DofE schemes and leadership at Heathrow

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Partnering with the DofE was an obvious fit with Heathrow's values and made a positive local impact

Attracting, nurturing and retaining young talent is a constant challenge for HR teams. Businesses need to lead the way in nurturing homegrown talent and offering opportunities that not only build the right technical skills, but help young people become the best they can be. Over the coming years having a strong talent development programme in place will be crucial.

Heathrow Airport began incorporating The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) into our high-potential development programmes in 2013. Since then it’s had a massive impact on the culture across the organisation.

We’re passionate about improving young people’s employability prospects and offer internships, apprenticeship and graduate programmes, as well as working with local schools to run experience and taster days to spark interest early. Partnering with the DofE was an obvious fit with our values and allowed us to make a positive local impact – 3,000 14- to 24-year-olds are doing their DofE in the local community. Our partnership enables us to deliver Gold DofE programmes with our colleagues under the age of 25.

The driving force behind incorporating the DofE into our development programmes was to help emerging talent get the right skills and experiences to progress into management roles. The 18-month programme sees participants learning a skill, taking on physical activity or sport, volunteering and completing an expedition outdoors. This approach of focusing on learning, wellbeing and physical capability – as well as giving back through volunteering – transforms our colleagues into well-rounded leaders in comparison to a standard programme where they spend all day in a classroom.

The programme culminates in a four-day expedition. Employees return as changed individuals with the self-belief to take on new challenges, the ability to cope under pressure, and work effectively with other people. We see an immediate improvement in their confidence levels, self-esteem and resilience, as well as increased communication and problem-solving skills.

This year we’ve had more than 500 applications to take part. Colleagues see the progression of their peers and understand that the programme works. Of our colleagues who have completed their Gold DofE Award, 95% are still in the company and an impressive 65% have progressed into management – often in different departments because of the extensive skillset they acquire on the programme. The success of this programme has led us to develop The People’s Award for older colleagues, to help develop over-25s into management roles.

The DofE’s positive impact on young people is something all our people can get behind, and we did last year when we took on the DofE Challenge. This boosted engagement and inspired a level of participation we’ve never experienced before. We had employees abseiling down Terminal 5, zip-wiring across Terminal 2 and taking part in the Fitbit challenge to run or walk the distance of one of our flights. 800 colleagues took part and raised £90,000 for the DofE Charity.

When we began delivering the DofE it was for a trial period only. The programme has grown to be a real driver of talent and we wouldn’t think of dropping it. We’ve actually begun working to see how we could pass this success on to other businesses operating out of Heathrow. Our results speak for themselves and we’re only four years in.

Paula Stannett is chief people officer at Heathrow Airport

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