Airline graduate schemes provide great variety and opportunity in a fast-paced environment, so discover what it takes to succeed with one of these leading employers

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 range of openings available for those with other skills and interests.

A look 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 the 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 for graduates. Other operators, such as Virgin Atlantic, FlyBe and run their own training programmes, but not primarily directed at graduates.

  • 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 Talented Career Programme. 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, 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 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.

Discover more about the role of an airline pilot. You can also explore how to become a pilot in the UK.

What do airline graduate schemes involve?

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 Pintre decided to stay at easyJet after spending two years on its graduate programme. Now working as a network development manager, he claims that 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.

How do I find airline work experience?

If you're interested in gaining work experience with one of the major airlines or even at a busy UK airport, such as London City Airport, you could try contacting the organisation in question through their website to find out if they take on students during the holidays.

British Airways' Inspire programme offers work placements across its business. This includes taking on a range of roles at its head office close to London Heathrow Airport. 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, so to discover more about the possibility of working at British Airways or Virgin Atlantic while studying for a recognised qualification, see transport apprenticeships.

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