This is a reflective essay looking at the author’s career expectations and working background. Models of reflection are used to examine the author’s experience and self learning in terms of career aspirations. Past working history, and the situation with jobs in the airline industry, are discussed. A model of ideal characteristics for the author’s desired job is presented, and the areas in which the author is lacking are set out. The tools and approaches which can be used to improve these characteristics and hence become more like the ideal candidate are set out.
In the following paper, I am going to look at my career aspirations in the context of available careers in my chosen industry: the airline industry. I want to work in a customer services / management capacity at British Airways, building upon my existing skill-set and experience. I will discuss this subject in terms of approaches and insights I have gathered from studying international tourism management and travel tourism management, as well as what I have learnt in this particular module on career development. I will be looking critically at my experience and self-learning in order to identify the characteristics which I have that I feel equip me for this role. I will also be identifying areas which need to be further worked on. I will be combining intuitive writing about my experiences and capacities with academic research, textbooks and theories. In reflecting on my experience, I have been influenced by a number of models of learning through reflection, including Gibbs’ and Kolb’s. Both these models show a way to structure learning. In Kolb the learner is encouraged to look at an experience and make observations then form concepts and general theories, which are then tested against more new experience. Gibbs suggests a similar process of describing, analysing feelings, evaluating, analysis and conceptualisation (Moon 2013). I have used models like these to first describe to myself or others my experience, then build conceptual models, abstract key ideas and theorise about what happened in order to do things differently in the future.
Overall, I will be demonstrating how and why I feel I fit the role of Customer Service Manager within the airline industry, and how I might fill the current gaps in my knowledge and experience.
2. The Airline Sector and Available Careers
In this section, I will look at the airline industry globally and in the UK, outline the areas of work, discuss the different possible job roles, and suggest the one which is right for me. I will also look at the career possibilities associated with this role, and look at the relationship between the ideal candidate for this role and my capabilities.
My aim is to work in management within the airline industry. Although I have had a variety of jobs in my career so far, I have always wanted to work for British Airways. I was drawn to the opportunities for travel, as I see it as a way of learning and personal development. The old saying that travel broadens the mind seems true to me, although it also seems that travel and tourism research has so far concentrated more on why tourists select the destinations they do, rather than the impact on travellers psychology and perceptions (Chon et al 2012). Initially, I felt I should wait until the right job came along, but I was advised by a friend that I should take any job within the organisation and then work my way into the position I wanted. Many jobs are advertised internally first in many employers, not just B.A. (Williams 2010).
The airline industry as a whole is large, and is likely to expand particularly if the trend for cheap air travel continues. Globally, there are approximately 2000 airlines with 23,000 aircraft serving over 3500 airports. By 2006, air travel growth was approximately 5% year on year, and capacity was thought likely to double by 2021 (Hencke 2006). Within the UK, aviation is a significant contributor to the economy, with UK airports handling 230 million passengers a year. UK manufacturing, technology and service providers in the industry are considered world leaders. Nearly 150,000 people are employed in the UK directly within the industry, and the sector contributes nearly ?10 billion to GDP (The Air League [online] 2014). The strength and likelihood of growth of the sector, while not directly motivating me to want to join the industry, certainly give me confidence that I will be able to have a life-long career within the industry. In terms of different organisations, the industry is dominated by a few large organisations, although low-cost players have changed the situation somewhat. British Airways is the largest operator, followed by Virgin Atlantic Airways. British Midland and Easy Jet are also well known. UK companies face competition from overseas providers as well (Belobaba et al 2009). I was especially drawn to working for British Airways as they are the largest provider in the UK, and as such I feel I will have more opportunities for career development. But because many other companies operate globally, I feel I am in a good position to move to different organisations in the future, not least because I speak a number of languages.
Given the large number of jobs in the sector, it is unsurprising that there are a wide range of occupations and roles. The type of jobs available can be divided into three main sections: ground handling services (e.g. baggage handling), airport operations (e.g. terminal manager, customer support) and airline operations (e.g. ground handling, cabin crew etc) (National Careers Service 2014). Of the choices, I have decided to focus on roles which directly progress out of the role I am now occupying. In particular, I have mapped out a possible career development path. First, I will go for a Future Talent Customer Service Manager (FTCSM) position, which I can move to after 12 months in this role. After this I can progress to a Customer Service Manager (after 2 years), and, beyond this, to an In-Flight Business Manager (IBM). I have chosen this particular development path having considered and rejected another. In the other path I would take a less customer-facing role, becoming a Duty Office Manager (DOM) or Turn Around Manager (TRM). The first looks at the management of crew, while the second deals with the mechanics of putting aircraft back in the air quickly and efficiently. My decision to go for the first career route was guided by my skills in dealing with people. I feel I have demonstrated empathy with different types of people, and am practiced at dealing with people’s problems. I care about people, want them to enjoy their experiences and want to continue to be very hands-on, if not with the public then with other employees. I also feel that there’s a more defined and visible career path in the first set of roles, as I can move from FTCCSM to CSM and to IBM, and beyond.
In terms of my chosen career progression, there are a number of skills and abilities the ideal candidate will have. These are not specific to B.A. or the aviation industry, but are needed across all customer service and people facing roles. A CSM/FTCSM should have:
Good leadership skills
Understanding and acting on feedback
The ability to manage stress and pressure as well as cope with job challenges
Be able to deal with conflict
In terms of this ideal checklist, I believe I already possess several of these requirements. That is, I feel I am able to deal with conflict in a low-key, non-confrontational manner (a skill honed during my time as a bouncer), I can manage stress and pressure, I am fairly good at planning, understanding feedback and communication. This is not to say I cannot improve in these areas, but I feel that the areas in which my personal profile is most mismatched with the ideal job candidate profile are:
I will explore in more detail my personal circumstances and their match to the ideal profile in the next section.
3. Current Career & Circumstances
This section looks at my background in terms of career history, strengths and weaknesses. I then assess my competencies in terms of the ideal candidate profile I outlined in the last section. Finally, I identify areas for improvement in relation to this profile.
Currently, I am working as a member of cabin crew. I have 6 months experience. I felt this position will help me advance in the industry as a whole. My previous career history has given me some very useful experience. I have had a variety of jobs from modelling to being a bouncer. While many of these positions might be considered ‘low level’ I feel they have taught me to deal with many different types of people, particularly people who are aggressive or who attempt to manipulate. Having dealt with so many tricky people, I feel I have a strong intuition about what people’s real motives are, as opposed to what they say they are motivated by, and also an ability to communicate with all sorts of people without making situations worse.
Before I started my current job, I knew I wanted to work within the airline industry. I was also attracted to B.A. as I had heard they were a good employer (indeed.com [online] 2014). I treated the application process as a way of learning how to improve my interview skills. I applied to some organisations not because I especially wanted the advertised job, but in order to brush up on these skills, and become familiar with a range of the interview styles which exist in different companies. Some organisations, for example, use stress techniques to see how you cope under pressure (Parkinson 2002), others put you in either a very structured or an unstructured situation, both of which elicit different types of responses and require different approaches (Lehman and DuFrene 2010).
During my 6 months in this job, I have come up against a number of new challenges which have made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses in terms of the job I am ideally looking for. I have found that people tend to assume that working as a member of the cabin crew is easy particularly for men. Indeed, there’s a strong ‘trolley dolly’ stereotype (Bolton & Boyd 2003), which I have found frustrating at times. In fact, cabin crew work is a difficult job demanding good time management, concentration, the ability to think ‘on your feet’ and solve problems quickly, and an ability to get on with many different sorts of people. In addition, you need to pass a number of tests. For example for the BA mixed fleet crew the tests include health, criminal record and different aircraft licenses.
I have found out in this job that I am good at listening to others. I feel I have a natural empathy with others and want to listen to what they are saying, rather than try and organise them into my way of doing things. However, and perhaps this is connected with this strength, I am not naturally forceful and good at leading others. In fact, if I am faced with a domineering or overpowering customer, I tend to give in and do what they want. This creates problems for me, for example if what they want is against the company rules. I think if I had more leadership ability, I would be better able to convince such people that the way I want them to behave is the right one for them as well. I also feel I do not currently demonstrate leadership skills. When in group meetings I tend to hang back and do not put my point of view across. I also feel I do not make the best use of situations. For example, I was asked to train up a new member of my team, but I felt I did not do this well, I felt under-confident of what I was doing and I think I confused the person I was training.
In addition to the areas of improvement I need to work on, which I will discuss more in the next section, I need to look at ways in which I can achieve my goal of a management position. I believe that my experience so far has helped a great deal. I have already had 6 months experience working as a member of cabin crew, so I understand the mechanics of this industry, but also of this particular job. After all, many people have to spend several months, if not years, volunteering to get similar experience of their desired industry, and I have had the luck to be paid for getting to this stage. Another benefit of being in the industry is that I have had a chance to build contacts already. Networking is an extremely powerful tool for getting the job you want (Souza 2010) and continues to be useful once in the job. After all, networking can be defined simply as creating opportunities, improving relationships with other people and making useful contacts. In a job, these benefits deepen over time, as you develop a more permanent network (Fisher 2011). As such, it is useful to career progression.
Another skill I need to learn is flexibility. After all, as Pryor and Bright (2011) point out, the 21st Century workplace is characterised by change. Being able to adapt to change, not to expect the workplace to stay the same for years (or even months) and having a portfolio approach to a career are becoming increasingly important. I recognise that I am somewhat inflexible, and that change scares me. I naturally prefer the security of some sort of routine. However, there are things I can do to become more flexible. To some extent, working as cabin crew has helped improve my adaptability and increased the extent to which I can have a positive response to change, as I am never 100% sure where I’ll be going over the next months, and I have become aware that people can be very different in their demands and expectations. As I deal so much with members of the public, I have learnt to adapt to circumstances as they come up in a consistent way. I think there is more I can do in this area though.
To summarise, there are some key areas which I need to work on: developing my management skills (including communication) and improving my networking, as well as being more flexible and open to change. I have covered networking and flexibility in this section, and will look at leadership in the next section.
4. The Development of Key Skills: Leadership
This section evaluates the personal development tools I have used to improve my leadership skills, as it has been identified above as one of the areas I need to work on. I have had extensive working experience in a variety of positions, but have not really worked in a position where I have had to lead others. This initially made me wonder if I had what it takes to be a leader, but a number of things we covered in the module have convinced me that I can lead others. Other gaps include networking skills and flexibility.
Theoretical learning about leadership has helped expand my horizons in terms of career development. Before I started the module, I believed that leaders are born, not made, and that one either is or is not the sort of person who can lead others. However, we learnt about different theories about leadership, and also about ways leadership can be developed. The idea that leaders are born is also known as the ‘great man’ theory of leadership (Daft 2007). A similar theory is the ‘trait’ model (Komives et al 2009). Although these are old models, they were still influential in my thinking.
My experience on the course opened my eyes about different leadership theories. Many hold that leadership can be learned, for example behaviour-based theories, contingency theories and transformational theory (Komives et al 2009; Bragg 2008). Of the three, I have been most influenced by transformational theories. Behavioural and contingency theories seem to lack soul for me. It seems to me, based on my working experience, that people need to relate to and be inspired by leaders. Transformational theory, introduced by Burns (1978), suggests that transformational leadership is related to “morality, charisma, vision and values” that is, the leader must inspire people. Leaders also need to work with the people they lead, sharing information (Lucas 2005, p.20).
One problem I found was that while there is a lot written about transformational leadership, there is not so much about how it can actually be put into practice. I did find a model based on Burns (1985) ideas. Manktelo et al (2005) suggest a 4 step process involving
Creating a picture of the future to inspire people
Getting people to ‘buy in’ to the picture
Manage the way the vision is made to occur
Improve relationships between people involved in delivering the vision
They also suggest ways in which each stage can be achieved. In order to attain my desired career goals I will certainly be using this model to help me. I also found some textbooks recommended for the module useful. Chapman and O’Neill (1999) broke leadership down into 6 practical steps. I found this useful as I find it hard sometimes to translate theory into practice. I also found Covey (1999) useful. This approach teaches one how to base leadership around principles. I have always felt that management should be to do with treating people fairly and involving them in decisions, no matter what level of the company they are working at. Gardner and Laskin (1996) have given me ideas about how to watch what other leaders do and incorporate their behaviours into my own approach. One writer I found less helpful was Watkins (2013). He suggests getting to understand the “pivotal” people in the organisation quickly, through understanding their motivations and the pressures they are working under as well as the way they see their choices. The strategy is then to apply tools of influence to sway them. I have two issues with this approach. First, I believe every worker in an organisation is equally important. I would rather get all people agreeable to a course of action than concentrate on those he sees as ‘pivotal’. By concentrating on a few, resentment might arise. I would also suggest that it might not be possible to get to know people as quickly as he thinks. Watkins (2013) assumes that people will be honest and open about their motivation in a short conversation, and from my experience this often is not the case.
Overall, I believe that learning more about leadership and finding practical approaches to being a better leader, including coaching skills, is the key way to address the gap I have talked about in earlier sections between my current skill set and the skill set required for my ideal position.
In conclusion, I have examined my career in the context of my past working experience, where I am at the moment, and where I want to be. A number of tools I have learned during this module, as well as through self-learning, have helped me work out the ideal profile for my desired job role. I have also identified how I might turn my current skill set into the desired one. In particular, I need to work on leadership abilities. I have found a number of practical tools to help me do this, and have explored them above. My networking skills and flexibility can also be improved.
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