London City Airport has worked hard for its reputation in the corporate social responsibility sector. The winner in that category at The Wharf Innovation In Business Awards 2016 , can rightly be considered an example of what happens when such initiatives are done well.

What more glowing commendation is there than to be recognised by one's peers?

The airport has been visited this year by representatives from others in the trade including Bristol and Gatwick Airports, who travelled to the east London hub this year to see what they could learn and apply to their own businesses.

But as the airport’s head of public affairs and corporate social responsibility Liam McKay says, the purpose of a progressive CSR scheme is about more than charity, it’s about embracing the local community and contributing to an area’s character.

“We give back because in the field of employment we are gathering a local workforce – that’s how you build a resilient workforce,” said Liam, adding that 64% of the airport 's workforce is based within five miles of the airport.

"There’s a rock solid business angle for that and we realise that’s how to be a part of east London, how to help it prosper.”

The airport launched its award-winning employability programme Take Off Into Work in 2009 to help local people to get its jobs.

The scheme is run in partnership with the East London Business Alliance and Newham Workplace to train and place E16 residents in a variety of different roles across the airport.

In the six years it’s been running, close to 600 people have been taught core competencies such as reading and writing, so they could be job-ready for roles in, for example, customer service, working on a ramp or in security.

It’s something Liam said the airport was “rightly proud of”.

Another CSR programme the airport developed this year was a “mince and potatoes” work experience programme for students interested in tasting life at the airport and to tell management which departments they were interested in working in.

The programme was aimed at under-16s who, according to Liam, aren’t being exposed to the professional environment early enough.

“We listened to their needs and ran an induction programme which can then be followed with a more specialised programme,” he said.

The scheme prioritises residents in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Barking And Dagenham, Waltham Forest, Havering and Redbridge and it will be extended to Bexley next year.

“We are a significant east London employer and a catalyst for regeneration in London, so the programme has been expanded to cover more parts of east London,” said Liam.

“What that will do is create around 2,000 more jobs. And accompanying this is investment in skills and training so that we can inspire the next generation to get into jobs, hopefully at the airport, so they can remain in east London and become part of the capital’s economy.

“London is moving east and the airport plays a part in that story, particularly for our young people. So we want to give them a chance to get into a position with us.”

One thing McKay believes any CSR department must have in order to be successful, is the ability to respond to local trends and challenges.

In October the airport’s CSR team ran an event at Docklands exhibition centre Excel, giving students further opportunity to learn about the application of science, technology, English and maths in industry. The challenge was for them to design an app that the airport could use.

“In this instance we were looking to help young kids who were perhaps not getting enough exposure to the working environment,” said Liam. “It was a tremendous success and we want to do more on it.”

The airport’s sustainability agenda is not limited to the skies above either. Next year it’s set to launch a programme with Thames21, a social enterprise billed as the voice for London’s waterways, running workshops around schools in east London to learn about the contribution of the Thames to the growth of the capital.

For success in the world of CSR, Liam said it was important to listen to local partners and ensure a programme met local challenges.

He said it was also an effective way not only to give back to the community around the airport, but to gauge what it was able and willing to offer in return.

Which brings us to the £344million City Airport Development Programme, a project that presents the local community with just such an opportunity.

It includes large-scale terminal expansion – seven new aircraft stands will be built over five years – next summer, and local businesses will be asked to tender for the various associated tasks.

“CSR is about knowing what the opportunities are,” said Liam. “Our teams work with lots of people, but there is no shortage of others and probably some with great ideas we don’t know about.”

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