National Apprenticeship Week 2022, from 7th to 13th February, focuses on the theme ‘Build the Future’. Thriving aviation and aircraft engineering group 2Excel, like so many other aviation businesses, was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, but its apprenticeship programme, supported by Seetec Outsource, is helping it to invest in future success.

Interview with Louise Campbell, Group HR Director at 2Excel Aviation and 2Excel Engineering

Business is gradually returning to pre-lockdown levels at 2Excel after its order book halved at 2Excel Engineering at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and its charter flights division was also hard hit.

With many employees furloughed, and some engineers and ground operations staff moving to other industries, 2Excel saw an opportunity to turn to apprenticeships to help support its recovery.

Group HR Director Louise Campbell explained that apprenticeships are at the core of its talent strategy as the business now plans for growth. “On the engineering side, we have an ageing workforce, with many of our skilled engineers heading towards retirement,” she said.

“We risk losing that knowledge and experience, and as an industry there is a real struggle to recruit and fill aircraft engineering vacancies. What could be better than hiring apprentices, so those due to retire can share their expertise?

“Our people are exceptional so we know they will train them well and we will retain these key skills in the business. We will be in a position where apprentices are replacing those ready to retire.”

The national shortage of aviation engineering skills is compounded by skilled workers moving to other industries. A 2021 survey by JMC Recruitment Solutions highlighted that 38% of aircraft engineers, fitters and mechanics had moved outside the aviation industry due to a drop in demand caused by the pandemic, but also changes in the sector in response to Brexit.

Louise stressed: “With the challenges we face as an industry to recruit and retain individuals, apprenticeships are a really efficient way of growing your own talent. You get great loyalty back by investing time and effort into apprentices.”

2Excel’s first intake of four engineering apprentices in 2017 proves her point. All four have remained with the business since graduating from their programmes a year ago. 2Excel now plans an intake of six to eight apprentices every autumn, with permanent roles offered on completion.

Such has been the success of its engineering programmes that 2Excel decided to recruit an apprentice to its aviation operations team last year. The quality of applicants was so high that they recruited two.

Jordan Morris, 26, and Elissa Hennessy-Boyle,18, joined 2Excel Aviation at Doncaster, Sheffield Airport.

Director of Ground Operations, Simon Spurgeon, said: “Elissa and Jordan have made a great start to their apprenticeships, and we applaud the positive contributions they are making, not just to their teams, but to our business and to the aviation industry.”

Elissa said: “I really like the job because no two days are the same, I like the people I work with; they’ve been really supportive. I’m so glad I didn’t go to university, being in work and able to earn money suits me.”

More aviation operations apprentices are planned but, Louise highlighted: “It’s important to put apprentices in the right places with the right people to manage them. They need to be supported and mentored. We have to make sure the business is ready for them.”

The ground specialist apprenticeships are delivered by Seetec Outsource and 2Excel is enthusiastic about the flexibility Seetec offers. Louise said: “They are not as rigid as college-based apprenticeships and not dictated by the academic year.

“We’ve had good feedback from the management team and both Jordan and Elissa are really engaged with their learning.”

As apprenticeship levy payers, 2Excel is motivated to utilise its levy funds and benefit from apprenticeship funding opportunities. But, above all, the business recognises the importance of apprenticeships as part of its succession planning.

As part of 2Excel’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments, Louise explained that the apprenticeships also offer opportunities to increase the ethnic diversity of their workforce and attract more women into engineering careers.

Louise confirmed: “Apprenticeships are essential for our future growth; they are how we will fill our engineering skills gaps and we anticipate they will also form an important part of our talent strategy on the aviation side.”