Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 8, 2015)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2016), Top Employers for Canadians Over 40 (2016) and Montreal's Top Employers (2016):
- Air Canada manages the charitable "Air Canada Foundation" to raise funds and donate to initiatives focused on helping children and youth -- including the well-known "Dreams Take Flight" program that takes children from across the county to to Disney for one magical day and the "Wings of Courage" program that recognizes the bravery of children confronted with serious illness
- Air Canada retirees can stay connected through the "Pionairs" association, a federally registered non-profit organization that was founded in 1977 -- the association boasts a total membership of 24,000 worldwide and maintains a pension and benefits committee, which monitors pension developments and advocates for pension protection and reform
- Air Canada ensures that employees keep their skills sharp with tuition subsidies, the online Air Canada University program, as well as and extensive in-house training programs for airline crews at four major training facilities across Canada and flight simulation training for pilots, including state-of-the-art flight simulators as well as online through iPads in the comfort of their own home
Building a 'culture of collaboration' at Air Canada
To Sophie Meloche, "it was like winning the Academy Award." That was the day she received the Air Canada Award of Excellence, an honour bestowed on only about 50 employees a year among its 28,000 high-flying staff.
As Facilities Customer Relations Manager for Montreal, she was thrilled. "Even for me, I felt that it changed my life," says Meloche, who has been with Air Canada for 15 years. "I have always tried to be a good worker, but winning this makes all the difference. You don't feel you're working in the dark. You feel like you're part of a family. The pride that it brings is amazing."
Interestingly, Meloche is among the most ground-bound of Air Canada's employees. She helps oversee the airline's Montreal buildings - including its headquarters - as well as conference rooms, hangars, and even the keys to the cockpit that pilots must carry.
But her role is as critical as any other in the interconnected web of employees who make the airline function - and 78-yearold Air Canada is recognizing the importance of those employees as never before.
"Increasingly, we are a culture of collaboration," says Vice-President Human Resources Arielle Meloul-Wechsler. "That means we're very focused on transparent communication with our employees. And we are investing a lot more in them, not just in traditional technical training but in customer service skills and talent development."
Meloche, for instance, recently attended training for 200 frontline employees from a variety of departments across Canada, where staff learned about the mission and vision for the company and were able to meet people from outside their own areas and learn about their jobs.
This was no small exercise, explains Meloul-Wechsler. More than 5,000 employees have attended similar sessions, and another 10,000 will do so by some time in 2016.
"We purposely mix the groups," she says. "As they chat, they understand the impact they each play on the customer journey. They realize, for example, that if you have a disappointing airport experience, you're probably already in a bad mood when you step over the threshold of the aircraft and it makes it harder for our flight attendants. Those 'aha' moments have a lot of value."
Moreover, the airline is determined to harness the ideas and energy of its staff. "We are making sure we have the best talent from across the corporation thinking through issues rather than working in silos," she says. "All of this leads to trust, employee engagement and ultimately customer engagement."
To stay in touch with employees, the airline has a daily e-mail that offers company news and raises immediate issues, as well as a Yammer social media site where people can instantly discuss problems and offer solutions. The corporation also uses live focus groups to monitor employee viewpoints.
This kind of collaboration on a grand scale is paying off. "For example, we have significantly moved the dial on on-time performance, first and foremost by talking about it, then putting processes in place through cross-functional teaming," says Meloul-Wechsler. "We started seeing improvements just when we started talking about it."
Such advances - and a range of employee ideas on such things as how to lower fuel use - have also contributed to Air Canada's financial success, which is a further attraction to prospective employees. Long-term staff like Meloche are pleased too. "We have a voice now," she says. "Air Canada has become a very open-minded, employee-oriented organization."
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2016)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 23, 2016)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2016):
- Air Canada maintains regional diversity committees in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, compromised of representatives from all designated groups and a variety of different positions -- committees provide employees with a forum to share and discuss work related issues and best practices to improve the overall work environment
- Air Canada hosted two "Women in Aviation" events to encourage female employees to establish internal networks -- the events featured panel discussions with senior-level women at the organization as well as female executives from across the aerospace industry and resulted in the creation of four internal discussion groups on career management, balancing career and quality of life outside of work, diversity and inclusion, and difficult conversations and feedback
- In partnership with imagineNATIVE, Air Canada offers "imagineNATIVE Shorts Program", a compilation of shorts from the imagineNATIVE Film Festival (containing films from well-known indigenous filmmakers) to customers as part of their in-flight entertainment programming
"I'm happy and proud to work for a team that not only accepts diversity but embraces and leverages it for success. Meeting people with different cultures, identities, abilities, and experiences made it easy to feel like I belonged. I started working here less than two years ago and it's still refreshing to see Air Canada represent the Canadian mosaic of people." Clare L., Administrative Assistant, Strategic Procurement
Air Canada works to attract diverse high-fliers
Like many companies, Air Canada has learned that one of the challenges in encouraging diverse recruitment is that it's not just who's applying to work for you - it's who's not.
Canada's leading airline is meeting that challenge head-on. "After taking a close look at our workforce, we asked ourselves why were we so successful in certain areas and departments and less in others," says Chantal Dugas, General Manager, Linguistic Affairs and Diversity. "Why did certain positions not attract more candidates from a wide range of diversity groups, and more importantly, how should we be approaching this matter differently to ensure better representation? We came to the conclusion that we had to engage in more targeted recruitment."
"For example, if there weren't enough Aboriginal applicants, we would increase our visibility within that specific community, and partner with Aboriginal organizations to promote all available positions." Similarly, Dugas says, the airline has worked with a number of partners to attract people with disabilities. "We realized that a lot of people have the skills for the job but may feel intimidated or unsure about applying," Dugas says. Now, through programs and awareness campaigns, the company is better equipped to welcome candidates with disabilities in virtually all areas of the business.
The airline has also put a lot of energy into attracting women and ensuring that they feel supported and understand their career and growth opportunities at Air Canada - in any role. The airline has even improved female representation in a surprising area - baggage handling. "I spoke to a number of women who do this work, and they are so passionate about it," says Dugas. "You can see the sparkle in their eyes when they talk about it. We've invited a few to come to career fairs and promote this type of work. A lot of our positions are not well-known with the general public."
In 2014, Air Canada created three diversity committees, one each in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. They bring together employees from all departments and levels to exchange ideas and brainstorm on a quarterly basis about how to improve the workplace.
Members come from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds, including visible minorities, women, Aboriginals, people with disabilities, LGBT people, older and younger staff, managers, union and non-unionized employees.
Air Canada has also started a "Women in Aviation" initiative in which it invites prominent and successful women in business to share their stories and offer support, encouragement and tools for women employees.
Conversely, one job that in the past was seen as a mainly female area has since attracted many men and is getting close to gender parity - that of flight attendant. Among the men who love the job is Gilles Bourque, a flight attendant of Acadian and Métis heritage who grew up in a small New Brunswick village.
"When people see me they try to figure out where I'm from," he says. "I have olive skin and my eyes are a slightly different shape - I guess that's the
Aboriginal part of me coming out." But in the Canadian context, it's the way he speaks that stands out. "People say I have a cute Acadian accent."
Bourque says Air Canada's efforts to have a workforce that reflects its 40 million annual customers were clear to him when he joined in 2011. "In my training class, there was every kind of background," he says. "The whole class was 'diverse'." Bourque is aware that the company offers various forms of support to anyone requiring it, but he says he's found the culture so inclusive that he hasn't felt the need for it. He's more focused on the
diversity of the job itself. "It's never the same," he says. "Every flight is different, every destination is different, every day is different," he says. "It's never boring."