Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2019) and Montreal's Top Employers (2018):
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 (2018):
- As part of its ongoing head office renovations, Air Canada sought employee feedback on everything from storage space design to final decor -- the 7-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."
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 (2018):
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 1, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Air Canada was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2018):
- Air Canada recently launched a new partnership 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 worked with a community partner to develop a workshop for the recruitment team on pre-selecting candidates with disabilities
- 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'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
Air Canada has a long history of championing inclusion
The requirement that Canadian employers offer married-couple benefits to employees' same-sex partners dates to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. But if you talk to people at Air Canada, you learn that the country's leading airline was well ahead of the curve.
"I've been here 20 years and it pre-dates me," says Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Senior Vice-President, People and Culture. "It has always been a non-issue for us. We did it long before the government told us we had to."
Eric Lauzon, now Manager of Community Partnerships, remembers joining Air Canada in 1995 and, as a gay employee, noting that same-sex benefits were already becoming available for health, life insurance and pensions. "I've never felt discrimination of any sort in the workplace here," he says. "I've always had jobs I really liked. I've been blessed."
Lauzon's career reflects Air Canada's LGBTQ-friendly history. Based in Montreal, he started in the Air Canada call centre while a student, doing his BA and then an MA in tourism marketing, where he focused on LGBTQ communities. That led to a position in tourism marketing with the airline, at a time when "companies were really going after the 'pink dollar'," he says.
Lauzon got Air Canada involved in trade associations, conferences and promotions involving the LGBTQ community. "I would say we really put Air Canada on the gay map." The airline was also a strong supporter of Pride celebrations across the country, and of HIV/AIDS causes.
Lauzon had other roles, too. For six years, he was the person who most passengers would consider critical to their well-being in the air -- he was in charge of in-flight entertainment. Along with many improvements to the system and its content, he also contributed to the launch of a summertime Pride channel.
In his current role, Lauzon is at ground zero for diversity, guiding Air Canada's involvement in community events and sponsorships. The outreach includes ethnic communities, First Nations groups, Indigenous film festivals, youth initiatives, women's leadership forums, and, of course, LGBTQ groups, plus much more. "We invest in about 100 community events a year," he says. "It keeps us very busy."
It's also a measure of Air Canada's commitment to diversity that its recruiters often now attend Lauzon's events. "It's a good way to proactively work with various ethnic groups, such as Indigenous people, to find new talent," he says.
Meloul-Wechsler notes that Air Canada continues to make strides in diversity. A little over a year ago, the airline appointed its first female C-suite leader, Executive Vice-President and Chief Commercial Officer Lucie Guillemette. "A woman is now part of the top four in the company, and I firmly believe that changes the dialogue at the table," says Meloul-Wechsler. "It adds more diversity of thinking, and it really comes from the top down. Our CEO champions our diversity initiatives."
She also points to the Women in Aviation forums that Air Canada regularly holds, where successful women in business share their experiences candidly, and where male employees are invited as well. "We very much believe this is not a dialogue that should happen just among women," she says.
Meloul-Wechsler notes that given Air Canada's overarching goal to become a Top Ten global airline, "there is a real recognition that our workforce has to reflect our customer base. So we are extremely diverse in our employee pool." The airline works hard to recruit Indigenous people and to accommodate people with disabilities. "If a person can do the job, we make sure that person gets the job," she says.
"We are always focused on being an inclusive workforce," says Meloul-Wechsler. "And we keep this top of mind in all our programs and policies."