Annual Au Pair River Cruise – Book NOW!

The date for the annual Au Pair River Cruise has been announced! Every year, Smartaupairs invites all au pairs who are placed with one of our host families to join us for the event. It’s extremely popular so we recommend booking your place as soon as possible!

Thames River Cruise

Sunday 17th May 2015

All day excursion from just £10 per person

Come and join hundreds of other BAPAA au pairs on a private boat trip to Greenwich. You will travel past famous bridges and historic buildings along the river from Central London, with many exciting views of Westminster including the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, and then head downstream through the city to the Thames Barrier, Greenwich and back again. At Greenwich you will have time to have a look around – there are lively markets, historic buildings, the famous Royal Observatory and Meridian Line, the Maritime Museum and a beautiful park with wonderful views over London. Bring a picnic or buy lunch in Greenwich.

  • 11am – boat leaves Festival Pier
  • 1pm – boat arrives at Greenwich
  • 4pm – boat leaves Greenwich
  • 5pm – boat arrives back at Festival Pier

The trip costs £10 per person or £12 for friends (non-BAPAA)

You must arrive by 10.45am as the boat leaves promptly at 11am from Festival Pier, in front of The Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. (Opposite side of the river to Embankment tube.)

Nearest tube station: Waterloo or Embankment. Nearest mainline train station: Waterloo.

If you wish to stay in London for the night of Saturday 16th May, hostel accommodation is available through International Students House, 229 Great Portland Street, London W1. (www.ish.org.uk) Telephone 020 7631 8310, quoting BAPAA.

Britt Boat Trip
Au Pair Britt won our photo competition in 2014. This is her entry taken in Greenwich Park.

Payment details: You can pay via PayPal (even if you don’t have a PayPal account) – go to www.paypal.co.uk and make the payment to finance@bapaa.org.uk. You must include your FULL name, the name of your agency in the UK (Smartaupairs) and your host family, plus the names of any friends going on the trip with you (stating BAPAA or non-BAPAA). You must print off the PayPal receipt or ticket and bring it with you on the day, as you will need to show it when you board the boat (tickets displayed on smartphones will not be accepted)! You must pay in advance for your ticket and refunds are not given.

Smartaupairs will be running a photo competition so REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR CAMERA!

Entries are to be emailed to aupairs@smartaupairs.com by 29th May 2015 and the winner will receive a £20 Amazon voucher. Click here to see some of last year’s entries.

Smartaupairs reserves the right to use any images from the boat trip for the purpose of future promotions.

Any questions? Please e-mail aupairs@smartaupairs.com

Girls Talk…

Girls talk……….

Everybody knows that girls talk. And in our case the girls are au pairs. Too many of them have told their friends that the au pair program is, at best, old hat, at worse, a program open for abuse by families looking for a cheap cleaner.

In the last couple of weeks I have witnessed long e-mail discussions between members for the British Au Pair Agencies Association, many of whom have been placing au pairs in British families for decades. They say it has never been as tough as today to find nice girls who want to be au pair.

I think there are many parties who may have contributed to this, all a little bit in their own way. Some agencies were driven more by commercial decisions rather than by finding the right people or the right match. I suppose, if you have 100s a month to place, it matters less if some don’t work out.

There may also have been families who realised that some girls will do a lot more than just 25 hours for little (or no) extra money. And on top of light housework, why not save on the cleaner and make the au pair do it…………. And many girls in the past may have felt they had not choice but accept.

At least once a week I get a call or e-mail with examples of girls who would like to move to another family because

  • She is asked to clean the shower with a toothbrush (a cleaner’s job)
  • The family wants her to paint the room (painter/decorator?)
  • She is doing all the ironing, including sheets (dry cleaners job)

Most of us know that a bad experience is generally shared with at least 10 people, whereas a good one may only be told to a couple. And girls talk has most certainly been about the disappointments and the false promises, rather than the amazing opportunities!

European girls now have more choices than ever before, with job opportunities for intelligent and ambitious young people increasing by the day due to strengthening economies. Many of our candidates are of graduate calibre. Still, even more potential job opportunities are open to those with a degree PLUS fluent English, proven experience in time management, flexibility, adaptability and team spirit, all of which can be gained from the au pair program.

The responsibility for change lies with all of us. Agencies should try harder to inform both families (and au pairs) of the guidelines of the cultural exchange. If a housekeeper is needed, don’t try to fit the jobs around the au pair, but recommend a true housekeeper! (or housekeeper agency). This may leave you with fewer clients but at least it leaves you with the right ones in the long run……..

And families should share this responsibility. I think many of them know where they may have asked a bit to much, simply because ‘they could’. I always ask my families ‘would you expect your daughter to do this, if she was on a cultural exchange?’. In my case, I think ‘would I ask Charly?’ she is my savvy 19 year old niece, who helped in my office for a couple of months to give me feedback on ‘what young people want’.

If we can jointly make the au pairs program desirable (again) as a cultural exchange option, every host family will have a choice of au pairs again.

And I don’t think it is hard……… this is what we need in my view;

  • An agreed list of acceptable tasks in advance, the role has to be mostly childcare (80% = 4 out of 5 hours should be activities with the children) as this is the ideal way for au pairs to improve their (language) skills, a BAPAA agency clearly defines what tasks could be done by the au pair and the family confirms which of those are applicable.
  • Help with research of affordable quality language courses in your local area, this can save a lot of money and make all the difference to her happiness; it is her main objective to improve English.
  • Minimum pocket money of £70 for 25 hours, now that language classes are no longer free, some au pairs truly struggle on less, we want this to be fair and enjoyable.
  • Any positions over 30-35 hours should not be called a cultural exchange program as time and energy for language classes is minimal if you work long days. There are plenty of girls who wish to take on these positions, but let’s call them what they are; mother’s help jobs and pay accordingly.
  • Make time to talk to your au pair, even if it is just 10 minutes of quality time per day, this is a relationship too.
  • Praise and reward, if she is trying hard or has done something extra, why not put in some extra pocket money, pay for a train ticket to London or even a flight home after a few months.

As a relative newcomer in the au pair industry, I think my in depth telephone consultations with each prospective host family at the start of the au pair introduction means that the vast majority of my host families are happy to stick to the above ‘guidelines for success’ already and it has given our agency and our families a very high success rate and many of my families agree it is great return on investment.

In Europe the above is already regulated. The European Committee for Au Pair standards makes sure that all recognised au pair agencies follow the same guidelines, making the au pair program something to be proud of.

And pride is want we want, proud mums who show off a happy au pair at the school gate and proud au pairs who go home and tell their friends to follow in their footsteps. Because girls talk…………..with pride!

The Future of Au Pairs in Britain

Apologies for a slightly dramatic title, but since I have joined the board of the British Au Pair Agencies Association I have been thinking about this a lot.

In an industry where supply and demand experiences extreme changes in a short time, there are inevitably victims. Before the EU expansion, there were a lot of young people who wanted to come to Britain as au pair to broaden their horizons. As an au pair, they would have a chance to earn and learn. The language skills were very important to them and together with earning a bit of hard currency it gave them a huge advantage when they returned home.

They came to Britain with the use of their local agency in their home country, which would collaborate with an agency in Britain who would find a suitable family and support the au pair during her stay in Britain.

Now, young Europeans have lots of options, especially if they speak English fairly well (maybe they were au pair a few years ago!) they can go and work in the hotel industry for example. Mind you, although the gross pay may look very attractive, the disposable income and free time most certainly won’t be generous. If you work in a hotel and you are not fluent in English, you are likely to work in a housekeeping role and you may be working alongside other non-native speakers, so not much chance of improving languages skills. In addition to this, so much of the pay will go to travel and accommodation, as you are likely to live in overpriced crammed housing in the worst areas of the London suburbs.

And even those young Europeans who do still value the au pair experience as a great first opportunity in Britain, they are less likely now to use traditional methods of finding a position. By cutting out the ‘middleman’ and going online to find their own host family the risks are numerous and of varying gravity. Many families are online because they do not value the protection and professionalism that a good au pair agency can add to the cultural experience of the au pair, they may in fact be looking for a cheap cleaner! And some families, thankfully a minority, really abuse the vulnerable au pair, given her inappropriate tasks or asking her to work all hours for little money, often without the opportunity for a language course. Even if the family she found online is nice and genuine, the au pair is missing out on the network of finding other au pairs, an excursion program and the support (in her own language) from the agency at times when a kind word of encouragement is needed.

So who is the victim of all of today’s threats?

First of all those au pair agencies unable or unwilling to adjust to the new situation may decide that business today is too challenging and shut down. Personally, I think this is not a bad thing. I have seen it happen in the travel industry and the ones strong and innovative enough to adjust to what the customer wants have survived and even benefited from the pressure of the market.

Host families are also feeling the pinch. There are fewer au pairs around now than in previous years. However, good agencies with reliable source agencies in Europe are still able to provide great au pairs. But some of the changes for the families are more subtle. Fewer au pairs are looking to come over for 12 months or longer now for example, as without a visa and with cheap flights home, plans are made for shorter periods of cultural exchange. Many youngsters are now looking to be au pair in the summer holidays only.

But how about the au pair candidates? They seem to be the winners for now. With endless opportunities today with a wealth of choice in programs such as ‘work and travel’, ‘study and travel’, ‘work experience’ and ‘sandwich courses’ volunteer programs and teaching English abroad, the opportunities for a gap year are now more extensive than ever before.

But actually, the au pair experience is also still fashionable! The program is just better, with high calibre candidates who really appreciate the au pair experience as an opportunity for cultural exchange. So for families who respect and appreciate the au pair program as a cultural experience, there are still excellent candidates with high level of education and often strong language skills.

In the last few weeks I have attended a number of events where I was able to meet with partners from all over Europe and further afield with innovative ideas for the future. They all believe the au pair experience is alive and kicking and that their educated candidates have a lot to offer to British host families.

At smartaupairs, we continue to look at ways to innovate and offer all stakeholders a positive experience. This means looking after the needs of the overseas agents, the au pairs and ofcourse the host families. This way we feel we can offer an attractive proposition to all parties and secure a great long-term future for the au pair experience.

In the last few weeks I have visited the ‘work & travel’ forum in Berlin and met with potential new partners, some who have been sending au pairs for years and others just taking their first tentative steps into developing a quality au pair program. Last week I was in New York, meeting with our USA Au pair agency. They place candidates from all over the world in American host families. I was very impressed with the infrastructure and support offered to au pairs in America and it certainly gave me ideas for the future of au pairs in Britain too. The European au pair agencies present at this meeting were all of the highest standards, as is required to meet the standards of recruiting au pair candidates to send to the USA.