Tour operators

Guest Post: Be flexible for the future

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Guest Post: Be flexible for the future

Being more nimble can attract talent to the industry, says Wander director Ricky Wilkes

The travel brands that have seen the fastest and most sustained growth in recent years are those that have grown out of the tech sector, where nimbleness is a way of life and they’re not encumbered by a legacy of ‘it’s just how we do things here’. It’s time to consign that mantra to the bin. Recent events emphasise that this industry has to change to survive – and that starts with showing the people we hope to be working in it in the future that it is fit for their purpose.

I think one possible solution would be for it to fully, and wholeheartedly, embrace a different way of working.

A recent study by Timewise found that jobs advertised with flexible working options – especially in the higher salary bracket – have risen to 16% in the last 12 months, up from 5% in just 2016. By any measure, that’s a big jump, and a clear reflection of employers beginning to respond to a societal need.

Anyone who has spoken to me recently will know I’m a massive advocate of flexible working. Whether it is part time, job shares, compressed hours, or the much-misrepresented ‘WFH’ (working from home), I believe there is a huge opportunity for the travel industry to innovate and demonstrate leadership in this space. For a next generation entering the workforce, flexibility is not going to be a ‘nice to have’ – it’ll be an expectation.

Don’t get me wrong. I know flexible working already exists in our industry. I have friends who benefit from it, know of companies which offer it, and have placed Wander candidates who need it.

However, I still see it being treated as something only offered to senior staff who have ‘earned their stripes’, or to what are considered ‘low responsibility’ front-line positions.

Imagine how the travel industry could benefit by unlocking the potential of making flexible working a cultural norm – becoming a magnet for the fresh, dynamic talent joining the workforce in the next decade. For those workers, unstructured employment will simply be an expected extension of their digital nativism, and an approach to life which is plugged-in, de-centralised and more fluid than previous generations’.

With the right tools, the right processes and some trust, there’s no reason it can’t be something everyone can access.

I hear a lot of travel industry bosses bemoaning the difficulties they have in attracting talent. It’s an ongoing complaint. For me though, they need to think about what they’re doing to make themselves attractive to that talent. They need to stop seeking permission to change, or hoping someone else takes the risk. Who knows, might things have been different at some of the big travel brands that have failed recently had a more radical and innovative approach to how their people worked been taken? Instead of needing head office staff to be in striking distance of, say, Peterborough, could a commitment to remote working tools for all staff, and a change in culture, have been the difference?

We’ll never know. No-one disputes how hard people in this industry work. But maybe it’s time to look at the way we’re working to avoid similar failings in the future.

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