Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2019) and Montreal's Top Employers (2019):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 8, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2019) and Montreal's Top Employers (2019):
- As part of its ongoing head office renovations, Air Canada sought employee feedback on everything from storage space design to final decor -- the seven storey head office is part of a multi-building campus and features a renovated cafeteria (with outdoor terrace) and subsidized access to an onsite fitness facility, with instructor-led classes and an employee jogging club
- Through the impressive Air Canada Foundation, the company supports a number of charities and initiatives that focus on the health and wellness of children -- in the past year, the Foundation distributed over $1.58 million in financial grants and over 1,350 airline tickets to national and grassroots organizations
- Air Canada employees receive a number of unique financial perks, from duty-free store discounts to personal shipping discounts through Air Canada Cargo, to air travel discounts that also extend to family members
Air Canada offers staff a Flight Path to success
You won't see this tagline on any public Air Canada website, but every employee of Canada's largest airline knows it very well. "Win as One Air Canada" is part of the employee "Flight Path" the airline has created to ensure that everyone across the vast organization is on the same page. "We strive for excellence in everything we do," says Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Senior Vice-President, People, Culture and Communications. "Flight Path is what gets us there."
She says there is now a common and consistent vocabulary for employees in dealing with customers and each other. "Everybody understands why we're rowing in the same direction and, more importantly, how we're going to row in the same direction," she says. "It really does create a consistent employee experience where people feel valued by each other and everybody feels part of a team. Increasingly, as you walk into any part of the company, from the frontline to head office to any of our foreign offices, everybody is acting a certain way -- showing respect, striving for excellence -- and living the Air Canada values."
Flight Path also talks about "Acting with Care and Class", which emphasizes the Montreal-based airline's commitment to professionalism as well as its proud intention to be "top 10" in everything it does. As part of that evolution, the airline in early 2017 upgraded its aircraft livery to charcoal black on white with a red maple leaf on the tail, and uniforms based on black with red highlights. For employees as well as customers, says Meloul-Wechsler, it signals that "we are a premium airline and want to be known for that above all."
It's also a place of digital innovation, she notes. The airline is looking at artificial intelligence as it prepares to completely overhaul its reservation system in the coming year and a half and to "in-source" its loyalty program as part of its planned purchase, with partners, of Aeroplan. "Those are two huge projects that show how the airline is evolving," she says, "and again, how important it will be for everyone to be on the same page."
Management Trainee Tristan Waldie has regularly seen Flight Path in action, although he hasn't been with the airline very long. As part of a group of five business graduates recruited under the airline's Grad Hire Program, he has been strategically placed into key areas of the organization to learn how they function. "We hear Win as One Air Canada everywhere we go," he says. "And you can see that they are breaking down silos. People were incredibly welcoming, incredibly kind."
Waldie's group at Montréal-Trudeau airport has been conducting studies of such roles as the customer care staff who take passengers needing specialized services to and from their flights. "We were looking at how to improve the process for both the passengers and the agents," he says. "The agents really appreciated that we were taking the time to look at these processes." Some of the group's recommendations have already been implemented.
Waldie, the grandson of a pilot, says he grew up as an "aviation geek" who watched planes taking off and landing in Montreal. "Being at Air Canada is a dream come true," he says. "What I retain the most from my first four months here is the enormity of it, the scale of the operation, the coordination, the complexity - it's absolutely mind-boggling."
Air Canada is soaring with the help of high-tech
When you think of Air Canada, you may imagine the airline's check-in counters, its massive aircraft hangars and, of course, the in-flight experience. You may not immediately think of a Silicon Valley-style tech environment, with collaborative spaces, sofas, foosball and lots of screens.
But in Saint-Laurent, where Air Canada is headquartered, you can increasingly see the influence of tech in its workspaces. That's because the airline is rapidly transforming many of its processes with the help of new technology - especially artificial intelligence, or AI. And that means the airline is hiring more tech people.
"We are a part of the of Scale AI consortium, which is made up of five superclusters of corporate and research partners based in Quebec that have grouped together to start pilot projects in artificial intelligence," says Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, senior vice-president for people, culture and communications. "And in our business, there are many areas where we see uses for AI and predictive thinking."
That includes cargo management, where AI can help forecast from past experience how much cargo may be coming, as well as revenue management, flight scheduling, fuel consumption and weather.
It will even have an impact on recruitment, says Meloul-Wechsler. The airline recently partnered with a company whose AI recognition software can be used with a video interview to guide a recruiter when a candidate's facial expressions or body language show they may be uncomfortable with a line of questioning.
"It can guide the recruiter to go deeper, and ultimately it produces better quality candidates," she says.
Among the new employees jumping into tech at Air Canada is Caroline Hilario Santos, a client partner analyst who joined in January 2018.
"We're making a whole transformation with AI," she says. "It's a really exciting time to be in IT here."
Santos studied actuarial mathematics and finance at Concordia University, followed by a master's in business intelligence at HEC Montréal. She worked for a startup in Toronto for a while, but found she missed Montréal. "I saw a perfect match at Air Canada," she says.
Now, she is helping set up a data environment that allows for complex analytics in real time in areas such as cargo and fuel. In her first year, she says, "I have been amazed at how warm everybody is, how dynamic the teams are. And everywhere you go, you hear people say 'Hello, Bonjour.' It makes me feel that everyone is part of a diverse, inclusive group that watches out for one another."
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2019):
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 28, 2019)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2019):
- Air Canada partners with Ready, Willing and Able to match the unique qualifications of candidates with intellectual disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder to specific roles -- the company also participates in Dolphin Digital Technologies' disability mentoring day
- Air Canada is a partner of Indspire's Indigenous scholarship and award program, providing financial support for Indigenous students completing their education in an aviation-related program such as pilot or aircraft mechanic
- Air Canada also worked with Jazz Aviation to create a partnership with First Nations Technical Institute to help young Aboriginal students become pilots -- the initiative includes guidance on resume and job interview preparation as well as site visits to flight simulators and flight operations
Air Canada spreads the word in Indigenous communities
The first thing you notice about Air Canada Flight Attendant Shannon Sunshine is that she lives up to her name. She is outgoing, friendly, positive - and very used to being asked about it. "People say, you must be very happy with a last name like that," she says. "And 99 per cent of the time I am."
But the name is also an important part of her identity. She is part of southern Saskatchewan's Fishing Lake First Nation, home to a mix of Cree and Saulteaux people. "In the Indigenous language it's a very long, long word," she says. So government registrars of past times went with its English meaning, Sunshine. "I'm very proud of my name."
And at Air Canada, she's proud that she has a lot of opportunity to help other Indigenous people consider a career with the airline. Sunshine herself grew up in Regina in a mainstream Canadian environment, but regularly visited her cousins on the Fishing Lake reserve. Then she moved to Calgary to attend Mt. Royal University, saw an ad for an airline customer service position, and once there became fascinated with aviation life. "I would see the flight attendants and think, I'd love to do that, I'd love to travel," she recalls.
She worked as a flight attendant for two airlines and then, two years ago, was thrilled to join Air Canada. "That was the top of my mountain," she says. "I had always dreamed of working for Air Canada, because they're the national carrier and a global company. I was absolutely thrilled."
Now she has actively participated in helping with Air Canada's recruitment efforts, becoming part of a new Indigenous Resource Group and making visits in her uniform to reserves across the country. She describes going to a reserve school in Quebec with an Indigenous colleague from Operations and facing a very quiet group of students. "But they began asking questions, and two hours later it was a very different classroom," she says. "It wasn't just about flight attendants, but about being future pilots, maintenance people, customer service agents - there was so much engagement and interest. It was just amazing for them to know there was a company committed to Indigenous recruitment and diversity, and to working within the community."
That commitment is genuine and comes from the top level, says Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Senior Vice-President, People, Culture and Communications. "We want to reflect our global customer base," she says. "We have consciously been very creative in our approach to recruitment, and we have increasingly been going out into the communities, to change how we source talent and make sure we're looking beyond our own backyard."
She notes that Air Canada has diversity committees in all three of its key hubs of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and has also been promoting cultural diversity in a section of the daily newsletter that goes to all employees, promoting events or explaining various cultural practices. "So our employees naturally become more open-minded," she says.
Air Canada has also been logging notable advances for women. The ratio of women pilots is now 6.5 per cent - "which sounds like a really low number, and we're not stopping there, but it's well above the North American average." And a range of key leadership positions are currently held by women, such as her own, the chief information officer, the head of inflight services, the corporate secretary, the chief commercial officer and the head of international operations.
The airline's support of the LGBTQ+ community has also been longstanding, and it is also working on new programs to enhance multi-generational mentorship before people retire.
To Sunshine, the airline's efforts on inclusion have had a very personal effect. "Air Canada really fosters a culture where we celebrate our diversity," she says. "This is the first time in my career where I feel comfortable and proud to be Indigenous and to share my cultural background with others.