Why Learning Matters: Airlines

As demand for air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, the aviation industry is bringing back furloughed employees and hiring new workers to meet the rush of travelers.

According to a report from the International Air Transport Association, a survey of over 800 HR leaders in aviation revealed that the industry’s most critical post-COVID-19 needs are right-skilling existing workers and ensuring new hires with no previous aviation experience can efficiently acquire critical skills.

The survey indicated that learning related to safety, operations, and security will be top of mind for airlines as they bring crews and pilots back to work. In an ever-changing industry, continuous learning and development will be critical for airlines that want to return to — or surpass — pre-pandemic air travel volume.

In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of learning programs, what your airline’s learning program should cover, and how to effectively implement such a program.

Benefits of a learning program for airlines

Even with COVID-19 in the mix, air travel is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade. In fact, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), air traffic is projected to double by 2035. Clearly, the size of the airline industry’s workforce will need to grow significantly in order to meet heightened demand — which means it’s critical to implement robust learning and development programs sooner rather than later. Benefits of a learning program for airlines include the following:

Adapting to changing health regulations

As COVID-19 restrictions evolve, new health, hygiene, and safety procedures will come into effect to ensure passengers and crew members stay as safe as possible.

Employees must be trained on the latest health regulations to minimize health and safety risks pertaining not just to COVID-19 but to other types of illness and injury.

Learning to use new equipment

Whether employees are de-icing a plane, checking electrical components, or using trolleys to haul and load luggage, they must know how to use equipment safely and efficiently.

By making continuous training and testing part of your operation, you’ll ensure that every employee has the skills required to operate the equipment pertinent to their role.

Attracting top talent

According to an Amazon-commissioned study conducted by Gallup, having a strong learning and development program is one of the most reliable ways to appeal to potential employees.

It’s not just about competing for talent with pay, perks, and flexibility — many young workers want to learn and build their skills. The study found that:

  • 48% of American workers would switch to a new job if it offered skills-training opportunities
  • 65% of workers believe training opportunities are important when evaluating a potential new job

Offering a robust learning and development program can differentiate you from other airlines that don’t provide the same opportunities for career development.

Quickly onboarding critical positions

As the ICAO pointed out, increasing demand for air travel means airlines must hire and onboard employees rapidly — all without sacrificing quality of instruction.

Having a robust learning program will make it easier to provide standardized onboarding that gives new hires a strong foundation before moving into on-the-job training, regardless of their experience level. Since requirements for airlines change frequently, even new hires with previous airline experience may need critical foundational skills to get them up to date.

Avoiding fines and penalties for noncompliance

Penalties for noncompliance with industry guidelines can include fines, settlements, and civil penalties.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “The FAA has authority to issue orders assessing a civil penalty of up to $400,000 against persons other than individuals and small business concerns and up to $50,000 against individuals and small business concerns. Generally, the penalty for each violation ranges from $1,100 to $27,500, depending on the provision violated and the category of the alleged violator.”

Beyond exposing their employers to the risk of fines, noncompliant workers can lose their certifications or face suspension, potentially resulting in unexpected staff shortages that may cause airlines to cancel flights and lose revenue.

While continuous training and learning can’t guarantee your employees will never break compliance rules, it will minimize their likelihood of making avoidable procedural errors that land your airline in legal trouble.

Read more: The Ultimate Cost of Noncompliance on Your Business

What a learning program for airline employees should cover

While learning should always be customized to each individual role’s duties and responsibilities, there are some general areas on which most employees will need to be trained. In the airline industry, these include:

  • Safety. Whether they’re crew members, pilots, loading dock workers, or mechanics, every employee will have to master key safety measures as part of their role. With this in mind, a good learning program will make safety a priority.
  • Compliance. Learning modules on compliance measures are important for all employees, regardless of role. Whether they’re tasked with detailed record-keeping of maintenance and inspections, ensuring COVID-related regulations are adhered to, or making passengers aware of in-flight safety rules, everyone should have a good understanding of the regulations that apply to their work.
  • Customer service. While this may not apply directly to “back-of-house” employees, it’s critical for anyone who interacts with passengers. Customer-facing employees should be trained on how to accommodate special requests, how to deal with unruly travelers, and how to answer passengers’ frequently asked questions.
  • Operations. Employees should have a clear understanding of the specific part they play in the wider operation of the airline, as well as how they can and should work with other departments and teams.

How to implement an effective learning program for airline employees

An effective learning program will be flexible, relevant, and tied to business goals. Here’s how you can implement one for your airline.

Offer scenario-based training

Learning modules shouldn’t only include rote information for memorization; they should be directly tied to common scenarios that your employees are likely to run into during their workdays.

Use real examples to illustrate key points and give your employees the chance to act out scenarios and tasks before they encounter them in the workplace.

Make just-in-time learning easily available

You can’t expect to have new employees sit through a few trainings, go out on the job, and remember everything perfectly during a busy workday.

With this in mind, microlearning modules accessible via mobile app or tablet will empower employees to quickly find relevant trainings, short videos, and other materials when they need them. Being able to find exactly what they need within the flow of their workday will increase the likelihood of employees handling tasks without requiring assistance or making unnecessary errors.

Supplement training courses with on-the-job training

Even the most robust learning management system needs to be supplemented by on-the-job training.

Building upon the learning modules you use as part of formal training, informal training gives new hires the opportunity to work alongside experienced employees who can demonstrate how the skills they’re learning in training are applied in real-life situations.

Ask for feedback and constantly improve your program

Learning and development programs should be ever-evolving. To ensure your programs are top-notch, empower employees to provide direct and honest feedback about training relevance and usefulness, then use this to improve content and delivery as needed.

Establish metrics to determine ROI

Being able to tie your learning initiatives back to business goals will help you make a strong business case for the funding you need to continuously optimize and improve learning and development.

Metrics like reduced incident reports, fewer accidents, and lower fines and penalties have a direct impact on your airline’s brand and bottom line. As such, they can be used to indicate a learning program’s strengths as well as where changes should be made.

The bottom line

Air travel isn’t just getting back to normal, it’s about to grow rapidly — and with it, the demand for trained airline employees will rise. With a strategic learning program, your airline can differentiate itself through stellar customer service, attract top talent, and enjoy lower turnover.