Flybe's vocational overhaul takes off
Airline Flybe may be a minnow compared to the likes of British Airways but, from its West Country base, it is single-handedly rewriting the education and training manual for the industry.
Currently housed in a sprawling collection of hangars, buildings and prefabricated huts at Exeter Airport, the Flybe training HQ is not much to look at. Indeed, the airline's director of training, Simon Witts, says that when the educational establishment visit they tend to ask, somewhat incredulously: "Is this your training centre?" But if ever there was a case for not judging a book by its cover, Flybe is it.
Already an accredited vocational awarding body, Flybe delivers the only industry-recognised vocational qualification for cabin crew. This is on top of the training it does for aircraft engineers - it recently launched a new aircraft engineering apprenticeship - pilots and managers.
And the company will soon shed its "ugly duckling" image and move its training into a 24 million, purpose-built facility on site. This is due for completion by the end of the year and will house modern teaching facilities, including flight simulators. It will be used as a training centre for the whole of the aircraft industry, with a new on-site hotel providing accommodation for trainees during their course.
For Flybe one of the big issues is the lack of formal qualifications recognising skills in the industry.
"We were running 300 different courses at Flybe, none of which was vocationally recognised, and this was the same across the airline industry," Mr Witts says. "For instance, people would learn how to be cabin crew with one airline and then have to train all over again if they moved to a different carrier.
"So we listed all 300 courses and tried to match them to existing vocational qualifications. For instance, for cabin crew there was an NVQ that had been sitting on the shelf for about five years, so we adapted this and became the first airline to run it, working with Exeter College."
Flybe's partnership with Exeter has also helped define a new approach to employer-provider relationships.
"We said to Exeter we will take the academic machinery to accredit the qualification, working with City amp; Guilds, but we want our people to deliver it," says Mr Witts. "It was not about trying to improve the way we trained but about getting a transferable vocational qualification."
College staff are present at Flybe but are so well integrated into the organisation that they are described as "almost invisible".
The airline is also working with the college and the University of Exeter to develop foundation degrees to accredit the management skills of its more senior staff. This is done on-site with managers taking management classes while being accredited for the work the actually do rather than on theoretical exercises.
"We think that is one way to address the issue of employers investing in training," Mr Witts says. "We bring the accreditation machinery into the workplace."
The company also has a different approach to apprenticeships. These four- year qualifications are delivered as a full-time education programme so the trainees are not employed by Flybe and are not, therefore, recognised as apprentices by the Government. But this matters little to the teenagers who sign up knowing that they are guaranteed a 30,000-a-year job if they pass the course.