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Best Practice Companies: Training in the Airline Industry

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After September 11th, there was a great deal of turmoil in the airline industry as a tremendous amount of money was needed to be allocated toward other things such as security enhancements. As a result, most airlines cut back costs in other departments, especially in the department of training. However, some airlines deemed training their employees effectively to be pertinent to their development, and thus decided to enhance their training programs to provide a more long term benefit.

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This is part of what contributed to the title of a “best practice company” for many of these airlines.

They recognized training as not only a fundamental part of human resource management but also for their growth and reputation. Training offers a way of developing skills, enhancing productivity and quality of work, and building worker loyalty to the firm, and most importantly, increasing individual and organizational performance to achieve business results. Training is widely accepted as an employee benefit and a method of improving employee morale, and enhancing employee skills has become a business imperative.

Increasingly, managers and leaders realize that the key to business growth and success is through developing the skills and knowledge of its workforce. The best practice companies we observed included Southwest Airlines, Jetblue, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic Airways; all of which have made it on the Fortune 500 list of “Most admired Companies”. We came to the conclusion that these five airlines can be seen as best practice companies in the field of training, due to their dedication in providing high quality training, their innovative training tactics, and their emphasis on training in customer service.

Dedication To Providing High Quality Training as a Means to Being a Best Practice Company: The superior quality of training is something in which these airlines take a great deal of pride in, and has been achieved through employee motivation and an intensive amount of learning. Three of the airlines including Southwest, Jetblue, and British Airways actually have “training universities” in which every employee is expected to attend. Some classes are standard for everyone in the workforce, while others cater to specific jobs, such as pilots, stewards, ground workers, etc.

Employee’s are paid for the time they spend in class at these designated schools and will typically work forty hour weeks doing so. All five of these airlines cater to the learning development of their employee’s, to ensure complete knowledge of the company and their specific job. Dedication To Providing High Quality Training: Southwest Airlines The key to success in any organization is motivation, the ability to rally a group of people behind a specific goal. When motivation is in place employee’s engage in low absenteeism and job satisfaction, to name a few.

Herb Kelleher, the founder and creator of Southwest Airlines has been able to do just this through many ways such as implementing training and career development programs. As many people have heard Southwest does not hire for skills but rather attitude and personality. Before considering if you would like to be employed you must first ask yourself, “Am I motivated? ” if not there is a great chance you will not be hired. Not having all of the correct skills on the other hand is not something to worry about seeing how Southwest will train you for the skills needed. ‘It is the people; it has always had to do with their selection,” Heskett says. ”They are selected primarily for attitude, and most people primarily select for skills. They have a particular view for people who will fit into a team-oriented organization and the airline industry is team-oriented. If you have people pointing fingers, you have problems” (people. bu. edu). Southwest has developed their own training program which they have named the “University for People. ” This school is based in Dallas out of the Love Field Airport. , more specifically within an old airplane hanger.

Within this hanger employee’s engage in a significant amount of role-play. For example someone might get to play the pissed off customer whose flight just got cancelled or the mother traveling with her children. The whole center has been designed to facilitate learning in real life situations. “The University for People is where new recruits are sent for orientation and indoctrination into Southwest’s culture. They get to see video footage of Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s legendary founder, dressed as Elvis at a company party and otherwise carrying on. ” (key. om) Southwest is an organization that believes in continuous learning therefore Southwest’s “individual employees become ‘international learns’ who look to learn in everyday experiences rather than occasional classes” (ccp. com). The main purpose of the University for People is to introduce and enforce hard work, high-energy, fun, local autonomy, and creativity. Dedication To Providing High Quality Training: JetBlue Airlines JetBlue, which has only been in existence since 1999, has learned the training practices of many other airline companies to formulate its very own unique program, and has since been extremely effective.

JetBlue established its own universities to ensure that people were properly trained; they have the College of Flight, the College of In-flight, and the College of Customer Service (Wynbrandt134). Third, the company consciously evaluates employees, including management and gives them feedback. Once hired, pilots and flight attendants are sent to Florida for three weeks for their training. JetBlue’s philosophy on training is creating the best working environment so the crew is motivated to work for the company. The Chief Learning Officer at JetBlue University shares the training viewpoint behind the company. At JetBlue U, our goal is to provide our crew members the tools they need to succeed. These tools include the technical aspects of each crew member’s responsibilities… and inculcation of our crew members in our unique corporate culture” (Sosbe). Many airline companies have separate training sessions for pilots and flight attendants, because the nature of their training material is very different. However, JetBlue tired something different, “Flight attendants and pilots are together for much of the first two weeks, and while a lot of the training is in separate classes, there is still a lot of overlap.

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Most airlines keep the two employee groups strictly apart. ” This process of putting the two groups together is a strategic method of JetBlue who believes that “analysis of accidents have revealed that lives have been saved when the crews were comfortable with one another” (Peterson 184). The first week of JetBlue U is about crew culture. They use icebreakers and activities to bond the flight attendants and pilots. They then go over Federal Aviation Administration or FAA regulations.

They have a lifestyle lecture, “the vagaries of drugs and booze awareness, and even hair and makeup pointers” (Peterson190). Each crew member must follow the appearance standards. From the second week on, the flight attendants and pilots divide into their different areas of focus. Dedication To Providing High Quality Training: British Airways British Airways, which is the largest airline in the United Kingdom, and considered one of the largest in Europe, is a best practice company because of the in depth way they train their employees.

They put time and effort into educating their pilots, flight attendants, and other company personnel. They go above and beyond the required amount of training. They have even created their own university, and incorporate real life simulators as a training component. According to 2006 Fortune 500 Magazine British Airways ranked seventh under the airline industry category, British Airways is, “catching the competition wide awake. ” British Airways is always finding ways to make their company more profitable.

According to Oracle press, “British Airways is using a new, comprehensive learning offering from Oracle to create a global learning programs for its 48,000 employees. ” This company has taken pride in making the best company it can be. Dedication To Providing High Quality Training: Singapore Airlines Singapore Airlines is one of the most renowned companies in the world and is ranked in Fortune as number seventeen in the year 2007 list of “World’s Most Admired companies. Singapore Airlines’ CEO, Chew Choon Seng, attributes his company’s success to their extensive training programs. “Training is a necessity, not an option. It is not to be dispensed with when times are bad… Training is forever. No-one is too young to be trained. ” As you can see, there is no one in the company that is not trained extensively.

This keeps everyone in the business on their toes and ready to handle any situation. Mrs Lam Seet Mui, Singapore Airlines’ Senior Manager for Human Resource development, talks about two types of training that Singapore Airlines does. Essentially we do two types of training, functional training and general management type training. Functional training is about equipping people with the skills to do their job, to make them technically competent and confident as possible… The general management training has to do with the softer skills. ”

Within these two groups, Singapore Airlines trains about 9,000 annually, the same amount as the National University in Singapore. Their courses are usually short and concise, and they feel that this allows them to be efficient and stay committed. (www2. arwick. ac. uk) To share the latest ideas and newest training techniques, Singapore Airlines brings together 50 executives from different departments all over the world. When the executives return they have all been exposed to the latest ideas and should be prepared to be a role model for the changes being made to better the company. (Fung) Dedication To Providing High Quality Training: Virgin Atlantic Airways Virgin Atlantic Airlines has only been around since 1984 and has managed to become the second largest airline in the United Kingdom. (Branson 185)

Virgin Atlantic has been formerly recognized on many occasions for its excellence in training. In 2005 they won the regional final of the National Training Awards. The awards acknowledge outstanding and lasting excellence and success through training. Dr Graeme Hall, Chief Executive of UK Skills, who runs the National Training Awards on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills, says, “Effective training will help create a more effective, productive and flexible workforce. The message to UK Plc is simple: invest in training to gain a true competitive advantage. Meanwhile, Virgin staff are happier and more motivated, and attrition is down. (Jackson 25) Like the other airlines, Virgin is committed to instilling a great deal of learning into the minds of their employees. This is accomplished by outlining the company framework, and using a variety of techniques to teach, with an emphasis on e-learning. Although Virgin Atlantic Airlines does not have a so called “university” to train its employee’s, it does have a general training facility used to employ all of its staff and specializes in individual e-learning.

One of the groups Virgin is most noteable for training is their management team. After the major descent in air travel following the attacks of 9/11, Virgin Atlantic went through a period of intense growth. The management team however, was not quite ready to take on such a period of rapid growth or to respond to new opportunities which may unwillingly present themselves. Branson also found it keen to increase the amount of management vacancies that were filled internally, to safeguard Virgin’s work culture.

In order to provide a resolution to this shortcoming, “Virgin decided to send all of its 120 managers on personal development workshops at Roffey Park, at a cost of ?2,000 to ?3,000 per head”. (Bringing out the Branson) The workshops began with individual coaching sessions that set personal development objectives for the managers, based on feedback from the 360-degree appraisal and personality tests. These were followed by a series of activities that aimed to instil Virgin’s leadership principles into management behavior.

The program finished by producing individual personal development plans and split each group into two sets of six managers, who met up six times over the next nine months to monitor their own progress and bounce ideas off each other. (“Bringing out the Branson”) Innovative Training Tactics as a Means to Being a Best Practice Company: Another distinguishing feature of these airlines is the innovative practices used to train their employees.

A typical day of training will use an extremely wide variety of ways to enforce and encourage productive learning. These techniques include: on-the-job training; apprenticeship training; role playing, scenario building, classroom training; and electronic learning, which may involve interactive Internet-based training, multimedia programs, distance learning, satellite training, other computer-aided instructional technologies, videos, simulators, conferences, and workshops.

We noticed that the majority of the innovative training has been used for the pilots as many airlines have taken advantage of today’s great technology to provide an excellent source of simulated training. Also, with the release of the new aircrafts, such as the airbus, there has been an increase in providing new training tactics to meet the quality of the new aircrafts. Innovative Training Tactics: JetBlue JetBlue has been all over the media for its developments in pilot training. Special training for pilots is given to ensure they know the newest technology and procedures.

In 2005, JetBlue signed a contract to send their pilots to College of Flight were they are trained by experienced professionals at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “The agreement calls for Embry-Riddle to deliver the ‘Initial Training Course’ (TS1) and the ‘Recurrent Training Course’ (TS2) to JetBlue’s ‘College of Flight’ instructors beginning in early 2006. The instruction is designed to enrich the pilot training programs for JetBlue’s fleet of Airbus and Embraer aircraft” (Embry-Riddle). JetBlue wants to equip its pilots with the most current information. As part of the plan, all current and new JetBlue flight instructors will be taking introductory and advanced courses designed to boost teaching effectiveness for instructors who provide academic and simulator training to front-line pilots” (Embry-Riddle).

A major difference between JetBlue’s training programs compared to other airlines is JetBlue pays its employees for their time during trainings. “Certain other big airlines, when they hire pilots, they say ‘you’re privileged to work for us, so we’re not going to pay you while you’re in training. Moreover] we’re going to make your pay for your own hotel [during your training]. ’ And then little wonder people come out of the class mad because they had to borrow money or they had to sacrifice, and they didn’t really respect the company because they took advantage of them” (Wynbrandt135). JetBlue not only pays their pilots, but pays for all of their accommodations while training. JetBlue makes their employees feel like they are cared about. An important role in their training is feeling like they are wanted.

Pilots sign a five year contract guaranteeing them employment, which doesn’t allow the company to lay them off. According to Neeleman, the net result is “employees are convinced the airline cares about them” (Wynbrandt135). Upon graduation from the University there is a final exam to test each crew member on the knowledge they have acquired. There is a graduation ceremony and many crew members have flights that depart the next morning. “They’ll be training two groups a month, cranking out the crew members at the rate of nearly one hundred a month” (Peterson 199).

Innovative Training Tactics: British Airways British Airways has developed an extensive training program for both their fight attendants, and pilots. They have developed flight simulators to make their training program tangible. The flight simulators offer joint aviation instruction. Their flight simulators make up the biggest Boeing training center outside of the United States. They are using the most worlds most advanced technology to make the simulators create real world situations. The simulation training includes use with Boeing and Airbus Airplanes.

They include work with Boeing 747, Boeing 777, Boeing 767, Boeing 757, Boeing 737, and Airbus A320. British Airways has also included pilot, ground school, and cabin safety to their training programs. Their ground school teaches JAR approval aircraft type-technical courses. They are computer based training and used in every day work. Each class that they offer is two hours long. The classes incorporate scans, procedures, and relevant aspects of the company. The pilots that take the class are tested every three days to make sure they are on task, and have understanding of the course material.

The course generally last ten to twelve days, and in order to enroll in the course they are asked to take a pre-course for two to three days on flight management computers. British Airways also uses a number of approaches to prepare their cabin crew for emergency situations. They are trained in cabin safety in areas that include: fire and smoke, wet drills, slide descents, and door operation. They are trained on any and all of the different planes that they fly, so that they are familiar with all of British Airways fleet.

Each area of training for safety focuses on different situations. For cabin simulators they teach the crew about skills and how to deal with any emergency situation. They start with the fire and smoke training. The crew is training how to deal with a plane fire emergency. They are given realistic simulation on first and they are taught how to with them in a orderly fashion. They then move on to the wet drills. For this drill the crew is taught how to operate a life jacket, and they are taught how to help the passengers in a water landing.

The last set of training workshops that the crew goes through is door operations. In this class they are taught how to use the exist doors and cabin doors. Innovative Training Tactics: Virgin Atlantic Airways Virgin Atlantic Airways utilizes the company Canadian Aviation Electronics (CAE), which is a worldly renown company that provides “customized training services for pilots and maintenance technicians ranging from integrated programs to deployable ground school capabilities and e-learning solutions. Their philosophy is to “enhance clients’ safety and efficiency and provide clients a training environment where they can continuously pursue a practical and operational learning experience through new and innovative technology. ” (“Simulation Products”) There are five different simulator programs in which CAE uses to train pilots, one of which is a simple piece of CD-Rom software which can used at any computer. The other four programs involves the use of a large piece of machinery which utilize programs and are operated by controls that are similar if not identical to what pilots would typically be exposed to when operating an aircraft.

The great thing about this new wave of training is that it is extremely hands on and interactive, and it caters to individual learning and progress. Whether the pilot in training is at home or at the training facility using the flight simulators, they can progress at their own pace, which ultimately maximizes learning. Each program is divided into a number of sections or chapters which contains an exam at the end to make sure that the information has been retained.

Another great feature about CAE’s flight simulators is they even use satellite technology to display current weather conditions across the world, so that the pilot will be prepared to fly in any type of climate. In addition to using actual weather conditions, there are 3D synthetic environments used in every visual system. CAE has been able to make quite the name for itself over the past few years, as it has become a standard training program for the military, has been adopted by a number of other airlines, and has revolutionized human resource management in the field of training and development. “Simulation Products”) Virgin Atlantic Airways has been recently been labeled as one of the most innovative airlines in the world for their plan to send a select few of their best pilots to have the opportunity to go through astronaut pilot training. In the article titled “Virgin Atlantic Pilots Are Out of This World,” it was quoted that all 700 of Virgin Atlanic’s pilots are welcomed to apply and those who are chosen “will receive nine months of aerobatic, fast jet and executive aircraft for zero gravity flights training.

They will then spend the next nine months flying the mothership and participating in Mission Control work – the last nine months will be spent flying Virgin Galactic Spaceships into space. Once they have completed their 27 month secondment they will return to Virgin Atlantic as qualified pilot astronauts. “ (Virgin Pilots Are Out of This World With Virgin Galactic) Emphasis on Training in Customer Service as a Means to Being a Best Practice Company Perhaps one of the most significant contributing factors of these companies success is their emphasis on customer service.

All of these airlines recognize the importance in training their employees in providing excellent customer service in order to achieve customer satisfaction and retention. Although spending excess time training in this field is expensive, the long term benefits are substantial as they build a clientel more willing to invest their time and money with the airline which pleases them the most. Emphasis on Training in Customer Service: Southwest Airlines “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit” (southwest. om). By following their mission created by founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher, Southwest literally has taken off and become a model for a best practices industry.

This dedication has led Southwest to develop 10 organizational practices that facilitate the coordination among 12 distinct functions: pilots, flights attendants, gate agents, ticketing agents, operations agents, ramp agents, baggage transfer agents, cargo agents, mechanics, uelers, aircraft cleaners, and caters by building relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect (coachingandmentoring. com). Emphasis on Training in Customer Service: British Airways British Airways serves as an example for other companies because they have a good grasp on what to do to make their customers and employees happy. According to EMCOR, British Airways focuses on, “serving its customers by getting people where they need to go. ” If every airline took pride in their customers like British Airways, the airline industry would run smoother.

British Airways customer relations department talked about how they take pride in their customer service, “we try to ensure you have a good experience when you travel with British Airways… we do our best to respond to you quickly and appropriately. ” Emphasis on Training in Customer Service: Singapore Airlines Singapore Airlines also places a strong emphasis on customer service training, especially for the stewards and stewardess’s, then they must go through two interviews and a written test to even get an offer.

After the offer each person must go through four months of training to be prepared to handle the toughest of situations. Some sections of this training includes Food and beverage knowledge, passenger handling, language and communication skills, and safety equipment procedures. Knowing the food and beverage is important because it is important to be able to tell each customer what they are eating on the flight. Passenger handling deals with how to respond to different customers. This includes making sure that each customer is happy and knowing how to satisfy them if they look upset.

This also has to do with communication skills. The easiest way to find out how a passenger’s flight is going is to ask them. Since there are many passengers this must be done in a timely and orderly fashion. (www. worksingapore. com) Emphasis on Training in Customer Service: Virgin Atlantic Airways Virgin Airways uses a great deal of scenario building to help their employee’s achieve the highest customer satisfaction. When in training, they will divide the room into groups, each of which includes a current employee who has experienced a situation where a customer was upset with them.

The current employee acts as the enraged or frustrated customer, and the other trainees are evaluated based on the way they handle the distressful situation. Afterwards they are given constructive criticism on how they can improve. (Jackson 220). Virgin Airways pays a lot of attention to their customers and emphasizes on providing an excellent customer experience. “Superior customer service and stress-free travel are two things that our travelers have come to expect from Virgin Atlantic,” said Chris Rossi, Vice President Sales and Marketing, North America. (Branson 78) Interview with Mark Swigonski:

After bringing all of our research together, we decided that Southwest would be the best airline to conduct an interview with, since they seem to have the strongest emphasis on both employee and customer satisfaction. We managed to find a Southwest pilot by the name of Mark Swigonski who has been an active pilot for well over ten years now. We asked Mark via email “What do you think about airlines trying to model Southwest and their best practices within the same industry or different industries? ” He replied ”The economic plan is a model for any industry.

Stimulate sales by making your product more affordable for more people. Instead of making a large profit on a few sales, make a small profit on lots of sales, thereby stimulating the business. Southwest airlines has made air travel affordable for the average American. People who would never dream of flying before can now afford to. Herb says we do not compete with other airlines, we compete with the automobile. One more story. When Southwest first started, the price of a ticket on Continental from Dallas Love to Houston Hobby was $220. Southwest charged $19.

People came to Herb and said why don’t you just charge $50, you’re still a quarter of the price. Herb answered, we will never do that. We will charge what we need to, to make a profit and never a cent more. We are going to stimulate traffic. Southwest still works that way. We also asked “What would be an anticipated obstacle if companies model this, and are there any financial costs and/or benefits? ” He replied, “It’s embarrassing. When you start up an airline and have no first class, no assigned seating, and say you can’t afford to buy something, it is embarrassing.

If you can’t afford it, you can’t buy it. You just have to have the self discipline to abide by that rule. You also need patience to wait for the correct market opportunities. Southwest currently has a couple of billion in the bank, waiting for an opportunity. They are in no hurry and will buy airplanes when the price is right, but not before. Three airlines have gone out of business in the last week. The opportunity will be there soon and Southwest will capitalize when the time is right. That takes a great deal of fiscal discipline.

Conclusion: Implications and How Other Companies Can Benefit From These Training Tactics Based on the evaluation of our five airline companies, we analyzed how other companies both within and outside of the industries could provide a benefit, and what costs may be associated. We realized that some of the short term implications are the high costs associated with providing such a dedicated training program. These extra costs include what is necessary to run the outside training universities as seen with Southwest, JetBlue, and British Airways.

Within the training universities are all of the expenses necessary to use all of the innovative techniques such as the expensive simulative training and all of the software needed for that, as well as the online training programs used both inside and outside of the classroom. These airlines are also responsible for paying all of the highly qualified people who instruct these training courses. The extra time spent in training is also very costly, especially since many of these airlines make some of the training practicum standard for everyone, regardless of their future occupation with the company.

Clearly, there are a great deal of costs incurred when running such an extensive training program that is so heavily focused on the employees. However, we concluded that the long term benefits actually outweigh any of these initial costs, because not only will the turn over rate decrease, but business will grow as there will be a more dedicated workforce. More training will prepare all employees for different situations and make them more competent workers. It will also weed out people who do not want to dedicate themselves to the job, making it easier to identify people that actually want to be there.

With better workers the company should notice a more efficient use of its resources and it will eventually make up what it lost on the cost of training through more profit in the long run. Maybe a person will be able to help four more customers a day after being trained longer. Four more customers a day adds up over the years to unbelievable amounts of profit. Or perhaps a person gains a better understanding of how to make a machine work more efficiently and can make more products quicker than before. A dedication to training goes hand in hand with a company that succeeds over its competitors.

If other companies wish to adopt a training model as extensive as these five airlines, then they must be prepared to take the risk in engulfing an extensive amount of costs, but be aware of all the positive outcomes and benefits which will result. After analyzing the qualities that make these five airlines best practice companies we determined that there are several similarities, however, each airline had a distinguishing trait that gave their company an identity. Southwest is most distinguished for its belief in the idea that if employees are happy, then customers are happy.

They focus nearly all of their time and energy in creating a motivational environment to encourage employee satisfaction which eventually transcends to customer satisfaction. British Airways is most notable for their incredibly high standards in training practicum. They call for a rigorous training program so as to achieve only the most qualified employee’s. Singapore Airlines strives to be the best in every aspect, whether it be in providing the best customer service, best food, most comfortable seating, or best employee motivation tactics.

Singapore believes strongly in the idea that there is always room for improvement. JetBlue is successful in their attempts to standardize education and encourage a solid learning environment in their training practices. They incorporate five core values—safety, caring, integrity, fun and passion—into every aspect of education. They also provide centralized crew-member education in common topics with common courses, creating a strong team orientation and commitment to a greater corporate good. (Sosbe).

Virgin Atlantic Airways is most well known constant strive to be innovative in all aspects of the company, whether it be using the most technologically advanced tools for training, or being the first airline to train pilots for space travel. From these five remarkable characteristics, we formulated three main points which were used throughout the paper to draw in the primary defining similarities of these best practice companies. These main points included a dedication in providing high quality training, innovative training tactics, and an emphasis on training in customer service.

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