Q&A: Martina Greeves, Head of Careers & Work Placement at West Thames College
Since 2019, Blue Cube Travel has been working closely with West Thames College, offering placements to students in reservations roles but also in marketing, finance and IT. Some have gone on to join the TMC on a permanent basis.
Blue Cube is now helping the college develop the curriculum further for a new suite of qualifications, T-Levels, which are government-back, career-focussed qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds.
T-Levels are equivalent to three A-Levels and are backed by hundreds of British businesses, which are helping to design the courses.
West Thames College and many other colleges around the UK are looking for input from business travel companies and organisations to ensure that business travel professions appear within the syllabus and that the courses meet the ever-changing demands of the industry.
As part of our Business Travel Ambassadors campaign, designed to help the industry attract future talent, we spoke with Martina Greeves, Head of Careers & Work Placement at West Thames College, about how employers can work with the education sector to ensure the right candidates are being developed for the industry’s immediate and long-term recruitment needs.
Can you please tell us more about T-Levels and how business travel companies can assist?
Businesses can help in two ways. Firstly, we are looking for their input in devising the courses. The point of these vocational courses is that they prepare students for their chosen careers, so the structure of the course has to be fit-for-purpose and signed off by industry. We as colleges might think we’re producing potential candidates with the right skills and experience, but industry might completely disagree with us. It’s a case of future proofing what we’re doing.
We have created employer advisory boards where local businesses work with the college management team to develop the curriculum, to make sure we are creating the right skills, experiences and scenarios for that particular industry. If a business travel employer contacted a college to offer their help in creating a curriculum, I think the college would bite their hand off!
Secondly, students on T-Level courses will need to do an industry placement as part of the course and we are seeking employers who can offer these placements. Unlike traditional apprenticeships, which are 80% workplace and 20% learning, T-Levels are 20% workplace and 80% learning. This means students will spend 45-50 days of a year in a work placement, which can be one or two days a week over a set period of time, allowing the student to really become a valuable member of a team. Shorter-term work experience placements are also valuable to students to get a hands-on insight to an industry.
For companies looking to help with devising courses, what level of commitment is required?
Employers can give as much or as little time as they want to. Even if they can only offer one day each term, this would be welcomed. It’s all about having that initial conversation. Each college will have a catalogue of different ways in which businesses can work with them. It might be coming in to talk to the college about how their business works, what skills they are looking for or they can join advisory boards to help develop the course curriculum.
If a company is interested in offering a placement, what’s the process?
Firstly, a company needs to decide what opportunity they are offering and what type of person they are looking for, so that the college can help source the right kind of student. We’ll be looking at the personalities, qualities, attitudes and behaviours to make sure it’s the right fit. We then need to do a risk assessment for having a young person on their premises, and ask the business to do a quick health and safety questionnaire. It’s all quite straightforward.
The business can either ask the college to select a student or we can do a pre-screening and offer a number of shortlisted students for interview. Once the student has been chosen, there will be a three-way meeting between the employer, the college and the student to agree the targets, working days/hours, roles and responsibilities, the induction process and how the communication is going to work between the three parties. Once the placement starts, there is a regular check-in to keep good lines of communication going.
Is there a financial commitment required?
No, there’s no requirement for an employer to help financially, although some businesses have offered to contribute to a student’s travel costs. But otherwise we help our students with travel and sustenance.
What is the benefit for the employer?
Essentially, they’ll get an extra pair of hands and potentially a new member of the team if they decide to take on that student at the end of the placement, although these is absolutely no obligation to do that. Some companies will also assign a mentor to supervise the student during the placement, so this can also provide professional development for this person too.
Do placement opportunities only exist in partnership with colleges offering dedicated travel and tourism courses?
No, there are other courses where students are learning skills that would be relevant for business travel companies, such as general business courses, finance, IT or media. It doesn’t need to be confined to students specifically studying travel and tourism.
Do the placements need to be in an office or can they be done remotely?
At present, the Department of Education stipulates that these placements must be on site but there is a lot of pressure on the department to change these rules, especially as more of our students will eventually be going into positions that are home-based or a hybrid of remote and on site. It’s important to give these students that remote experience so they can develop the work ethic.
How else can business travel companies get involved with their local colleges?
There are so many ways. We would welcome people to come in and speak to our students about the business travel industry, what the career opportunities are, what different roles there are, perhaps describing a typical day, or even run a workshop where they have to tackle a particular task.
They can come along to careers fair or they might want to make a YouTube video, showing students what they can expect and hopefully enticing them into the sector. We find it works well when we get students to sit down and watch 10-minute shorts, perhaps a day-in-the-life of a CEO? We’ve also had companies who have set our students a challenge, perhaps getting our marketing students to come up with ideas for a rebrand or launch and then present these ideas back.
What’s your advice for our industry, which is struggling to attract new talent, particularly younger people?
Social media is key – Instagram, TikTok, YouTube – anything that’s short, punchy and video based works well. And podcasts are effective too. These can all be used to get their interest and then have links where students can find further information. Of course, it’s important to reach the parents too, who have a big influence on their child’s career choices. Colleges can help you communicate with the parents, through parents evenings, parent portals, newsletters, or through the advisory boards.
Business travel hasn’t got a high profile as a career choice, even within travel and tourism, but by working in collaboration with the industry we are looking to change that.