Ready for Takeoff


A Calculated Journey to a Learning Mindset

When your company’s mission is to lift people thousands of feet in the air and transport them hundreds of miles away, there is no room for human error.

That’s why American Airlines has a three–phase approach to learning: Functional certifications, optimized training and an adaptive learning mindset.

Airlines are subject to a complex set of regulations that require an extensive set of functional certifications, not just for pilots, but across the operation. For example, mechanics must be certified aviation specialists. This includes training on specific tool usage. A mechanic could be using a particular wrench application for ten years. Still, if their certification wasn’t renewed or if someone simply forgot to check “completed” in their system – that mechanic can’t use that wrench, and that plane isn’t taking off on time. Think about that across all jobs – in the entire operation – across all the airports they serve. To address the risk, they have invested in a learning management system that ensures certifications don’t lapse.

American Airline’s learning team finds it helpful to consider functional training as a dynamic need which should regularly be optimized. For instance, they hosted a four–hour dangerous goods class that every luggage handler had to complete once a year. They realized that many luggage agents had taken the same class year after year after year. Most long-term employees knew the material. It was boring and long. After seeking FAA approval, the team produced three 20-minute modules that were focused, more scenario–based than the previous course. Not only did learners begin reporting more dangerous goods, signaling they had absorbed what they had learned, the approach also saved millions of dollars over the longer course.

It’s not enough for employees to be competent in their current job. The pace of change across the operation is accelerating. American Airlines is committed to helping employees build a learning mindset that gets them ready for what will be needed in the future by encouraging employees to explore personal learning journeys that align with future goals.

The job of a learning professional is never done, but those at American Airlines are making steady progress. Even just small moves in re–skilling employees represent significant cost savings for the business and new opportunities for team members. 

“It’s not enough to know how to do today’s job. We have to prepare our team now for the work we will need.”

Kari McClure

Director of Learning Experience
American Airlines