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Career profile: Susan Chew, head of learning & talent development, Civil Aviation Authority

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Susan Chew of the Civil Aviation Authority discusses managing L&D in the public aviation sector, her passion for transformation, and how she’s got lucky with past job applications.

Basic details

Name: Susan Chew

Job: Head of learning and talent development

Current employer: Civil Aviation Authority

CV in brief:

  • 2011 – 2012, head of learning and development, Colt Technology Services
  • 2003 – 2009, director of organisational development, EDF Energy
  • 2001 – 2003, management development consultant, Abbey National (now Santander)
  • 1999 – 2001, management development consultant, Capital One

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

I am head of learning and talent development at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The public demands that all aspects of aviation are safe, and theCAA is committed to regulating the aviation industry in a way that is transparent, proportionate, targeted, accountable and consistent.

The CAA regulates a wide range of aspects of the UK aviation industry including: pilot licensing; airspace design; safety oversight of UK airports; economic regulation of Heathrow and Gatwick; and the ATOL financial protection scheme that helps holidaymakers if their travel company collapses.

My job is to make sure that our employees are equipped with the skills and training to do their jobs effectively.

Who do you report to? 

I report into the HR director, who sits on the executive committee.

Tell us about your team

I have a team of two direct reports – an L&TD Consultant and L&TD Co-Ordinator. I also work closely with a large matrix group of colleagues who lead L&TD initiatives across the business.

What is the most rewarding part of your role? 

I was recruited to review the CAA’s current approach to L&D and recommend a best practice way forward to meet its needs as it undergoes a major transformation programme. Seeing new development programmes implemented and old processes updated to eliminate inefficiencies is very rewarding, especially when I get positive feedback from participants about how much they are benefiting from the programmes I have designed and put into place.

What is the most challenging part of the role? 

The CAA is part way through a major transformation programme and embedding all the changes that are planned is a significant challenge to both colleagues and managers whilst maintaining the highest operational standards.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

There isn’t really a typical day – activity varies between preparing and presenting strategic papers for our executive committee to liaising with external providers over the outcomes of learning programmes and creating communications strategies to make sure all my colleagues are thoroughly informed about new products and programmes that affect them. Often, the day I had planned is changed at a moment’s notice when situations arise that need to be dealt with – I do enjoy this unpredictability.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for? 

This role with the CAA offered me an opportunity to combine all my previous experiences gained in a range of industries so that I could meet the challenge of creating a new L&D strategy and development approach for an organisation where very little was already in place. There aren’t many roles out there that offer this breadth of opportunity!

Perks and downsides of your role? 

The pace of the change in the CAA is relentless and the volume of activity required to keep up with the transformation programme is huge.  This is both the perk and downside of the role.

What skills are essential for the role you’re in? 

A cool head, a pragmatic approach, the ability to prioritise a heavy workload, and great sense of humour!

Career path

How did you get to where you are now? 

I have changed roles for a number of reasons, including both voluntary and forced job changes, as well as a couple of relocations. I have looked for interesting roles which allow me to capitalise on my skill-set while offering the opportunity to add new skills, and I have changed industry at almost every move.

What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study? 

I enjoyed science subjects most of all in school and studied sport science at Liverpool John Moores University.

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

How did you get it and why did you choose to work there? My first role was a Saturday job at WH Smith. I wrote to a number of stores asking for a job and fortuitously my letter arrived just as someone else handed in their notice. A drive to provide top quality customer service and the benefits of learning about your products in order to meet your customer’s needs have stayed with me.

Have you followed the career path you set out to? I didn’t really have a set career path in mind when I left college, but I have always been passionate about developing people and coaching, and I have always chosen roles that stretch me in that direction.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

How did you overcome them? I have changed industry every time I changed my job, which has at times been quite challenging. I have overcome these obstacles by having confidence in my transferable skills and applying myself to learn about each company and its strategy and by quickly getting to know “how things are done around here” so I can be effective in my role as quickly as I can.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job? 

Nothing crazy, but on two separate occasions I by-passed recruiters and directly approached companies asking for a job, and to my delight (and mild surprise), I was successful on both occasions. Unconventional perhaps, but effective.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far? 

I led the design and roll out of an open application talent programme for the CAA. This was the first time the CAA had invested in such a programme, and I managed to launch it and confirm the first cohort of delegates in just three months. It doesn’t sound much when described in one sentence, but this required a lot of work and a great deal of co-ordination and liaising with the executive committee to gain their support and participation. Best of all, the programme is proving to be a great success.

Do you have any career regrets? 

No, because I love my current job and wouldn’t necessarily be here if I had done anything differently.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now? 

Be curious about new developments in your area of expertise and build a broad and varied platform of job experiences to equip you for the future.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? 

Be adventurous, look for new projects and opportunities to stretch yourself in new directions, and build a great network.

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Coffee – Hobson’s choice because I don’t like tea.
  • Jam or marmalade? Jam – strawberry or apricot.
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles – no true Scouser would make any other choice!
  • Mac or PC? PC.
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Times.
  • BBC or ITV? BBC, but Sky Atlantic is a fabulous source of great dramas.
  • M&S or Waitrose? M&S, as I don’t have a local Waitrose.
  • Morning or night? Definitely morning.
  • Rain on snow? Snow to walk in, but rain if I’m driving.
  • Sweet or savoury? Both please!

Favourites

  • App: National Rail Enquiries – I travel a long way to work every day, so keeping abreast of the travel situation is important.
  • TV show: The West Wing – truly gripping and always leaves me wanting to watch more.
  • Band: Either Bruce Springsteen or James – there’s a great energy in their music, and at their live performances.
  • Song: You Win Again – Bee Gees. I defy anyone to sit or stand still when this is playing.
  • Book: Shogun by James Clavell. This was the first book I read where I missed the characters once I’d finished reading it.
  • Sports team: Liverpool FC… never an easy ride!
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Chill at home with a G&T and de-stress after a busy week.
  • Place to eat: At home after preparing and cooking a new recipe for the first time – I get to enjoy both the process and the product of my efforts.
  • Holiday spot: Touring the USA – I think that there’s nothing better than flying into The States, hiring a car, and setting off on an adventure to some of the magnificent sights.
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Be brave, go for it and don’t settle for second best.

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