Wings Global Travel Launches its Academy for Unemployed Young People

5th Feb, 2024

© Young Wings employees in South Africa who have successfully completed the Travel Risk Management Academy training. The team members received their certificates at a celebratory event at Wings' Sandton office, sponsored by Faircity Hotel Group.

More than a third of South Africa’s population is unemployed, but that figure rises to over 60% for younger working-age people up to the age of 24. The Wings Global Travel Academy programme will select candidates who completed their secondary education with the Thandulwazi Trust but were unable to secure a university place. We spoke to Kevin Lomax, Managing Director of Wings, to find out how the industry can play a pivotal role in driving careers for young South Africans, and this perspective on corporations as active training centres and talent factories.

On our recurring visits to Meetings Africa, we couldn’t help but notice the large number of young people who make up the majority of the workforce in the South African business events sector, from catering and logistics to secretarial work and project management. In a country where more than half of the population is under the age of 30 and where almost two-thirds of these young people of working-age are unemployed, Wings Global Travel® has launched an initiative to reconnect young people in South Africa with this industry and offer them prospects for the future. Helping to reintroduce a stuck generation into the workforce, the Wings Global Travel Academy is for those who have missed out on tertiary education opportunities, unlike other learning schemes typically aimed at university students. The Academy aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to work in corporate travel.

Founded in 1992, global travel management company Wings owns and manages comprehensive operations across 16 international hubs, cutting-edge technology and unmatched service standards. Globally, the company employs more than 450 people, generating annual sales of more than £420 million. “The travel and tourism sector is capable of absorbing people with low skill levels and, through structured programmes, increasing them quickly. We currently have a skills shortage in the travel sector. Many people have left due to lockdowns, and those who found work in other sectors do not return. Therefore, the opportunity is to identify people with the right attitude and prepare them for formal employment,” Kevin Lomax, tells us.

Wings has partnered with the Thandulwazi Trust to create 25 learnerships for students on a ten-week course between September and October. “We chose to partner with Thandulwazi because we believe in the work they do when it comes to the Saturday School Initiative offering extra classes to achieve better results.” By working with Thandulwazi, Wings gained access to a pool of enrollees who had achieved grade 12 (17-18 years old), but who had not had the opportunity to enter formal employment or tertiary education. Identifying students who voluntarily attended extra classes also said something about their desires and mindsets to improve and achieve. Furthermore, Wings advocates that South African companies should participate in corporate social responsibility schemes as part of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) legislation that aims to improve the life opportunities of designated groups. “Inevitably, many companies approach BBBEE purely from a compliance perspective and do the minimum, but corporate social responsibility has to be more than a tick-box exercise. Unless we engage fully with the challenge, we not only risk prolonging social injustice but harming the economic prospects of the country. People desperately need work, and businesses need to play a more active part in building the talent pipeline,” says Lomax.

According to several studies, one of the main causes of youth unemployment in South Africa is the mismatch between what employers demand and what young people – determined by technical under-quali cation in relation to employers’ expectations – lack. However, today, we also know that the main factor for career success is improving interpersonal skills, including problem-solving, networking and leadefiship – in other words, “soft skills”. “When we met as a team to decide where we wanted to focus our efforts on comprehensive support and improvement, we concluded that the intervention needed to satisfy two requirements: meet a need at Wings that was identified as a skills shortage; and make a difference in the face of country’s challenges from the perspective of youth unemployment.” Although many tutors and institutions run apprenticeship programmes, they generally appeal to a student base that already attends formal education. “We then decided to focus on unemployed youth by choosing to partner with Future Fit so that in addition to travel skills, learners could also acquire other critical skills to succeed in the workplace. Things like dealing with ambiguity and increasing connectedness with stakeholders,” adds Lomax.

The Wings Global Travel Academy course was developed with Dr. Eric Albertini of Future Fit Academy, focusing on 15 essential skills. Graduates will earn certificates for use in further education and employment applications delivered by the Wings and Future Fit staffs. The company will create job placements for eight graduates from the course in administration, consulting and sales support roles, and hopes to help the rest find work elsewhere in its supply network. “Whilst there are many good travel diplomas and courses offered by higher education institutions, I am not convinced that this is necessary to start a career in travel,” he argued. “With the right training and attitude, we can absorb people and train them to be very productive, very quickly. Education is a lifelong learning process, and we will look to partner with formal education institutions for learners’ ongoing education.” All travel management companies are seeing a rapid increase in demand for services, which means there is demand for talent even though many qualified people have left the industry. “The biggest challenges are finding the right resources that fit our culture and ideals, while competitors are also on a growth path. Wings is an employer of choice, so we are able to capture and retain talent,” concludes Kevin Lomax.

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