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Building Futures in Aviation: MAG's Apprenticeship Scheme Sets New Standards



Employer Branding, Talent Attraction

Finding new talent for hard to fill roles saw Manchester Airport Group create a new type of apprenticeship with a job at the end of it and a clear career path as part of its EVP...

Manchester Airport Group has grasped the nettle in its bid to attract new talent across its organisation with the launch of a free apprenticeship scheme that guarantees a job at the end of it.

The locally backed scheme also offers an optional leadership course to create a ready-made stream of management execs for the Group.

The travel sector took perhaps the biggest hit during the pandemic, coming to a sharp halt and then starting back up again in a similarly urgent fashion. People left and roles needed to be quickly filled.

“We got to a certain level in our organisation where we found that the uptake, the availability and the talent pipeline for our team leader roles was pretty scant and obviously in the current landscape, constantly externally recruiting isn't sustainable overall,” explains Smitesh Patel, Early Talent Manager at Manchester Airport Group.

“So, we decided to create a talent pipeline of our own. And it also rolls into a bigger picture for us of creating social value as well. Working and contributing to the communities that we operate in. So, it's very much like business and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in one.”

Attracting leadership talent

MAG (which also includes Stanstead and East Midlands airports) has partnered with the nearby Trafford College as its course partner and is aiming at a core group of 18–25-year-olds.

“They come in with limited experience, limited opportunities, probably or possibly from an underprivileged background, looking at what communities that we serve around us as well. And we provide them with the opportunity to take on this two-year apprenticeship programme that's probably comparable to some graduate programmes.

“The idea is you could come into this programme with very little aviation knowledge. For the first two years we will teach you everything there is to know about aviation operations, and you would then be given the chance to enroll in our internal team leadership programme, which is another 12 to 15 months and after that, you are pretty much capable of leading a team with the right EQ levels, and the right knowledge within the operation.”

Building an EVP

The Group built an employer brand strategy internally, based around five themed pillars, under the tagline “We are the Journey Makers”.

“From a corporate perspective, ‘We are the Journey Makers’ was built on the premise of connecting customers to the world. And that's the central pillar that everything else builds around.

“What we've got are five values - People at our Core; Growing Every Day; Safe Hands; Power of Teamwork, and a Sustainable Future for All.

“Each one has a strategic value. People at our Core is obviously designed for our customers and colleagues. Growing Every Day is designed for results and innovation. Safe Hands is about trustworthiness in a regulated environment. Power of Teamwork is working together with our partners. As an airport, Manchester Airport Group is obviously the infrastructure holder - we own the land that everything sits on - but ultimately, you've got airlines, grant handling agents, multiple partners at work.

“We see ourselves as a team having to come together from a customer's perspective. If it goes wrong, it’s Manchester Airport’s fault, but in terms of an operation, there's multiple partners with their own responsibilities coming together. So that's the working together element.

“And then the Sustainability. Obviously, from a ESG perspective, the airport's probably seen as a big contributor to carbon emissions, we’re conscious of that and in terms of trying to address it we've set ourselves an ambitious target of net zero by 2030, which is ahead of what we need to do.

“In terms of why we say ‘We are the Journey Makers’; it can be broken down into two phases. Our employer brand promise is the one team working together but everyone playing their part in that one team.

“But more importantly, the journey part is customer journeys, career journeys, enjoyable journeys, and that feeds into our five-year people strategy as well.”

Selling the role

The harder sell is the 24/7 nature of the role. Particularly to a younger talent audience concerned with how shift patterns and early starts will affect other aspects of their lives. It’s the ‘give’ in MAG’s powerful ‘give and get’ offering, which is providing a unique (and free) training and career opportunity.

“It is the first of its kind because as far as we've seen, no one offers an apprenticeship opportunity that's rotational. And because it is rotational, it gives you the opportunity to discover where you fit in, where you find yourself as an employee at MAG.

“The 24/7 nature of the role is the biggest give. We don’t shut down. It’s early starts and late finishes, and the airport is the busiest at 4am. You need to be here an hour before that most days. And likewise, the late finishes. That's probably the biggest 'give', I would say. You must be socially flexible.

“And then the other side is obviously the commitment. And it sounds like a cliche, but the commitment to our new value proposition. Understanding what's important to us as a company and giving that back as well. We want capable team leaders that care about people and communicate with our customers. You must be people led to that element.

“We can teach aviation; we can teach process and regulation. We can teach you how to line manage but what we can't do is give you the passion and the will to want to do more.”

The first round of marketing for the course has just finished, with more than 300 applications for the up to 25 slots available. And there are already plans to run the course at the Group’s other airports too.

“We did two weeks of local advertising, which was basically nothing digital, face to face interaction with our key audiences only. And then we went through a digital week. In total, it's going to be a six-week campaign closing on third of July. And at the minute were on more than 300 active candidates.”

Battling strong competition locally and nationally for the best talent, MAG has laid out a clear career pathway with multiple opportunities for training and advancement, career flexibility through the comprehensive nature of the course, with full disclosure of challenges of airport life.

“Ultimately, we're confident is that our passion for aviation will be the difference maker,” concludes Patel, “and will bring people here. Once you’re here it's a bit of a bug. Once you see the aeroplanes out of your office view every single day, you start to love the environment you work in.”

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