Hillgate Travel’s in-house training success story

With skilled and committed business travel consultants like gold dust, one travel management company found that creating its own training programme was the answer. Jackie David reports

Hillgate Travel: Charlotte Lowin, Nefise Kazim, Paul Coates (training manager), Caroline Franklin, Kaye Greenwood and Lara Croxford

Three years ago travel management company Hillgate Travel seized control of the problems caused by the shortage of business travel consultants by creating its own training programme.

With the graduation this month of its third intake, the company is in no doubt that the investment is paying off, said director of human resources Liz Carter. 

Before the inception of the course – now run from its own training facility near its main office in central London – the company used direct advertising and recruitment.

Fishing from an increasingly shrinking pool of suitable candidates was an expensive exercise which “drove costs sky high”, said Carter, and there wasn’t even the guarantee of long-term retention.

She said: “We were taking all the risks so we decided there must be a better way of planning for the future.

“Recruiting in this manner ensures we get committed people who are trained to our high standard, without paying expensive advertising or recruitment fees – it’s very cost effective.”

Another major plus is that the course allows the company to imbue trainees with its own corporate culture – one which Carter said is encapsulated by the statement: “We do not want to be the biggest, but we want to be the best”.

As a result, employees are able to offer a high standard of customer service and the sort of flexibility that enables them to adapt the needs of specific clients and accounts.

For anyone who shares that philosophy, Hillgate Travel’s next intake is scheduled for September this year and, with a starting salary during training of £14,000, there’s unlikely to be any shortage of applicants.

The trainee’s view

Caroline Franklin Caroline Franklin graduated from the Hillgate Training Course

The course was challenging – coming from a tour operator/ airline background [business travel agencies] was an alien part of the industry for me.

That said, every element is explained and we had the opportunity to discuss things from day one to ensure we understood everything. It has been an intense course and hard work and dedication was required from all of us.  

I enjoyed it from the very beginning. The knowledge I have gained over the last six months has far exceeded my expectations and I am now confident in my career. I have a great support network from the training department, my colleagues and my buddy, Gosia Szymborska. Everyone is only too happy to assist.

From the on-site visits with the airlines and hotels, to the support of the buddy and the great sense of belonging within Hillgate, I loved it all.

The mentor’s view

Daniel Simpson, Hillgate TravelDaniel Simpson was a buddy to student Kaye Greenwood

At first you are a little apprehensive about being asked to be a buddy – while technically proficient, we all do things in a different way and I was concerned I might inadvertently lead Kaye astray.

It certainly does wonders for your confidence, particularly as in a happy social working environment you learn to cope with the inevitable mickey-taking of your colleagues.

The biggest challenge during the buddy process is time management and keeping the balance between managing my workload and my duty to developing Kaye – I would get no thanks for training the best consultant ever if I was messing up half of my bookings in the process.

In the end I enjoyed the responsibility and felt almost paternally proud at the graduation ceremony.

Being a buddy gave me the opportunity to demonstrate some hidden skills of my own and this is an added incentive to get involved.

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