From a landlocked childhood to a long-term career on the water, UKSA’s Chief Executive Officer Ben Willows shares with us his unique journey with UKSA:
“My love of sailing was passed down to me from my dad. Despite living in the Midlands and as far away from the sea as you can get, my dad was always a passionate sailor and encouraged me to sail dinghies and small boats from a young age.
It was pretty clear from a young age that I didn’t want to go down the academic route – I just wanted to do as much sailing as possible! Not surprisingly, I became a sailing instructor at the age of 20 and then went on to work on board various high profile yachts before joining UKSA as a professional coach in 2001. I have been here ever since.
By choosing the right pathway for me, and feeling confident enough not to take the traditional academic route, I have been able to forge a long-term career in an industry that I am truly passionate about. I think it helps that I am still relatively young for a CEO, so I can easily relate to the young people who visit UKSA, plus I have lived the journey that many of them are starting at UKSA. Before I took on the role of Chief Executive in 2016, I was Deputy Chief Executive and before that, Director of Operations. I think it would be fair to say that I have a unique view of the organisation thanks to varied roles I have had here!
The water is unique in the way it can put people into an unfamiliar environment where they really have to think about trusting what they are being told – and that can be a big thing, especially for youngsters who might have been let down in the past. It takes them out of their comfort zone and as they begin to harness the elements around them they realise they can control the environment and that feeling is great! That challenges their resilience and decision-making and ultimately builds confidence.
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. It makes for a very aspirational and inspirational culture and it’s one we are very proud of, and looking forward to building on as we move into the next 30 years of UKSA.”
For more information on the transformational opportunities UKSA offers to young people, please visit: uksa.org/youth-development