“You’re never too old to learn,” says Becky Stark, the director of Stark Export Focus, at the Institute of Export & International Trade’s (IOE&IT) graduation ceremony at Mansion House on Monday.
She had just been awarded her IOE&IT-accredited Level 4 Certificate in Advanced Customs Compliance from the UK Customs Academy (UKCA). Surrounded by her fellow UKCA and IOE&IT graduates, it was also a day of reflection for Stark. This was not her first IOE&IT graduation.
“I was actually at a graduation ceremony in Mansion House in 1998,” she says. “I got the top marks in the country for the IOE&IT's qualification in international trade at the time and I was the first person to be awarded the Company of World Traders to Silver Salver, which was a real honour.”
She’s been a member of the IOE&IT ever since, but felt the need to return to her studies following a period of significant change in UK trade.
“There's been so much change in international trade over the years anyway, but particularly since Brexit,” she says. “I wanted to keep an eye the changes to make sure I was up-to-date and that what I'm delivering is right.”
Apprentice to master
Stark currently delivers training and consultancy in import, export and customs processes, working with private companies, government and chambers of commerce.
After qualifying in 1998 she went onto serve an apprenticeship with the Company of World Traders in London and went onto become a livery woman. She was one of the youngest females to be invested to the Company and obtained the Freedom of the City of London in 2007.
The daughter of a sheep farmer, she was thrilled to be able to fulfil one of the traditional benefits of being a Freeman of the City – having the freedom to lead a sheep over the Thames and into the City.
“A couple of years after my investiture, I was attending a charity event in which I actually took a Romney sheep over London Bridge, wearing the company livery and I had my granddad's shepherd' crook that he made by hand,” she says. “It's been a really privileged journey.”
Attending her second graduation at Mansion House – the home and office of the Lord Mayor – was therefore symbolic for her personally.
“It's been absolutely fantastic to be back Mansion House, which is just so beautiful,” she says.
Stark is also in awe of her fellow graduates, knowing too well the hard work that’s needed to study at the IOE&IT while working.
“To see so many students here, knowing how many hours of study they have done to get these qualifications, is great. I have absolute respect for everyone,” she says. “The direction the IOE&IT has taken over the last few years has also been phenomenal. Its changed how it engages with industry and students alike. It's a really exciting time.”
More to come
Stark is excited for her own future too, saying she’s “not ready to hang up my boots just yet”. Whether she’ll be back in another twenty years for another graduation remains to be seen, but her journey in trade and with the IOE&IT is not over just yet.
“I always have a hunger for learning because international trade does not stand still. I need to keep on top of my game.
“I would like to think that I'll be able to find the time to do some more study. I'd like to be back here again for maybe another graduation.”