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Comment: Don’t be afraid to look outside the sector for talent

TProfile’s Bhav Taylor says travel firms need to get smart if they are to recruit the best staff

In June 2020, like so many people in travel, I reluctantly left the industry due to the pandemic. I was fortunate to secure a role with Yomdel, a customer experience business that specialised in Live Chat solutions.

They recognised that I had transferable skills that would benefit them along with bringing a fresh approach to their business as they wanted someone to expand their sales strategy and move into travel. The role also enabled me to learn about a new sector and how they delivered from a CX (customer experience) and UX (user experience) perspective.

Transferable skills

Our main customer base was the home moving sector, estate agents, removals, and self-storage. Whilst travel was seeing a complete downturn in business, this sector was busier than ever due to the stamp duty incentives. As a result, many estate agents targeted travel agents as they recognised they had transferable skills. Perhaps now is the time to incentive these people to move back into travel!

For me, returning to the industry was still very much on my agenda but it had to be for the right role and package. Keeping in touch with my network and ‘putting the word out’ helped. I declined a couple of opportunities that weren’t right for me. Last September I was approached by TProfile. They had been extremely busy during the pandemic as businesses were taking the opportunity to review their technology and were investing resource (time/money) in improving their processes and customer experience.

So why did I join a tech business, having worked for tour operators, cruise lines and digital media?  I wanted to add another string to my bow. TProfile was looking for someone to drive their sales strategy who didn’t need a vast technical background – we have a clever team of developers but no one that really knew the trade. For TProfile it was about someone joining their team that had the right mindset and ability to drive their sales commercial strategy.

Education & training

As someone who is passionate about succession and planning, I was delighted to be invited to join the ITT Education and Training committee in 2021. This committee is chaired by Claire Steiner and vice-chairs Danny Waine and Paul Cowley and is made up of a number of volunteers from the leisure, travel, and education sector. Building on its work to support and nurture talent in our industry the recently launched Future You Foundation has been developed to inspire new industry talent and act as a central point of information on careers. Businesses and individuals can invest in this new initiative which will undoubtedly help us to attract new talent.

Our industry is facing challenges with staffing shortages, following 62 million tourism related jobs being lost in 2020/21 because of the pandemic. Last week I joined Gail Kenny, from Best Places to Work, and Kristina Seed,  from the Northern Training Academy, to discuss what the industry could do differently to stand out and attract talent. The session was moderated by Lee Ainsworth, ITT Future You Ambassador and Head of Advantage Holidays.

Reaching new talent

It’s evident that we are in a saturated market, and we need to look outside our industry. Some businesses are doing this incredibly well. For example, Miles Morgan Travel has expanded with new shops, taking on non-travel-experienced staff along with a full-time training manager. A notable example of investing in his existing and future workforce.

Alistair Rowland and his team at Blue Bay Travel have also been targeting non-travel people. In their latest campaign, 100 people applied for 20 roles across CX, Live Chat, sales and admin. People were applying for the roles for a variety of benefits that Blue Bay was offering – including robust training investment, flexibility, improved terms and staff benefits.

For the first time ever its management team don’t have to be office based, its contact centre late shift  no longer has to be in the office. By making subtle changes, they have immediately widened the talent pool that they have access to and are making Blue Bay Travel an attractive local employer. This has resulted in bringing in fresh ideas to the business which can only be a good thing. It’s not just about the salary, many candidates are looking for culture, staff investment, health and wellbeing.

Is the travel industry cool?

The travel industry can be perceived as not being a “cool industry” to work in. Speaking to Gen Z friends and family members, there is a lack of understanding of the scope of roles and we have a responsibility to showcase the wide variety of roles within the industry. Like all industries we have a need for marketeers, lawyers, finance, developers, sales and data scientists along with all the roles that people relate to our industry such as travel agents, overseas reps, cabin crew and airport staff.

At ITT Future You we work with a number of universities and engage with students. These are individuals who have chosen travel as a career path. I firmly believe we need to be engaging much earlier in the careers journey, at school leaver ages. But it’s not just about targeting people that may want to work in travel – we need to showcase our industry to all students, so they see the “size of the opportunity” with the variety of roles that are available.

In addition, getting parents to understand that this is a viable industry with lots of career opportunities should form part of the plan. This is why the Future You partnership with the Global Travel and Tourism Partnership is so important.  The GTTP has been working in schools, globally, for over 30 years informing young people about the range of careers and training teachers to understand the opportunities within the travel and tourism sector. (www.gttp.org)

Think about the talent within our sector, we have people running businesses that started out as a travel agent, call centre agent or an overseas rep! Sharing the ‘size of the prize’ is critical if we are to attract new talent. In our industry there are no fixed rules, if you have the ability to rise through the ranks the opportunities are there.

Hybrid working

But it’s not just Gen Z that want flexibility. To attract the top level of talent to any sector we need to wrap and promote these roles using five key drivers. The opportunities need to be:

  • Employee experience
  • Customer experience
  • Culture
  • Flexibility
  • Rewarding

As we look to attract people back into the industry and entice new talent, it is critical that we look outside the norm if we are to widen the talent pool.

As an industry there is a need for more collaboration to get these key messages out. After the last two years, people have re-evaluated their lives, they are looking at businesses that meet their requirements, not just from a financial package perspective but from a wellbeing and cultural perspective too. Remember the next time you put out a job advert to make it relevant to the wider talent pool, your candidate could be interviewing you as well!

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