3 of the most popular airline graduate schemes

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
October, 2018

Airline graduate schemes provide great variety and opportunity in a fast-paced environment. Perform well with one of these leading employers and your career could really take off

Thinking of airline jobs probably brings to mind pilots and cabin crew as these are both popular career choices, but these aren't your only options - there are a wide range of openings available for those with other skills and interests.

A quick glance at the assortment of British Airways (BA) careers on offer gives you an idea of this - with opportunities as diverse as logistics and leadership, finance, engineering and IT. It's a similar story across the sector and with all major airlines.

'It takes the work of many different people to profitably fly an aircraft across the globe, and this is where there is unrivalled variety, challenge and opportunity,' says Daniel Hill, BA's HR business partner.

'Despite being a place of constant change, much of the excitement and some of the glamour of the early days of aviation remain, which is why there are so many people who will spend their whole career in the industry.'

A dedicated airline graduate programme provides a structured route into your chosen aviation career, allowing you to sample a number of business functions while developing your knowledge and skills.

Which airlines run graduate schemes?

Three of the UK and Ireland's largest carriers - British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair - lead the way when it comes to jobs in airlines for graduates. Other operators, such as Virgin Atlantic, FlyBe and Jet2.com run their own training programmes, but not primarily directed at graduates.

The most popular airline graduate schemes are provided by:

  • British Airways - There are six programmes to select from on the British Airways Graduate Scheme, each lasting two or three years and starting in September. Whether you opt for the Commercial Performance and Analytics, Data Science and Analytics, Future Leaders, Commercial, Finance or Logistics stream, you'll be handed responsibility from the outset.
  • easyJet - For a minimum of two years, you'll join a business, operations or technology focused team if you make it onto the easyJet Graduate scheme. The four main strands available are: Talented Technology, Talented Leaders, Talented Operations (Engineering and Maintenance, Operations Control Centre, Ground Operations) and Talented Business (Customer Experience, Legal, Commercial, Finance, HR, and Strategy and Network). For most easyJet programmes, you'll get the opportunity to study for a professional qualification.
  • Ryanair - The two-year Ryanair Graduate Programme involves rotations across a number of different teams within a chosen department. Based at the airline's head office in Dublin, you can focus on one of the following business functions: Commercial, Inflight, Digital Experience, Finance, Flight Operations, Legal, and Sales and Marketing. To work in IT, there's also the 12-month Ryanair IT Labs Graduate Programme, plus an engineering stream for those looking to work in technical services.

For more general information on these types of programmes, see graduate schemes 2019.

What qualifications do I need?

Winning a place on one of these schemes isn't easy. A strong academic record is essential, and while entry requirements for different programmes may vary there are some attributes you'll require whichever route you choose.

According to Daniel these are curiosity, a willingness to learn and a commitment to deliver for customers. He adds interpersonal skills, relationship building and a high level of commercial acumen to the must-have list.

If you do decide to apply, be prepared for a process more competitive than passengers rushing to get the best seats on the plane.

At both BA and easyJet, for example, the first step is to complete an online application form. Next there are psychometric tests and often a telephone interview. If all goes well, you'll then be invited to an assessment day involving group exercises, presentations and face-to-face interviews.

Following the initial screening process, Ryanair invites selected candidates to take part in a recorded video interview.

Be aware that some airlines may not run formal graduate schemes, but it's still worth checking their recruitment websites for opportunities. Another alternative is to look at graduate programmes with airports such as Heathrow.

To become a commercial airline pilot, you'll need to achieve an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) and then work towards gaining the required experience. Pilot training is very expensive, with integrated courses leading to ATPL qualification typically costing between £80,000 and £90,000. See the airline pilot job profile for more information.

What do airline graduate schemes involve?

Jordi Pintre decided to stay at easyJet after spending two years on its graduate programme. He says, 'It was very exciting, working for one of the leading airlines in the European market and contributing to its continued success.'

Even if your application is successful, the hard work goes on. 'You should be ready for anything,' says Daniel. 'The aviation industry is highly complex and challenging, but this is what makes it an exciting place to be.

'Working on live projects with real impact, graduate placements could see you enjoying a variety of unexpected responsibilities and uniquely fascinating challenges.

'From deciding on new menus for our in-flight meals to developing sales in new markets or working on the technology behind our new in-flight entertainment system, the range of opportunities is impressive.'

There's the potential to build a long-term airline career, too - a fifth of BA's senior leadership team joined as graduates or apprentices.

'Some of our former graduates have gone on to roles generating millions of pounds of revenue, building new markets, maintaining our aircraft or even managing our graduate programmes,' Daniel says.

At easyJet, graduates can develop careers as business analysts, project managers, marketing executives, route managers and many others.

Why choose an airline career?

Jordi claims joining the easyJet graduate scheme was 'the perfect step into the industry' and gave him the opportunity to understand departments across the airline.

'The jobs you get to do during the scheme are real and you have the opportunity to make a difference.' He especially emphasises the diversity of experience.

'In less than two years I have planned catchy phrases for website banners within marketing, carried out new base assessments with commercial, worked to improve the operational robustness of our schedule and tried to enhance our pricing system.'

He adds, 'I developed hard skills, which will help me in my day-to-day job in the future, and also gained and improved soft skills such as project and time management, relationship building and presentation skills.'

Jordi believes the best qualities you can bring to the table are passion and motivation. 'Keep working for whatever your objective is, as perseverance is usually the key for many doors.'

Whether you have your heart set on becoming a member of an air cabin crew, managing the flight of aircraft on the ground as an air traffic controller, or joining one of the leading graduate schemes in your chosen business area, there are plenty of jobs for graduates to choose from.