Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2018)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 6, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2018) and Montreal's Top Employers (2018):
- 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 ensures that employees keep their skills sharp with tuition subsidies, an online Air Canada University, extensive in-house training for airline crews at 4 major training facilities across Canada and flight simulation training for pilots, which includes state-of-the-art flight simulators and online options for training in the comfort of their own home
- As part of its ongoing head office renovations, Air Canada sought employee feedback on everything from storage space design to the final decor -- the 7-storey head office is is part of a multi-building campus and features a renovated cafeteria, with outdoor terrace, and subsidized access to an onsite fitness facility, instructor-led classes and even an employee jogging club
Air Canada puts employees on top of the world
You know things are going well for Air Canada when its leaders feel that being named North America's Best Airline is only the start. "We want to be one of the world's Top Ten airlines, a true global champion," says Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Senior Vice-President, People and Culture. "We want to be Top Ten in everything we do." For employees, that means striving for excellence no matter what their role.
Including overseeing fellow employees' pension plans. That's the job of Olivier Ouimet, Manager, Pensions, and he is just as deter-mined to offer the best possible service as any on-board crew member or check-in staffer.
"It's very important to me that our employees have enough money at retirement," says Ouimet. "And it's very important to me that they understand it all.
"I really focus on the fact that being a Top Ten airline means a lot of different things in terms of service. The employees are like my customers, and we go above and beyond to help our customers."
That spirit is what Montreal-based Air Canada is looking for throughout its entire operation, says Meloul-Wechsler. The company is flying high these days, with strong results, continuing international expansion, long term labour agreements with all of its major unions, and an average of 200 applicants for every job. To get one, you have to be as dedicated as Ouimet.
In return, Air Canada is intent on developing its talent. Employees already have a great deal of flexibility, notes Meloul-Wechsler, and the company now offers a variety of "work-trading" opportunities. People can apply to take a long-term special assignment training other employees, or acting as a brand ambassador at major conferences. They can also try out other roles at Air Canada, such as moving from a call centre to the airport, or from economy to premium check-in, or even taking on an acting management role, directing their peers.
"There are many opportunities for employees to keep it fresh and not feel they are pigeon-holed into one career forever," says Meloul-Wechsler.
At the same time, a program for emerging middle management, called Leading the AC Way, or LACWay, involves cross-functional teams who compete to solve a real Air Canada problem -- "like a mini-MBA," says Meloul-Wechsler. The winners get to be part of the implementation.
Employee recognition is also a big part of the mix. Staff can go to the online SHINE system to give colleagues kudos for a job well done, or points that can be spent on everything from movie tickets to a flat-screen TV. "It really creates a culture of internal recognition," says Meloul-Wechsler. "And it's not a top-down thing, which is what is beautiful about it."
Then there's the most famous airline perk of all -- discounted flights on available seats that would otherwise go empty. Eleven years ago, that's what first attracted Ouimet, who at the time had a boyfriend working for Air Canada. Now he and his spouse often take advantage of the opportunity. "It's great to be able to go to Paris for the weekend or head to the beach in Miami," he says.
Ouimet also appreciates Air Canada's long-time support of same-sex relationships in its policies. But most of all, he feels pride in working for the airline. "Air Canada is the only carrier with the name 'Canada' in its title," he says. "Everybody knows it as the national carrier. I feel very proud to work here. I wouldn't change my job for anything in the world."
Flying high at Air Canada, 'an 80-year-old startup'
You can think of Alyssa Leonard as a symbol for all things Air Canada in Montréal. First, she's got a crucial job at the heart of the airline -- training flight attendants. She's so bilingual that people say to her in both languages, "But you have no accent." She loves being able to see the world with employees' discounted, space-available travel. And she's determined to see Air Canada fulfill its goal of becoming a Top Ten global airline.
"I strongly believe we can do it," she says. "It starts with people like me, influencing the mindsets of staff on the frontline. It means giving them the training that allows them to be the best they can be."
Now a Permanent Training Specialist, Leonard joined the carrier's leisure airline Air Canada Rouge in 2014 as a flight attendant after graduating from Concordia University. But as she discovered, "there are so many opportunities here." After a while, she was given the chance to do a special assignment training others, and "I absolutely adored it." Last May, after three years flying to vacation spots with Air Canada Rouge, she moved over to Air Canada as a full-time trainer.
Leonard loves the environment in the Dorval headquarters, near Montréal-Trudeau airport. "Everyone is so nice here," says Leonard. "In the hallways, people always greet you with 'Hello bonjour' or 'Bonjour hi' even though they don't know you."
The ability for employees to try different roles is a hallmark of Air Canada, especially in its hometown, says Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Senior Vice-President, People and Culture. "We have 10,000 employees in Montréal," she notes. "Most of our executives are based here. All of the support departments are here, including marketing, law, IT, revenue management, network planning, regional markets, finance and HR. So there is a lot of opportunity to grow at the Montréal head office and move to different jobs, and people do it all the time."
The language abilities of employees is another hallmark, she notes. "We are proud to have a predominantly bilingual workforce. It makes good business sense, and it shows the inclusiveness of our work environment." Employee experience is always top of mind, she adds.
These are good times for Air Canada, with strong financial results and an engaged workforce. "It is a big company that feels small," says Meloul-Wechsler. "While we are a big, complex operational business, we are increasingly agile, collaborative and cross-functional. We like to say we are an 80-year-old startup."
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2017)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 27, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2017):
- In partnership with imagineNATIVE, Air Canada offers the "imagineNATIVE Shorts Program" as part of their in-flight entertainment programming -- the compilation includes films from well-known Indigenous filmmakers featured in the imagineNATIVE Film Festival
- Air Canada introduced a Women in Aviation speaker series in 2014, which resulted in the creation of three co-development groups on career management, work-life balance and diversity -- each group encourages peer learning and provides a forum for employees to share challenges, ideas, experiences and perspectives
- Air Canada's maintenance division maintains a dedicated committee to provide female employees with a forum to network, explore personal development and receive guidance on establishing individual career goals -- the committee also hosted a Girls in Aviation Day, providing opportunities for girls ages 10 through 17 to visit Air Canada's workplace and learn about careers in aviation
Air Canada's baggage area is no longer a man's world
You're a petite woman - 5 foot 3. You're in your forties and looking for extra work. So what job do you take? Why, Air Canada baggage handler, of course - slinging suitcases of up to 50 pounds and more from conveyer belt to container and back.
That seemingly unlikely scenario is exactly what Amy Ruz did 10 years ago, and what Air Canada is encouraging many other women to do, petite or not. Roles like baggage handling are no longer a male-only domain - every job is wide open at Canada's leading airline.
Ruz, whose title is Station Attendant, says she loves working with the crews "below the wings" - pilots and flight attendants are "above the wings" - and she would happily recommend it to other women.
"On my first day of work, the men looked at me like, what's she going to do? But I earned their respect," she says. "You don't have to have a big body to lift heavy things. They teach you how to lift, and I had a lot of support."
Born in the northern Philippines, Ruz came to Canada in 1990. "I grew up on a farm," she says. "I am used to hard work."
Ruz joined Air Canada in 2007, attracted in part by the flight benefits that all major airlines provide. She has done so well that she now often earns vouchers for First Class tickets that she and her mother use to visit the Philippines.
She has done a number of tasks below the wings. In the beginning, she worked as a connection runner, making sure luggage is transferred to its connecting flight in time. She has put the chocks down in front of the giant aircraft's wheels. For First Class passengers, she has had to deal with the allowance of up to 70 pounds per suitcase - "we are required to have two people to lift those bags."
Now, given her seniority, she works inside the terminal, where the luggage containers arrive from the aircraft, but she is still lifting - and enjoying it. Her co-workers call her Sunshine, "because I always smile." She recently took part in an Air Canada video about diversity, and sees more women baggage handlers appearing in the crews, both young
and older. "It's for people who are serious about their work," she says of her job.
Chantal Dugas, General Manager, Diversity and Linguistic Affairs, says jobs like baggage handling can be an excellent entry level option for women, or men, who want to work with Air Canada. She knows of two people in senior leadership positions who started "on the ramp". From baggage, a person can move into training, supervision and ultimately management. The airline also offers tuition reimbursement for outside professional development.
Air Canada is also working hard to attract more young women into the engineering and technical sides of the airline's work, from aircraft maintenance to piloting, as well as baggage, Dugas says. "This is a long-term investment, because it means talking to girls at an early age, when they are picking their programs in school or thinking about a career."
The airline has put on major events aimed at young women aged 15-22, including an open house at Air Canada's Montreal headquarters which featured problem-solving scenarios that showed girls the chain of roles involved in, say, making sure a non-working in-flight
entertainment system was fixed before take-off.
At a higher level, the airline runs a Middle Management Development Program in which half of the participants in 2016 were women. Air Canada also hired 30 female pilots in 2016, up from 11 in 2015.
"The baseline is, how do we position Air Canada as an employer of choice for everyone," says Dugas. For women who would like to follow in the footsteps of Amy Ruz, the sky's the limit.