Audrey Chew is currently the Executive Coordinator in the Office of the CEO of daa. IASA had the pleasure of interviewing Audrey in September 2019 regarding her role at the time of Business Support Executive at the daa.
Did you always want to work in the Aviation Industry?
I was open to many different industries. However, as I had pursued a degree in Psychology and Sociology I thought I would go down the counselling route. When I was in my final year of college, I realised the emotional involvement of being a counsellor would be too taxing for my personal well-being as I would find it difficult to detach myself from work when at home. So, I asked myself what I liked, and essentially it was helping people. I knew I needed to be in a role that would benefit others to keep myself happy and motivated. To kickstart my career after graduation I wanted to be part of a graduate programme to get a broad understanding of an organisation to identify where I would best fit in. When I did so, I realised working for certain semi-state companies would have a huge impact in helping Ireland’s economy grow, as it would trickle its way down to the wider community and society. I applied for 11 different graduate programmes (two of which were semi-state organisations) in Dublin, got rejected by some and thought that was the end of it. Interestingly, I received offers from the two semi-state organisations I applied for – daa (Dublin Airport) and Enterprise Ireland. When I had to make my decision, I felt that working at an airport would be an amazing and unique environment to work in and it was a place that I frequented often anyway! (As a travel bug, I’ve explored 31 countries so far!) Hence, my journey at daa began.
What does your current role of Business Support executive at the daa entail?
In daa, there are many Business Support Executives, all positioned across the different departments which means the day-to-day work would differ immensely. I work in Operations within the Terminal Standards and Planning team, so my focus is on defining the target standard of our terminals and putting processes in place to help achieve them. This for example could include the standards of our washrooms, cleanliness of the terminal buildings, and layout of where things should be located.
As part of my role, I monitor the standards of both our terminals while researching and benchmarking other airports and organisations to identify how we can improve ourselves. This would for example, include the standards of our cleanliness and condition of our buildings. Once I have a change or a new standard that should be implemented, I work with the different stakeholders across the business to achieve it. It is not an easy task because implementing change requires buy-in from multiple levels – whether that be to get the necessary funding or the buy-in from the people involved to change the way they currently do things. At a high-level summary, that is what I do on a day-to-day basis.
However, sometimes random things can happen in the airport which involves an emergency and then it is all hands-on deck. At some point this summer on a Friday at 5PM we received a phone call reporting that there was a momentary glitch with the information screens in the terminals and the wrong information was being provided to passengers. It was a team effort. While some of my colleagues worked on getting the information on the screens back to normal, myself and my other team members went down to the floor and stood at each screen and became the ‘screens’ for the passengers, informing them where their departure gates were. It is a dynamic job, you never know what might happen, but you just roll with it.
You also completed a Graduate programme with the daa, what did this involve?
The graduate programme has evolved since I did it. It is now a two-year programme which has options of either rotating between departments or being specialised in a specific stream depending on the business needs of the year (e.g. Engineering, Operations, Commercial, Environmental, Finance). In 2017 when I joined the graduate programme, each of us was put into a single stream and was given the option of applying for any internal vacancies after completing our first year. I was put into Operations and reported directly into the General Manager while working with each of the Senior Managers across the different streams of the department. I was involved in numerous projects throughout my programme such as building data dashboards of key performance indicators for operational areas, preparing stakeholders for the go-live of the T2 passenger transfer facility, launching internal communication newsletters, building a business case for new passenger trolleys, and recording every piece of ground service equipment we had on the airfield area. This gave me a great overview of each stream and a great understanding how to run an airport while identifying my interests and strengths.
Did you complete a degree or training before entering into the Aviation industry, and if so, how has it helped your career?
I did a double major of Psychology and Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Both these schools of thought taught me to understand how people may think, feel, act within the environment of which they are put into. It highlighted the key factors that contribute and enforce people’s behaviour and beliefs. This helped me to understand that everyone’s opinion is important and if you put them together, you’ll be able to work collaboratively to find the best solution. Also, within Psychology, I did a lot of work with statistics, which has been a huge benefit to carrying out the projects within my role as it provided the data analyses required to support the recommendations I was providing to the business.
What do you love about your job?
The people! I work with amazing people, who are like family to me. I feel like I can be myself when I am with my colleagues and the banter is great. I feel recognised by different managers and staff across the business and they give credit where credit is due. I have been given responsibility which I did not expect to receive so fresh out of college. I felt respected and viewed as an asset to the team rather than someone who lacked experience. They also understand what it means to have a good work-life balance and are also compassionate to other things that may be happening in your own personal life, which I appreciate and value.
Have you faced any challenges getting to where you are now?
I would say the biggest challenge was self-esteem and belief. When I came to daa, I found it difficult to speak up during meetings with other senior managers and staff. However, my opinions and thoughts were taken seriously when considering business options for the future. It took other people recognising me, for me to recognise myself. As I was fresh out of college, I did not have had as much belief in myself at the start. However, I realised that I was there to learn and gain experience and I was not meant to know everything straight away, and my colleagues knew that. So, I had to learn how to manage the balance of being confident in the subject area which I was good at but knowing when to say, “I don’t know” and ask for help. What was great was that anyone I asked for help, was more than happy to give me time to explain.
When you were starting out in your career, was there a particular woman who inspired you?
Definitely. One of my colleagues, Rebecca Burke, inspired me. Rebecca is a few years older than me and when I arrived at daa she was the manager of all the Flight Connection Hosts. It was a brand new team of 10 and they absolutely loved her. She was full of energy and dedication and it returned right back as her team members always went out of their way for her. She would come in early and join them on their 4AM shift, before she was due to begin work at the expected 8AM like every other manager. That team grew over a year to double the size. Last year, she received a new job as the Cleaning and Facilities Manager over both terminals with about 300 staff. It is a really tough job managing such a large team but I think she is doing a great job. She’s always positive and enthusiastic, despite the challenges. It was remarkable because she has a great personal life going for her between traveling and getting married last year. It is great to have a role model at work – someone who is authentically herself while being an effective manager and enjoying her life outside work.
What steps do you think need to be taken in order to encourage more women to pursue a career within the Aviation Industry?
I think the most helpful thing is talking to people from the industry. When I was a student in Trinity, they brought in alumni across multiple industries to talk to us and offered mentorships. Through those connections, I was able to get a good understanding of what it meant to work in the different areas and ask a million questions. Quite often people have pre-existing opinions about an industry before even speaking to someone in it. By talking to professionals within the field you can get a better idea of what you are getting into.
There is nothing worse than doing a degree for four years and only realising at the start of a job that it is not your cup of tea. So, if you have those conversations while you are a student you can explore the opportunities out there while being in a safe space. At the same time, do not feel like you must have your life figured out by the time you leave college. When I got into the daa Graduate Programme, I did not know what I exactly wanted to do but I thought it was interesting, I would be able to help others, and explore the areas where I could slot in well. My advice to you is to seek opportunities to develop yourself with an open mind, because you never know what you may learn.
What advice would you give any girl/woman considering a career in the industry?
Speak to as many people in the industry as you can. The airport is like a mini-city, there are so many jobs so talk to people from all areas on the industry. If you get a good understanding of all options, then you can decide what you’re suited to and what areas you’re interested in. Ask yourself what area you would like to be in, be it an airline, an airport, leasing, etc and talk to professionals in those areas. For women, I would say: believe in yourself. Sometimes as women we can feel like we are lesser than others. Challenge yourself, find your voice, and listen. If you know there are things you are struggling with, find people who can help coach you. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can be proud of your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Our world is so dynamic, the world is changing and there are so many opportunities. Currently, I’m 25, so the position I would like to see myself at 35 would ideally be in a senior management position in a company in which I feel valued, in a role that I love. I would like to work with colleagues that are supportive and feel like family, who are all working towards achieving the same goal to make a positive impact on society. It might sound slightly cliché but my ultimate goal is to be happy by having a great work-life balance. Perhaps I’ll be married with children at that stage! Who knows? The most important part I will remind myself daily is that work is a part of my life, it does not define the entirety of it. The best thing I can do for myself is ensure that holistically I find satisfaction and happiness from every segment of my life.