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Shining stars: how apprentices are good for business

With National Apprenticeship Week fast approaching on March 6, Charlotte Cullinan asks three agencies how apprentices work successfully in their businesses.


Bursting with bright ideas, initiative and the gift of the gab, meet the apprentices giving travel agencies a boost

Destination, Silsden

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) the team at independent agency Destination will be championing their new apprentice, Nicole Etherington, across the agency’s social media platforms.

It’s an apt way to introduce 18-year old Etherington to clients, as since starting in December she has already had an impact on the Yorkshire-based agency’s online presence.

Etherington impressed Destination’s team after being tasked with creating a poster and images for the agency’s holiday show in February, which was used on Twitter, Facebook, e-shots and leaflets.


Director Shevaun Joy explains: “She’s very creative at making posters on Microsoft Publisher. She’s also shown us several things we didn’t know how to do on social media.”

Initially she created window offers and did filing, progressing quickly to taking enquiries and shadowing the team. Joy sets regular targets, and hopes Etherington will be making bookings later this month.

Having completed a 13-week introductory period, Etherington has now been taken on for 12 months. “This isn’t just a stop-gap for a year, we hope she will stay with us permanently,” Joy adds.

Training is a key part of an apprenticeship, and Etherington spends six hours a week on e-learning and has regular visits from a tutor, which will result in a Customer Service NVQ Level 2.

Joy opted for an apprentice as a cost-effective solution as the agency’s team became busier. Apprentices are paid at least the minimum wage, and as a small business Destination was eligible for a £1,500 government grant. “That’s a real help,” Joy adds.

The agency used Key Training – the National Apprenticeship Provider recommended by the Advantage Travel Partnership – to organise recruitment and draw up a contract.

Prior to joining Destination, Etherington had completed a Travel and Tourism NVQ Level 2, but Joy explains: “We weren’t looking for someone with straight A grades, but someone with the right personality who was outgoing and not afraid to talk to clients, and who showed initiative. Apprentices are good value for employers, and have skills we can utilise.”

Hays Travel, Darlington Centre

Hays Travel employs around 130 apprentices across its retail network each year, with an additional 30 in its Sunderland head office.

Apprentices Ellie Barton and Dannielle Mason are both based in the TTG Top 50-shortlisted, Darlington Centre branch, and manager Nicola Metcalfe says they are a huge asset to the store: “They are both absolutely amazing and get involved in everything.”

The branch’s team assist with training, with each apprentice assigned a mentor, and Metcalfe sets them daily targets too. “I might ask Dannielle to mention cruise to five customers that day, or for Ellie to get three bookings from our Facebook page. You have to put the work in with an apprentice, and I really enjoy seeing how they come on,” she says.

Hays’ in-house team of assessors also runs training, with classroom-based sessions, ship visits and educationals. After two years the apprentices achieve an NVQ level 2 and 3 in Travel Services.

The support is paying dividends for the Darlington Centre duo, who have both won awards within Hays for their sales performance.

Metcalfe herself joined Hays as an apprentice aged 16 in 2003 and says: “It’s definitely helped my career, as I got to learn the trade of travel, but also learnt about Hays Travel, which helped with promotions.”

Apprenticeship delivery manager Carole Hodgson also started as an apprentice with Hays 29 years ago, and explains that while the business launched its Apprenticeship Programme in 2010, it has employed apprentices since 1980: “We have a huge amount of employees who started as apprentices, including more than half of our head office senior managers and senior branch managers.

We employ apprentices as permanent members of staff from day one and we want them to stay.”

To promote its programme during NAW, current and former apprentices are attending an event in Newcastle to highlight the benefits of the scheme. Branches are also inviting local school pupils and their parents to find out more from current apprentices.

Thomas Cook, Dundee City Square

For Thomas Cook Dundee City Square manager John Stewart, the key to a successful apprenticeship is preparation: “From day one there has to be the structure and support in place. You have to plan resourcing around the new apprentice, as it’s absolutely critical for their retention and progression.”

Upon starting the two-year scheme apprentices complete a Thomas Cook induction, and are then allocated a buddy in-store by Stewart. They shadow their buddy to learn day-to-day tasks and are gradually encouraged to take the lead.

“During the first few weeks they are learning the skills and technology, which gives them confidence, rather than throwing them in at the deep end. It’s all about planning, even down to ensuring the buddy and apprentice have the same lunch break and days off.”

Apprentices are also assigned a mentor who assists with their e-learning training, which is run in-house by Thomas Cook.

“If everything is properly organised then the demands shouldn’t be on the manager. Being a mentor is ideal for a sales consultant to help in a developmental role,” Stewart adds.
On each apprentice’s first day Stewart gives them a date by which he hopes they will be serving customers on their own.

“It depends on the individual, but ideally it would be within six weeks. I tell them if they really embrace the support and training then they will absolutely be ready.”

Having started in the travel industry on an apprenticeship, Stewart is an enthusiastic advocate of the scheme. The majority of Thomas Cook stores take one apprentice a year while Stewart tends to take two. He currently employs 17-year-old Hannah Cowan, who will qualify with an NVQ level 2 and 3 in Travel Services.

He adds: “Apprentices give an injection of new skills to the team, as they are very IT-confident, and their time management and structure is fantastic from school. Hannah has a very flexible and modern approach, and a can-do, solution-focused attitude.”

Ready for the levy?

From April 6 the government is introducing a new apprenticeship levy. This requires employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million to invest in apprenticeships, and ultimately contribute to achieving eight million more apprentices by 2020.

Once a company has declared the levy to HMRC it will be able to access funding via a new apprenticeship service account. Registration for companies large enough to pay the levy is open now while smaller businesses won’t be required to register until 2018.

David Way CBE is the editor of A Race to the Top: Achieving Three Million More Apprenticeships by 2020, former chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service and visiting professor at the University of Winchester. He says employers should prepare themselves by trying out the levy systems.

“Systems are now available for employers to register and try out the mechanisms by which the levy will operate. These support the recruitment and training of apprentices and enable the operation of the digital account that tracks levy spending and payment for training.

“Try these out as you will need to operate the digital account confidently to minimise bureaucracy and to focus on the more important work of implementing your own recruitment and training strategies.”

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