Agile, strategic training is important, says Sandra Kelly, UK director of People 1st International

In recent weeks I have had a number of conversations with travel firms who sit on our Travel Skills & Quality Board regarding staff training and development. Their feedback offers a valuable insight into how training has been used constructively in this period, the issues they have had to address as well as the skills required to help businesses thrive in a post-Covid landscape.

Some companies have used training to their strategic advantage in this period. Hays Travel made it a priority that staff fully understood the refund process and were equipped to process cancellations and refunds quickly so that they could maintain customer confidence. But they also refreshed their sales training material to include “save the sale” and “overcoming objections” and shared best practice from branches where sales retention was highest.

A key concern for travel management company Blue Cube has been to ensure staff are fully briefed on the complex array of travel protocols, including hotel and airline requirements, ground transportation options and how to best prepare clients for trips.

Employee wellbeing

It’s encouraging to see all the employers we spoke to understand the importance of employee wellbeing and are incorporating mental health and emotional support into their staff training. For example, Blue Cube is offering staff a place on a virtual mental health workshop and Hays has adapted its ‘confidence and effectiveness’ and ‘emotional resilience’ training sessions so they can be delivered remotely.

Travel companies are also investing in ensuring their managers are better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead. Critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving skills are a key focus. This echoes our recent research report Covid-19: The impact on skills in hospitality, retail, travel and aviation,  where more than three-quarters of respondents said business leaders and managers will play an important role in boosting the motivation, morale and productivity of their teams.

The use of online learning has rocketed in the lockdown period and it’s clear virtual training and development is here to stay. All the employers we spoke to have used video conferencing and online sessions to communicate and stay positively engaged with staff as well as offering training and development during the down time. At Clyde Travel Management, staff received IT training to help ensure there were no roadblocks to their learning.

Future-proofing training

Delivering the right training and development to future-proof businesses is now a priority.  Shorter training and assessment courses, which can guarantee vocational competence or regulatory compliance in order to meet changing guidelines post Covid-19 are in demand. The focus is on upskilling staff with a particular emphasis on skills required to meet the changing demands and expectations of customers. Moving forward, agents will also need to be comfortable with new technologies such as virtual reality. And, as travellers become increasingly concerned about environmental and sustainability issues, this will become another key area for training in the post-pandemic ‘reset’.

Training and development has always been part of a strong employer brand, and this will not only continue, it will increase in importance. Clyde Travel Management told us the job seekers they have spoken to in this period are placing a higher value on the culture and values of the organisation than they did in the past. What is clear is that how travel firms have behaved and treated their staff through the crisis has been critical, and just because redundancies are likely does not mean that employees won’t vote with their feet if they feel they were not supported during this period.