Thomas Cook on why apprenticeships are key to hiring digital marketers

Thomas Cook set up an apprenticeship scheme to deal with the challenge of finding digital marketers but has found other advantages for the company.

Hiring in the digital age is no easy thing according to Jamie Queen, marketing director at Thomas Cook, who says the company had to resort to offering marketing apprenticeships in September 2015 to keep up with the demands of a digital age.

“Recruiting great marketing people out of university and into graduate schemes was proving challenging to us. There aren’t many digital marketing specific degrees,” Queens tells Marketing Week.

“Regardless of who we brought in, they still needed training as digital marketers. We weren’t finding talent readily available. There is still a challenge of delivering skills for digital generally in the industry.”

The company also found that its headquarters in Peterborough was not attracting many graduates, who wanted to be based closer to big UK cities. That meant broadening the skills of younger people living close by through apprenticeships was vital.

Offering different career paths

The apprenticeships result in a Level 3 Diploma in digital marketing and are based on an academic framework that is inspected by Ofsted. Apprentices are brought in from as young as 16 and include those who either don’t want to go to university or see it as an option to consider alongside university.

“People are choosing different career paths and options and university isn’t everyone’s favourite choice. We need to reflect that and reflect our customers as much as possible. Some may be graduates, but some might not be,” Queen explains.

Apprentices are immersed in the company’s marketing department and are involved in the same meetings and briefings as the rest of the team. Participants are given a rota so they get to work on all angles of digital marketing, including social media, events and capturing and publishing content. They work as digital marketing assistants, digital content assistants and ecommerce assistants.

“They are another member of the team, not a separate group and are immersed in the scenes from day one,” Queen explains.

Regardless of who we brought in, they still needed training as digital marketers. We weren’t finding talent readily available.

Jamie Queen, Thomas Cook

The company also has apprenticeship schemes in other areas including retail, finance, IT and HR. Queen says this builds up an internal network of apprentices who all learn and engage with one another as part of the ‘Thomas Cook Alumni’ scheme.

Learning from apprentices

Thomas Cook has found the skillset apprentices gain through doing the scheme can actually be better than those coming in at graduate level.

“If I look at the graduate scheme we have, the skillset of someone who may have ‘digital marketing experience’ isn’t good enough on day one or even day 30 of joining the company,” Queens says.

He says the apprenticeship scheme is one of his greatest achievements in his three years with the company and that there is a lot current marketers can learn from apprentices, including an insight from a new generation, how to use social media and how to talk to different audiences differently. They have also helped middle managers in the team develop their own careers and leadership skills, acting as mentors to apprentices.

“We’ve gained a real energy within the team, they are full of enthusiasm and ready to learn. We want them to succeed and be the next leaders of the business” he explains.

Queen says apprentices have a great opportunity to network and enhance their careers by working with and being mentored by current industry experts.

“I would have loved to have spent time having lunch with me, as marketing director, or being mentored by someone higher,” he says.

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