A Career in Aviation Security

16th June 2017


By Dee Thomas, Regional Director, Aviation and Events

Listening to a Radio 6 programme recently I heard a contributor say that more than 25% of the UK workforce are unhappy in their jobs. This got me thinking about how lucky I am to have a career that I love, and how different it is from the path I expected to take.

To work in security management you need technical expertise, the ability to decipher process and regulations, and the capacity to implement robust measures that will ultimately protect people. At school I excelled in art, drama and languages rather than the sciences, and my reports were along the lines of: “Dee is a very sociable, creative child. She is inventive and popular, however she needs to pay closer attention to detail.” I went on to study drama at college and was on course for a career in the arts.

So what happened? How did a performing arts student become a director of aviation within a security company?

I began my working life as a receptionist at the Manchester Conference Centre, before moving into the role of business services manager for the Manchester Enterprises Group. I was part of the regeneration team, ensuring that the contractors for the project met their obligations to employ local people. It was here that I met Wilson James, the construction logistics company working on the redevelopment of the Manchester Arndale Centre. I was struck by how much the people working for Wilson James seemed to enjoy their jobs and remember them telling me they weren’t 9 to 5 people. At the time, I was a 9 to 5 person and I wasn’t particularly happy in my job, so that hit home: I wanted to be part of their team.

In 2006 I joined Wilson James as their resource and development manager working in their construction sector. WJ is a company that believes in the development of its people, and I was given the opportunity to move into operations in their Airport division. In 2016, after managing several projects, I become one of the operational directors.

However, only 486 of the 3,018-strong WJ workforce (or 16%) is aged between 18 and 30, 846 members of staff are between the ages of 31 and 40, and more than 33% of the workforce is close to retirement age. So we urgently need to attract more young people to work in security, both in management and frontline roles. The industry is open to transferable skills: someone who is a good people manager, who pays attention to detail (I’ve improved on this one since my school days!) and who is a member of the unhappy 25%, could successfully make the move. And it doesn’t have to be operational – security relies on range of support functions to deliver the service, from accounts to procurement.

To encourage young people to join the industry, we will be launching our first Airport Security Academy in partnership with Derby College in 2017. Students who sign up to the academy at 16 will learn first-hand from our security experts what it means to work in airport security. In year 2 they will undertake work experience and go on site visits with our clients, and in year 3 they will embark on an aviation course, followed by on-the-job training with a view to being offered a full-time role and the start of a fulfilling career in airport security.

I knew I had made the right choice as soon as I joined Wilson James. They were right, they’re certainly not 9 to 5 people, but I can honestly say I’ve joined the 75%!