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NCFE and Swissport partner to develop new aviation qualifications

NCFE and Swissport have worked together to ensure the quality of aviation qualifications meets industry requirements, and these fit-for-purpose qualifications are now ready for colleges to deliver to learners aged 16 and above.

Swissport, the world’s largest provider of ground and cargo handling services in the aviation industry, operates in 27 airports, employing 10,000 staff and a global workforce of over 61,000. The UK business is particularly seasonal, which presents challenges in terms of recruitment for entry level roles.

Swissport had informally worked with colleges for a number of years, and in 2015 created a ‘Swissport Academy’ concept to create a more formal offering and partnership opportunity. The idea was for the Swissport Academy package to offer a limited number of FE colleges a combination of airport visits, careers advice, guaranteed interviews, tutor CPD and industry experts to help shape content.

The Swissport Academy attracted 16 colleges to sign up and, following a development workshop, college leaders expressed the desire to create a bespoke Swissport qualification to complete the offer.  Swissport then began working with NCFE to develop fit-for-purpose qualifications that the colleges could deliver.

There is an ongoing need in the aviation industry for a high level of recruitment, especially seasonal recruitment. While there were a number of aviation-based qualifications already in existence, they were not bespoke, credible or up-to-date enough. Therefore, applicants for jobs at Swissport who had this type of qualification on their CV were not meeting the skills required for roles within Swissport.  It was also identified that there were valuable elements of the Swissport induction that could and should be incorporated into the training delivered in the academies, but the existing qualifications didn’t allow this.

Therefore, Swissport saw an opportunity to introduce a qualification that learners aged 16+ interested in aviation could undertake. This would better align with the role they could progress into, enable learners to gain real, behind the scenes experience, and create a pathway for a seamless transfer from education to employment.

The outcome for Swissport as a business would be the reduced need for employee training, therefore making a time and financial saving. The new qualification would be recognised as meeting the standards of normal training, so Swissport could be confident that employees coming into the business had the appropriate knowledge for their role. It would also serve to increase the candidate pool and grow talent.

The colleges given Swissport Academy status would also benefit, as the partnership guaranteed interviews for their learners and would give exclusive access to airport visits and careers advice – a real USP in the sector. Learners would be able to progress straight from college into the workplace, in a role that was aligned with their skills, knowledge and experience, so the Swissport Academy partnership would genuinely benefit all parties involved.

Swissport conducted an internal recruitment survey in early 2015, which confirmed that airports wanted to work with neighbouring colleges and viewed colleges as a valuable source of talent to bring into the industry.

A workshop then took place, bringing together Swissport, NCFE and the colleges. This marked the first time that aviation tutors from such a variety of colleges were all in one room discussing their shared qualification needs, and this facilitated valuable conversations around the co-creation of a specific Swissport qualification. The colleges were in agreement that offering this bespoke qualification would mean their learners were better informed, up-to-date on what was going on in the industry and could enter the industry having had real, behind the scenes experience.

This was followed by colleges attending a scoping day, which allowed NCFE to discuss ideas with those who would be delivering the qualifications and gain a better insight into the required level and content of the proposed qualifications.

There were further development days, webinars and conference calls between Swissport, NCFE and colleges. These were vital stages in the process and helped to ensure that the qualifications developed were of high quality and what was needed for both Swissport as an employer and the learners.

All of this research resulted in the following qualifications being developed by NCFE, which began to be delivered in September 2016:

  • NCFE Level 2 Award in Aviation
  • NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Aviation
  • NCFE Level 2 Diploma in Aviation

This project was truly innovative – it is the first time that an aviation academy of this scale exists, and it has also provided colleges with their first opportunity to collaborate and work towards a common goal of being able to deliver an aviation qualification that is fully employer-led and endorsed.

What makes the design of the Swissport Academy package offered so exceptional is the close working relationship between Swissport as the employer and the colleges. They will be able to provide their learners with access to real working environment scenarios – standard airport visits as part of other qualifications do not give learners sight or experience of the ground handling area of the business, and Swissport believes this is essential for those wanting to work in these types of roles. Learners can choose between three full day visits or six half day visits, and this variety and flexibility sets the Swissport Academy partnership apart.

The qualifications developed by NCFE and Swissport have been specially designed to allow learners to progress to employment in the aviation industry and to allow them to explore different aspects of the aviation industry before specialising. The qualifications support study programme flexibilities which allow learners to transfer between qualification sizes to support retention, success and achievement. These are supported by bespoke NCFE learning resources.

Kirstie Brooks, Head of Training Services at Swissport, commented: We are delighted that these new qualifications are now live and already being delivered. As a result of the co-creation and development work we carried out with NCFE, we now know that if an applicant has studied one of these co-branded qualifications delivered by one of our Academies, that person will have the knowledge needed for the role and will stand out as a potential Swissport employee. This will be extremely valuable to us and is great news for the aviation sector.”

Christine Paxton, Head of Product Development at NCFE, said: “We enjoyed working closely with Swissport – a major global business – as well as colleges to develop these qualifications that benefit the employer, learner and the sector. 

“We’re encouraging our customers to utilise this approach to qualification development, whereby the qualification is led by an employer, as it supports their aims of supporting learners to progress into employment. We recently launched the ACORN online community, which is open to a wider network of employers and stakeholders to actively encourage employers to share their qualification ideas. We’re happy to speak to any employers who would like to find out more.”