‘Gis a job’, with Neilson Holidays’ Head of People Iain Stevenson-Wood

Pics: Fi Plavenieks, Neilson Holidays, Sian Fisher, Madie Day, Tracy Lower

If you’re looking for a job in watersports, possibly as a windsurfing instructor, then one of the biggest UK employers for this kind of role is Neilson Holidays. Each year the company helps put a raft of new recruits through the RYA training scheme in readiness for a season of sun and wind. We caught up with Head of People Iain Stevenson-Wood to find out more.

Firstly, talk to us about your personal experience and background within Neilson. Did you work seasons? How many if so? How did you land the job you currently do?

I have worked for Neilson for 19 years now. Starting as a winter Chalet Host before moving over to the summers and working my way up from a Chef to a General Manager of one of Neilson’s Beachclubs. I was overseas for the majority of that time working summers and winter back to back. Then in September 2011 I applied to work in head office. I started as the Recruitment Manager in the first instance and did that role for a few years before I was then promoted to the Head of People after the separation from Thomas Cook. Northern lad done good!

Any particular highlights that stick out from your own seasons (that are publishable!)?

To be honest I have so many memories. That’s what season are all about. Creating memories. In particular I do remember thinking it was a good idea to try to learn to wakeboard whilst in one of our resorts and managed to hit the water so hard on an epic fail that I knocked myself out. Luckily the great team were on hand to rescue me and get me back on the water. Did have to take a little time out from wakeboarding after that!

Tell us about Neilson’s recruitment process for anyone thinking of working on the beach within one of your resorts. Do they need any prior experience for instance?

We are always on the lookout for great employees and team mates. So, the biggest thing we look for is personality. If you have a passion for something and the right personality then that’s all the qualifications we are looking for. We can give you the rest. We pride ourselves on making watersports a career for people and getting do something they love.

How does Neilson help newbies get those qualifications sorted in readiness for season work?

The biggest avenue we have is to take people on a journey with us. We start them down in the Isle of Wight and do the UKSA zero to hero course which lasts about 12 weeks.

We ask that the candidates put down a nominal deposit for the course just to show their commitment. Then Neilson pay the rest. All in all, it’s a £5K course which we sponsor and the candidate comes away with their instructor ticket(s).

Once they complete the course they then come over to Neilson at the beginning of the season where they do a week’s intense training and start setting up the resort. We have no guests at this point so it’s great to get the experienced guys with the new guys budding up together and learning new and old skills.

The guests then arrive and it’s all systems go.

Once the season finishes at the end of the summer we then send them to our academy where they gain their senior tickets in readiness for the following season.

Which training company(s) do Neilson recruit from and why?

Our whole ethos is to make watersports accessible. So, we use as many of the providers as we can. However, the biggest partner we use is UKSA. They are a great company to work with and supply the candidates the support they really need to get them through their courses.

What makes an ideal Neilson watersports employee (or employee in general)?

The ideal candidate is someone who has a passion to get on the water – movie watchers need not apply. We want the guys to be out there and want to experience as many new things as they can. They also can’t be shy of a bit of hard graft. It’s long days in heat so it does take its toll now and again.

Do you get many trainees dropping out of the scheme or not taking up offers of work? If so, why do you think this?

Of course, no recruitment process is fool proof. You can tell someone exactly how it is. However, until they do it for themselves they really don’t grasp this.  We have had a few. Generally, it’s the guys that have been pushed into it by mum and dad ensuring their kids do something. There is so much pressure out there at the moment ensuring kids get an education and go to Uni. However, we have a university of life on our doorstep that gives our employees some fantastic skills they will never learn in a classroom. Sometimes though this just isn’t for some.

We hear on the ground there’s a shortage of windsurfing instructors within the industry. Is this the case? If so, why do you think that is?

It’s true, we are now struggling to find instructors. This is why we have embarked on trying to develop our own.

I genuinely think it’s about accessibility. It’s just not very accessible. £5K is a lot of money for a course and 18 to 24 years old potential candidates just do not have this kind of money. Either they are just coming out of collage or some form of higher education in a load of debt or they just don’t have the money in the first place. The government offer no assistance in the area of education for older guys for this industry.

Secondly it also feels a bit elitist for people to get into this type of sport.  Where I am from up north we don’t have any real schools or academy to help get you in to windsurfing for instance.

How do we go about attracting more bods into the industry and getting increasing numbers involved? Is there more work to be done in advertising these opportunities for instance?

I think everyone needs to try and pull together. Industry, education establishments and partnerships need to have a common goal. This can be another career avenue and people can really make something of themselves. At the moment, we all seem to be working in silos and heading in opposite directions. We need a to try and marry the education piece to getting people in to a career and make it as accessible as possible to all walks of life.

What are the benefits of fast track training in readiness for Neilson employment?

We get the instructors fast, also they learn the correct methods and have little bad habits by the time they complete the course. Sometimes longer qualified instructors can bring a few bad habits. We also get barrels of enthusiasm as they are learning quickly and feeling a sense of achievement. We all know how the millennials like to learn quickly and have that need for quick recognition.

And the downsides, if any?

Sometimes they can be a little green and overwhelmed, but this passes.

Can you make a career of working in watersports/windsurfing these days? Is there progression from just working on a sunny beach? In what role might you end up?

Most of our Activities Managers came from a watersports background. We have managers now that are looking after centres with 400 people in them all taking part in watersports. That’s bigger than a lot of other sports and a big job in itself. We are expanding too so we are going to need many more.

In one sentence sum up what it means to be a Neilson watersports/windsurfing instructor.

Turn a passion into a career and do something every day that you love.

Final thoughts on watersports recruitment and working in the industry?

I think we have a great opportunity to get guys and girls into something that they love and enjoy. It would be a shame to be sat in the following years, having grown our business, and having to change our model because we can’t get enough instructors in to the industry.  It’s an industry that is very rewarding and many people I know have gone on to great things work wise. It should be up in the top ten things to do in your life. Even if it’s just for one season.

For more info on working for Neilson hit up the following –https://www.neilson.co.uk/recruitment

Stay tuned for Windsurfing UK’s day in the life of an instructor coming in the next issue.


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