CJI spoke with Wendy Martin, Head of College, Stansted Airport College.
Stansted Airport College, which opened last September, is the UK’s first and only all-round aviation further-education institute. As the name suggests, the college is located near London’s Stansted Airport, and offers students an alternative to higher-education options such as a university degree.
The Stansted Airport College building
The courses offered range from aviation operations and cabin-crew training, to engineering and aircraft maintenance. The college has also set up apprenticeship opportunities with industry players such as Ryanair and GT Engines, and hopes to attract interest from OEMs of the likes Bombardier and Gulfstream. Depending on which course the college’s students choose to pursue, they could be enrolled for only one year, or up to four years. And once they have completed their apprenticeships, at the end of programme they are certified to enter the industry as professionals.
In an aviation environment highly affected by people and skills shortages, Wendy Martin realised — during her previous role at Harlow College — that this was blank that needed to be filled.
Not many know this, but Martin was trained as a sports physio before transitioning into education and, thereafter, into training. She has played for the Tottenham Hotspurs ladies football team for eight years now and has been crowned its highest goal scorer, with 88 goals to her name!
She prides herself on the ability to look differently at learning models, and to deliver them with uniqueness. She has also travelled to over 60 countries – naming Brazil, India and Italy as her all-time favourites.
Corporate Jet Investor: How long has the college been in the works?
Wendy Martin: I think the initial idea came about five years ago now. We recognised that there was a significant skills gap within the aviation industry. In addition to that, we noticed that London Stansted Airport was the largest single-site employer in southeast England, and subsequently, has a significant demand for skilled young people to fill vacancies.
CJI: Why aviation?
WM: Previously, I was responsible for managing the engineering team, among others, at Harlow College. I think I’ve got a broad knowledge of a number of different curricular areas.
Having the opportunity to be able to focus and specialise on aviation-based careers enabled me to look at ways to be more creative with the models of learning. Really, my specialism is education and learning, and I’m using that expertise to create a curriculum that meets the needs for the aviation environment.
CJI: Who are your role models?
WM: Whenever I’m asked this, I always say my mum. For one, because she has instilled in me a strong work ethic and taught me to maintain respect for other individuals. Thanks to her, I also have those underpinning qualities that you can utilise in whatever industry, and that are key to anything you do.
CJI: Have you ever wanted to learn the more-technical skills, given that you’re so involved in the field?
WM: Yes, as part of my role, it was absolutely key that I had as much understanding and exposure to the aviation industry as possible.
I attended conferences, read blogs and magazines, and I visited airports. I had tours of airports, where I learned about the functions and what’s involved with the different careers and the different skills needed. It was really interesting. From the exposure I’ve had, I wish that there were more opportunities as a younger person – that there was more awareness of, particularly, aircraft maintenance engineering and, also, of becoming a pilot.
I keep joking that I’m going to re-train sometimes!
CJI: Do you think you will ever?
WM: I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. I’d love to fly a plane one day. Being exposed to this environment, it’s motivated me even more to do that sort of thing. Maybe start with some private flying lessons.
CJI: Aviation is a male-centric industry. It’s about 20-25% female, approximately. Did you face any difficulty in trying to set up the college or its curricula?
WM: I’ve always been in quite male-dominated environments. I grew up with four brothers and a sister. I also play football, which is only now becoming more widespread among women. But when I started, there were a lot of barriers that I faced, a lot of sexism and gender stereotypes.
Although, I think that has helped me to understand this environment better, and also to be able to help promote young females into the sector and increase awareness. I think it’s important to have young females in the industry. We’re doing quite a lot of work at the moment, to achieve this.
CJI: Do you see any changes in the attitude yet?
WM: I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, and it needs to start from a young age. I think gender stereotypes are typically formed between the ages of five and seven, so, we need to be doing work with those young people now and it’s going to be another 20 years before we start seeing the results of that investment into promoting gender equality.
CJI: And will the college try to ensure other types of diversity?
WM: Definitely. We want to promote equal opportunities for all young people. I think the main thing is having role models within aviation. Same as with your female role models, it’s important to have role models from different cultures and backgrounds. Recognising people’s abilities rather than seeing the disability. Can we see abilities in individuals and what they can bring to organisations?
At the college we have a very strong learning-support network, so individuals with learning difficulties or disabilities are able to access that support so it gives them access to the curriculum and then to potential careers as well in aviation.
CJI: Does Stansted Airport College intend to send graduates into business aviation as well?
WM: We want to be a world-leading organisation for educational training. We want to be that centre of excellence and would love to have more involvement with the likes of Bombardier and Airbus. And that’s not only for jobs. We would love for them to inspire the young people, by giving them opportunities for work experience or taster days. Just generally trying to give something back to the younger generation and help us to inspire the next generation of aviation trainees.