Ben has been part of the team at UKSA in Cowes for many years, starting out as an instructor. He’s undertaken a number of different roles within the organisation and became Chief Executive a year ago.
You’ve been in post for a year now – how has it been? Do things look different from the top?
They do. The reality is that the buck stops with you and once you become comfortable with that, it becomes exciting. UKSA is such an inspiring place to work and to have the opportunity to lead the organization and be part of this team is a real privilege. We welcome a diverse range of people through our gates every year, from school groups, young people taking part in our youth engagement and education programmes, as well as thousands of students onto our courses for careers in the maritime sector.
As a charity UKSA provides transformational opportunities for young people from across the UK, often from deprived backgrounds. That’s the headline – but from an industry perspective, you’re a unique training provider, equipping a new generation for a maritime career. Which is another story in itself isn’t it?
Definitely. One of our key remits as a charity is to provide careers, opportunities, pathways and work for young people, into the maritime sector. We’ve helped launch 5,000 careers, often on superyachts. These are highly skilled jobs. We are the only place in the world that runs a yacht cadetship programme for that sector, endorsed by the MCA. Through our Sea.Change programmes we work with school groups and young people to change their lives. Our Sea.Careers programme reflects the fact that we are a true centre of excellence for nautical professional development. We offer qualifications in watersports, sailing and yachting. We have a unique understanding of the maritime industry and have spent 30 years building a network of industry contacts that make a huge difference to our students when they enter the industry for the first time. The fact that this all happens from Cowes, which is such a great place to work and live, makes it all the better.
How do you engage with the Island’s business community?
We employ 150 staff living of the Isle of Wight and, despite being a charity rather than a traditional business, we continue to position ourselves competitively in the market. We have over 10000 students a year coming to UKSA and they make a big contribution in Cowes. We also have a number key relationships with businesses on the Island that help support our work, such as WightFibre and Red Funnel. We are lucky and very grateful for their support, but we would love to see more local businesses able to support our charitable work and get more involved with us. We do have a natural affinity with local maritime businesses and always prefer to use their services rather than mainland suppliers where possible. We are continually re-investing in our Cowes site and, again, we use Island contractors where possible.
What have you learned in your first year as Chief Executive?
Never lose your sense of humour! UKSA is a complex organisation and we have to operate with a clear strategy for each sector within the organisation and it is the leadership team’s responsibility to bring this all together. Making sometimes tough decisions ensures we are staying focused on achieving our targets and not getting distracted. I am really proud of what we have achieved and it remains a privilege to see students attend UKSA and with the right encouragement and training turning their lives around, beginning a new chapter and looking ahead to a rewarding, long-term career.
What are you focusing on for 2017?
We want to see more young people from the Isle of Wight coming through our doors and making use of the fantastic programs we offer. We deliver the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme for 15-17 year olds and we’re the only facility to provide it exclusively for Island teenagers. I think it really is one of the best programs we offer and a really positive initiative and we will be continuing our work with local schools and colleges to offer it to as many young Islanders as possible. We will also be offering a programme from March to October in partnership with the 1851 Trust called Go Sail! The programme hopes to inspire a new generation of 14-16 year olds into sailing and watersports by giving them the chance to experience new activities and build confidence and character through time spent on the water. This year we are also entering our 30th year and I am looking forward to celebrating this milestone throughout 2017.
I continue to be inspired by our students, some of whom have come from challenging backgrounds, and we have seen them turn their lives around and leave UKSA with new work skills and life skills that will set them up for a long-term career in the maritime industry. It is a good reminder for us all that with the right encouragement and training anyone can turn their lives around, begin a new chapter and look ahead to a rewarding, long-term career.