Have you considered training staff via a government-funded apprenticeship? Abra Dunsby speaks to some of the companies and apprentices taking advantage of training for their insights
With the government currently offering funding for apprenticeships and training programmes, now is a good time for travel agencies to ensure staff have the skills they need in preparation for travel’s resurgence.
And with furloughed team members able to take training courses while they’re off work, not only is taking a training programme or apprenticeship a productive use of their time, it can help them feel valued by their employer too.
Ponders Travel in Cambridge is one agency that’s taken advantage of the government’s apprenticeship funding, with manager Millie Windeler currently taking Train2Travel’s Team Leader Level Three scheme while on part-time furlough.
Windeler explains: “Our director Clare sent the opportunity through when people were on furlough. I didn’t think we’d be able to afford it, but when we realised that in our area we wouldn’t have to pay anything at all, I thought, ‘now is the perfect time to take advantage of this’.”
The course has helped Windeler to increase her skills. “I was promoted to manager last July and it’s my first time doing anything team leader-related. I wanted to get more skills to improve my confidence with the role,” she says.
While it’s been a busy time at Ponders since the pandemic, Windeler has been able to fit the training in comfortably alongside her agency role.
“We’ve been so busy, but I haven’t felt stretched with training, which I can easily build around what I’m doing.
“My tutor Paula has been amazing. She’s aware of everything going on in the industry and knows the times of year when we get busier and quieter and will schedule stuff accordingly.”
The course is 13 months long, but training is flexible, with Windeler dedicating around three hours a month to an allocated task.
She says the course has been “invaluable”, helping her grow her self-esteem. “It’s made me feel more confident. Everyone’s had a mental knock in the past year and, when you’re having a tough day or week, it’s nice to be able to take an hour to focus on something that’s going to help you develop your career in future.”
Lisa Whiteoak, co-founder of apprenticeships and commercial training provider Training Station, currently has 12 travel professionals taking virtual training programmes.
She believes taking part in learning has been beneficial for those on furlough. “It’s a bit of ownership and keeps them interested and motivated. It’s something to do and allows them to upskill,” she says.
The company’s Travel Consultant Level Three programme has been amended due to the pandemic, with supplier sessions taking place online, catch-ups via Zoom and a new project introduced that asks participants what they’ll do in-store to boost customer confidence.
Jane Karatas, 46, manager at Baileys Travel in Leighton Buzzard, on upskilling while on furlough
“I’m taking a distance-learning, eight-week course on team leading through Milton Keynes College. I’m hoping it will enhance my CV and help me and my team in my role as manager. I’m on part-time furlough, working one day a week at Baileys, so I thought I’d use the time proactively, and as the course is free of charge [due to the government apprenticeship training course incentive] it seemed silly not to not take advantage of it.
I’m really enjoying the course so far – there’s lots to learn and it’s time consuming but really interesting. It’s great to learn new ways of doing things and that can be put into practice once teams are back at the office.
I’ve not done any formal education for years, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking but I think it’s good in many ways – for my confidence, keeping busy and for progression. There should never be an upper age limit on education.
I’ve got teenagers at home studying currently and they’re really inspired by the fact that education carries on, and that’s helped them with motivation too.”
Business travel agency Clarity is taking advantage of its apprenticeship levy fund to upskill staff, with 28 employees currently signed up to training courses to help them upskill in areas including finance, operations and management.
The company’s learning and development manager Neil Wainwright-Farrar knows the value of training, having started out as an apprentice himself with Lunn Poly and being named the North West’s Apprentice Champion of the Year in 2020 at the National Apprenticeship Awards for his commitment to staff training.
He says: “I started out in travel as a youth trainee and it got me to where I am today. Using our apprenticeship levy to help us grow the knowledge of existing staff members helps us draw skills out of them they didn’t know they had, and that helps Clarity become better too.”
While the word “apprentice” might make people think of school leavers, Wainwright-Farrar says training can benefit people of all ages.
“We tend to avoid using the word ‘apprenticeship’ within Clarity and instead talk about ‘training qualifications’, as there’s a misconception that apprenticeships are for school leavers, which isn’t true – they’re for everyone.”
Ponders’ Windeler, 22, also encourages other travel professionals to consider taking training. “It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been on the job, it’s always invaluable to get more qualifications under your belt, even if it’s just to prove to yourself that you’re capable of doing it.”
We hear from Michelle Van Sprang, director of Train2Travel
What are the advantages for travel agencies of training staff right now?
We’ve found that it has kept staff engaged, motivated and inspired. During such a negative time we feel delighted to be able to offer this support.
How many furloughed workers are taking your courses?
Around 50% of our learners are or have been on flexi-furlough. Many have said the third lockdown has been the hardest and one of the things keeping them going is the focus of the programmes they’re on.
What would you say to agencies worried about costs associated with training?
Our programmes are 95% government-funded – in some areas 100% (depending on local authority funds available) – so the cost is very minimal and can be spread out.
What courses are currently most popular?
Given the current climate and everyone having to maximise their online opportunities, we have found our new Junior Content Producer programme to have the most uptake. We also have many learners on our Team Leader and Travel Consultant programmes, which are popular with those wanting to further their careers.
What is the age range of those signed up?
We have learners aged 16 to 63 at the moment – it’s never too late to learn.