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Airport apprenticeship scheme boosts retail workforce
Airport apprenticeship scheme boosts retail workforce
Karima SakhiManages the BAA Retail Academy at Heathrow, which seeks to recruit and train staff for retail and catering roles within the airport. After a successful career in the fields of training and recruitment, she is now enjoying her greatest challenge to date, taking responsibility for developing the careers of over 300 students every year. She previously worked for W.H. Smith Travel Retail. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Heathrow is the world’s busiest international airport with more than 48,000 m2 of retail space at its location in the UK. In July 2004, Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) established the Heathrow Retail Academy with the objective of providing a streamlined recruitment process for over 80 retailers within Heathrow Airport.
Retail has become an important element of the airport experience and travelers today expect to have the opportunity to shop for big name brands and to eat or drink in comfort. Ensuring staff are properly trained and equipped to do the job has become a top priority for retailers at the airport and they are always on the lookout for committed and enthusiastic people who can deliver great customer service.
The need to upskill
Over the years, HAL identified a real need to help retailers with staff recruitment at Heathrow Airport. Recruitment, retention and skills were key issues for companies at the airport, who collectively employ more than 5,000 staff. There was a strong desire at the time to upskill the workforce, so as to maximize customer service and operate more efficiently. Customer service stands at the heart of Heathrow’s operations and it is crucial that the workforce is equipped with the right skills to deliver the desired results. Research also showed that the most effective way of maximizing retail profit was to ensure that Heathrow’s retail units had the right staff with the right skills at the right time.
Beyond the issue of staff recruitment, Heathrow Airport needed to focus on staff development and retention by turning jobs into careers. The Retail Academy was developed as part of a wider project to change the perception of retail jobs within Heathrow Airport so as to become more vocational and career-oriented.
Adding to these challenges, the employment procedure at Heathrow Airport meant that the physical process was long and tedious. Candidates needed to provide a five-year reference history, among other checks, to apply for a job at Heathrow. These procedures meant recruitment and hiring was a lengthy process and discouraged potential candidates.
Putting the learning structures in place
The first initiative to help address these recruitment challenges began in July 2004, when HAL established the Heathrow Retail Academy and began working with recruitment agencies to source highly qualified candidates for retailers. In 2005, the Academy took this project a step further and launched the “Apprenticeships in Retail Operations” qualification, with the objective of meeting the needs of the employers. Apprenticeships were seen as a good way to ensure candidates gained strong academic qualifications and skills that were highly valued and in demand in the workforce.
A contract was secured with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), a non-departmental public body that exists to make England better skilled and more competitive, which worked with Heathrow’s retailers to recruit learners and oversee the quality of provision with its sub-contracted provider, VT Training. Working in partnership with VT Training ensured all learners within the Academy would be properly looked after and trained.
A total of 44 retail employers have apprentices on the program. Apprenticeships help on all fronts – they aid recruitment by making a career in airport retail more attractive, they improve retention rates as learners feel valued and optimistic about their career prospects, and they develop the skills that airport employers need. Like many companies, Heathrow has a long-established and highly effective apprenticeship program, but we also manage apprenticeships on behalf of other employers through our Retail Academy.
More recently, the Heathrow Airport Retail Academy launched an airport degree in Retail Operations and People Management. The degree, available to all workers in the airport, entails a combination of academic and work experience. Working in partnership with Thames Valley University, the pilot program started in April 2007 with eight people. Next April, the Academy plans to increase this number to 20 individuals.
A more enthusiastic workforce
Since the Academy was first launched in 2004, it has been reaping the benefits of its training program. The Academy currently has 95 apprentices on the program and is looking to increase this number in the coming years. The Academy has noticed significant improvement in the motivation, skills and ambition of its workforce, and success and completion rates have significantly increased. Giving apprentices world-class training and good career progression opportunities has meant that they tend to be full of energy and enthusiasm, which spills out into the rest of the workforce.
Setting up the Retail Academy also gave local people the opportunity to access retail work and helped many local residents – some from “hard to reach” areas – into employment. With the terminal five expansion to plan for, and an estimated extra 2,500 staff coming on board, Heathrow recognized a real need to improve the recruitment process and train management for the future if it wanted to remain competitive.
Improved success and turnover rates demonstrate the benefits of this program. In 2005/2006, the success rate in which 15 of HAL’s 21 leavers completed a full framework was 71 percent against a national average of 37 percent – today that success rate is at 76 percent achievement. This has greatly impacted on retailers who used to experience very low retention rates; in some case employers were facing staff turnover rates of 90 percent.
Expanding the apprenticeship reach
Introducing apprenticeships at Heathrow Airport has changed perceptions about opportunities within the retail sector at the airport. Young people now have an improved perception of the airport as a place where they can develop skills and pursue a career. Taking on apprenticeships has enhanced HAL’s reputation, demonstrating to stakeholders that HAL is committed to improving the skills and prospects of young people and investing in the future of its workforce.
This is a great success story as the retail industry is notorious for having a high turnover of staff and waging a constant battle to try to retain them. By enabling individuals to gain qualifications while earning a salary and improving their career prospects, the Retail Academy has proved able to attract and retain highly qualified individuals. Following the success of the Academy and an increasing demand from employers, the Academy has been broadening its program beyond the retail industry and offering recruitment solutions in other areas including customer service, business administration, distribution and warehouse and hospitality.
About the Heathrow Retail Academy
The Heathrow Retail Academy is based at Heathrow Airport in England. It helps people get retail and catering jobs at the airport and gain qualifications once they are employed. In 2005 it launched a retail apprenticeship scheme and in 2007 it launched the pilot for an airport degree in Retail Operations and People Management.