If having to let go of valuable employees during the pandemic was a difficult decision in your organization, imagine the challenging decisions and communication that took place at Air Canada in the early days of the outbreak. After the carrier was grounded because of the crisis, the company was forced to cut 20,000 roles from its workforce of 36,000.
But with air travel resuming and most restrictions lifted, the company is soaring again and seeing increased talent demand again. In fact, by June of this year, the company anticipates resuming 90% of the flights it had operated prior to the arrival of the pandemic. Along the way to that goal, Air Canada will be adding headcount at the fastest pace ever at the airline.
As the country’s largest airline, Air Canada is also one of its most well-respected brands among consumers and job seekers. The company has been recognized by the Candidate Experience (CandE) Awards numerous times, named as one of the top 50 organizations in North America. Even so, in today’s extremely competitive labor market, last year, the carrier very quickly realized that it needed to pivot on its talent strategy.
As passenger demand came roaring back, Air Canada needed to staff up quickly or risked losing market share and customer confidence, according to Nathalie Lemyre, the director of the company’s HR Center of Excellence overseeing talent acquisition.
redirecting talent attraction
In the past, attracting talent to the company wasn’t so challenging, since Air Canada is a widely respected brand, but COVID-19 fundamentally changed the rules, she added. With so much competition for talent, both from within the airline industry and outside of it, the company needed to revise its strategy in the post-pandemic world.
While Lemyre believes the airline industry is still viewed as an attractive business, competition from a variety of other sectors has made it more challenging to recruit for station attendants, call center agents, flight attendants and other roles. While previously the company relied on its strong brand for access to quality workers, emphasizing the value proposition of the industry has become more relevant today. She says Air Canada hopes to sell talent on a career in the airline industry and choose her company as the employer of choice.
“Pre-pandemic, we used to promote and offer roles under the Air Canada brand. Our brand was extremely strong, and we knew from an attraction perspective it was somewhat easy for us. Fast track 24 months, right now we are promoting opportunities differently,” she adds.
a clear focus on purpose and talent experience
To help candidates see the potential of a rebuilding business, the company has both strengthened its employee value proposition and highlighted the satisfaction of working in a business that offers meaning and emotional connections with people. Just as the company has always offered a superior customer experience for travelers, Air Canada has made this a focus for its people as well by prioritizing five areas that lead to a better experience, she says.
Among these include a better work-life balance, where talent are now given flex days that allow them to exert more control over their schedules. Employees and new hires are also encouraged to travel more as the company has expanded the number of flight passes available to employees and how soon those passes can be used. Air Canada, as she points out, strongly encourages its workforce to utilize all of the company’s benefits.
Beyond these perks, the company also took a hard look at what jobs can be performed remotely to help attract and retain talent. Lemyre points out that this required a different and sometimes unfamiliar way of thinking for hiring managers because the company offered few remote opportunities pre-pandemic. With candidate expectations having changed during the past two years, Air Canada has now reassessed each role for its potential to be performed fully or partially offsite.
Adopting a truly talent-centric approach also means more support to its workforce. Beyond typical wellness programs that emphasize the physical and mental, Air Canada is also offering financial well-being services that help its people better manage their personal budgets, improve financial literacy and leverage the planning tools the company offers.
To further strengthen its value proposition, the company highlights personal stories of career success at Air Canada so potential hires can hear first-hand experiences. Tuition assistance and learning offerings are among additional enhancements, along with an agility program that promotes internal mobility opportunities. The company is also launching a new initiative aimed at personalizing the candidate journey at every touchpoint.
data keeps talent acquisition on course
All of this reflects Air Canada’s renewed talent attraction strategy as it copes with a transformed labor market. This means working with internal customers and hiring managers to help them better understand labor market constraints so they can make more informed decisions. Lemyre points out that, with today’s intense scarcity challenges, her team is using market data — for specific locations, for example — to customize attraction tactics that resonate with local applicants.
“If you share what we're working against, no one can argue on data and facts,” she adds.
While Air Canada’s brand remains strong among job seekers and travelers, the reality is that without transforming its approach to talent, the company and industry risk losing high-quality people to competitors across all sectors. Lemyre is confident, however, the company is on the right path: “We still have a very sexy industry, so now it’s a matter of how we market it.”