Airline jobs probably bring to mind pilots and cabin crew, but these aren't your only options. There are a range of opportunities available for those with other skills and interests. Discover how to enter this fast-moving industry with an airline graduate scheme

A look at the assortment of British Airways (BA) careers gives you an idea of the scope of the airline industry, with opportunities as diverse as logistics and leadership, finance, engineering and IT. It's a similar story at Virgin Atlantic, where you can get involved in customer services, head office, leadership, engineering and operations and cargo functions. All major airlines offer a variety of roles.

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.

Why choose an airline career?

The aviation sector is constantly evolving with the advancement of technology and improvements to current systems, meaning employers are on the lookout for passionate, talented graduates.

Embarking on an airline career you'll meet a variety of people across the business and have plenty of opportunity to develop your role. The opportunity to travel may also be a feature of your job, meaning you'll get to expand your horizons.

You'll also receive impressive benefits such as discounted flights. But the perks aren't the only reasons you should consider a career in this industry.

'A career with an airline is like no other,' says Michelle Clements, talent acquisition manager at Ryanair. 'In no other industry will you get to experience such pace and unpredictability. In this ever-changing industry you are faced with new challenges every day. It's guaranteed to keep you on your toes.'

Whether you have your heart set on becoming a member of 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, be that IT, finance, HR or marketing there are plenty of jobs for graduates to choose from.

How do I find airline work experience?

Jobs with major airlines and aviation employers are competitive. To give yourself an edge and to gain an insight into what it's like working in the sector try to secure some work experience. Try speculatively contacting organisations of interest to find out if they take on students during the holidays.

Alternatively you can apply for more structured programmes. For example, Heathrow Airport runs 10 to 12 month internship programmes in areas such as:

  • airport operations
  • baggage
  • commercial
  • customer relations
  • engineering
  • finance
  • IT
  • risk and reputations
  • security.

London City Airport also provides various work experience schemes in functions such as airfield operations, legal, tax and duty free and customer service.

British Airways' Inspire programme offers work placements across its business. This includes taking on a range of roles at its head office. For instance, you could be working in customer investment, global catering, recruitment, operational research or at IAG World Cargo - one of the world's largest freight transporters. There are also opportunities in engineering as well as working with pilots and the cabin crew in London, Glasgow or Cardiff.

Some of the leading airlines also take on apprentices, to discover more about the possibility of working at a major airline while studying for a recognised qualification, see transport apprenticeships.

Which airlines run graduate schemes?

  • Aer Lingus - The two-year Aer Lingus Graduate Recruitment Programme is open to all graduates with a curiosity for the airline industry, particularly those who are commercially aware, up for a challenge, creative and analytical.
  • British Airways - There are four 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 Data, Finance, Future Leaders 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 Talented Career Programme. The four main strands 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 - There are four Ryanair Graduate Programmes to choose from. The two-year head office scheme, the 12-month IT Lab Graduate programme, the engineering scheme and the two-year Flight Operations Programme. Based at the airline's head office in Dublin, each involves rotations across a number of different teams within a chosen department.
  • Virgin Atlantic - On the Virgin Atlantic Graduate Programme you'll get involved in multiple teams across the business' engineering services and production departments. The two-year scheme is designed to give you a comprehensive overview of the technical world of Virgin Atlantic.  

For more general information, see graduate schemes 2020.

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 vary there are some attributes you'll require whichever route you choose.

You'll need a willingness to learn and a commitment to deliver for customers. Interpersonal skills, relationship building and a high level of commercial acumen are must-haves.

To gain a place on the Aer Lingus Graduate Recruitment Programme you'll need a 2:1 degree or a 2:1 Masters, they also favour previous industry work experience.

While applicants for the BA Future Leaders scheme can have any degree discipline, those wanting a place on the Data programme will need a relevant university qualification, such as a degree in data or analysis.

According to Michelle relevant degree courses can help graduates secure a placement at Ryanair. 'Aviation-based courses stand out. For example, aviation management, aviation technology and aviation finance. In such a complex organisation, it helps to have a basic foundation before you walk through the door. Gaining experience through an internship programme during your studies also shows ambition and is something that stands out for us.'

When applying for a scheme be prepared for a process more competitive than passengers rushing to get away for their summer holidays.

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.

What do airline graduate schemes involve?

Your responsibilities will depend on the scheme and your employer but it's likely that you'll work on live projects that make a real impact. From deciding on new menus for in-flight meals, to developing sales in new markets or working on the technology behind in-flight entertainment systems.

On the Ryanair Flight Operations Programme you'll be at the centre of the action from day one. Working from the organisations flight operations room you could manage pre-planned flying schedules, manage both the Flight Deck and Cabin Crew active roster or work with ground operations to look after passengers in the event of a delay.

'The scheme is designed to provide graduates with as much exposure and diversity as possible. For this reason, we provide six-month rotations across key areas to ensure graduates have a well-rounded experience,' adds Michelle.

As a graduate on the Virgin Atlantic programme you'll learn all about the maintenance and optimisation of Airbus and Boeing aircrafts, while sharpening your commercial and project management skills.

On BA's Future Leaders programme you could manage cabin crew, escort media on press trips or deliver major projects to enhance and transform customer experience at Heathrow.

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