Taking off on a new career

By: Stephen Williams

January 16, 2018

I’m Stephen Williams aged 49 from the northeast of England and I’m married with two grown up children and two young grandchildren. Before coming to Virgin Atlantic, I had quite a long career but none of it was in the aviation world. I’ve been a registered nurse since I was 18 years old, working mainly in orthopaedics and A&E. I progressed through the ranks over the years, working as a general manager for A&E services across Leeds, as well as in a national role for the Department of Health. I then went to work at Macmillan Cancer Support, first as a regional manager and then in a national policy role.

When my youngest son left home to go to university my wife and I decided to take a career break and moved to southern Spain where, amongst other things, we renovated an old village house in the mountains, something I will never do again in my life! After my break, I knew I didn’t want to go back to a management role and wanted to do something completely different. By chance, I met a woman at a party who was cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic. She felt I was perfect for this type of role, but my initial reaction was “Me? I don’t think so!” But she convinced me that Virgin were looking for people with life experience and personality, and age was not a factor. So I thought why on earth not, I have nothing to lose, I am going to apply as I would love to do that – and now here I am! The first intensive six weeks of training at head office are now over, so I’m happy to share the story of how I fared in my quest to become part of the Virgin cabin crew family.

A life-changing decision

The first week flies by and by the end it feels like I’ve been here months, not days. The thing to remember is that it’s not just about learning new skills and behaviours, it’s also about meeting new people, fitting into a new organisational culture and finding new accommodation and bus routes. This is a massive life change for me; being somewhere I don’t know, taking a massive risk, a new career at 49!

The welcome days are great. We meet people from the whole organisation: engineers, HR people, Clubhouse and finance staff and others. The culture of the workplace seems to be very important to Virgin and it doesn’t appear to be lip service either. So far, so impressed.

We soon get down to business and into the safety training. Lots of hands-on exercises, and lots of fun – now this is the way I learn. There’s so much to process and it’s all important. Turbulence, decompression, pre-flight checks. But the fantastic trainers make it easy to take in and remember. There are tests and exams almost every day during training, but the first one is particularly nerve-wracking. Despite my two degrees, I was really worried about getting things wrong. Academic study is nothing like what’s needed here. This is all about memory, recall and understanding why the processes are the way they are. It makes no difference what other qualifications you have – we’re all on the same level where this stuff is concerned. Thankfully I pass the test. It was just a case of demonstrating my understanding of what we’ve learned during the week, but I know I’m going to have to stay on the ball. There’s a lot of information to retain, and you cannot slack off, even for a moment.

Fire training under the watchful eye of one of our instructors

Fire training under the watchful eye of one of our instructors

Getting through the practicals together

Our group of cabin crew trainees seems to be gelling. Over the next few weeks the intensity ramps up as we go through emergency landings, ditching in water, fire training and security, all vital subjects to learn. The training is very physical and emotional at times, but the trainers make it memorable and enjoyable.  The slide and raft work is a case in point. It’s serious stuff, but the fun aspect seems to help it stick in your memory. These training techniques are obviously very well thought through. The pool work is difficult for some though. Not everyone is comfortable in the water, and it must be quite daunting for those who are nervous or not quite as physically fit as others. It’s tiring work too, but everyone is supportive and we all get through our ‘practicals’.

The raft exercise

The raft exercise

But it’s soon set to get even tougher. There are more exams to come, and a whole set of new rules and procedures to take in and absorb. In part two of my story, I’ll be dealing with emergency simulations and stints in the pool, so come back soon and find out how I got on.

In part two of Steve’s story you can read how the training ends, find out about our ‘wings’ ceremony and learn how he copes on his first flight to Los Angeles

Find out more about our Cabin Crew recruitment process and apply at our careers website.







Categories: Our People