool of talent,” she said.
A joint People 1st and Abta report from 2010 found travel firms recruiting staff from schools, colleges and universities did not place a high value on industry-related qualifications.
Just 24% of respondents said such qualifications were important, compared with 82% citing the ‘right attitude’, 69% an ‘interest in travel’ and 60% a ‘good overall education’.
Abta said this reflected the fragmented nature of relevant qualifications and that employers were taking people with qualifications in fields such as accountancy, which travel and tourism courses also cover.
Wolf said the quality of relevant courses at universities had been increasing following the introduction of tuition fees.
“Courses that continue to attract large numbers of students have had to improve what they offer,” she said.
“The industry has started to realise that there have been good courses available all along, but not that they are on a par with courses in more traditional disciplines such as accountancy.
“A lot of students want to get into travel and tourism. It’s vital that the industry snaps them up.”
Separately, a lot of work has been done preparing the industry for a new regime governing how apprenticeship schemes are operated and paid for in the UK.
City & Guilds, industry skills organisation People 1st and the Guild of Travel Management are involved in a ‘trailblazer’ process that has agreed a set of professional standards with companies, which are awaiting final government approval.
Meanwhile, a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultation closed this month on an initiative that will require ‘large’ businesses – which could be defined by number of staff – to fund apprenticeships through a new levy.
Abta said it was worried the levy would exclude large firms that are less labour intensive.
Wolf said there was a concern that, with firms encouraged to recoup the levy by setting up apprenticeships, this could be to the detriment of existing internal training schemes.
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