Review of the Civil Aviation Inspector Community at Transport Canada

Recruitment and Retention Practices

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5 Recruitment and Retention Practices

As demonstrated in our overview of the context of the review and the current situation in civil aviation, the challenges relating to recruitment and retention are shared by all employers in the aviation sector, including TC. Of course, government organizations do face their own unique challenges of being a public entity that is responsible to not only its immediate aviation clients but to the general public as well. As such, TC must appear to be acting in a fair and independent manner at all times, including in their retention recruitment practices.

5.1 Department of National Defense

However, TC isn’t the only government organization facing challenges relating to the recruitment and retention of licensed aviators. The other primary government employer of aviation personnel is, of course, Canada’s military and it is facing many of the same challenges that the Department is. However, the Department of National Defense (DND) has undertaken measures to address issues of attrition and has stepped up its recruiting and training efforts.

According to a recent interview in Wings Magazine with Major General Lloyd Campbell, Commander of the 1st Canadian Air Division/Canadian NORAD25 Region, pilot attrition is a significant issue facing Canada’s military. Historically, pilot attrition has been between four and six percent or 100 to 110 pilots a year, but last year more than 140 pilots left the air force.26
Some sectors such as fighter and transport have been hit hard with attrition levels as high as 15% which has major implications for operations. Pilot attrition is a concern to any commander as it can cost taxpayers up to $4 million to train a single pilot, depending on the aircraft type and role. In the interview Campbell states “… aspirations for higher pay and more stable lifestyles in the commercial sector continue to lure large numbers of pilots away from the air force.”27
In order to address pilot attrition, DND has realigned pay allowances to better compensate individuals in three key target areas where pilots are eligible to leave the air force after serving an obligatory terms of service. “We have just initiated a retention allowance which is intended to compensate individuals … pilots who are eligible for the pilot retention allowance must sign up for an additional five years of obligatory service.”28
The attrition program has two major components:

  • Those pilots with less than nine years of service are eligible for $25,000; those with at least nine years but less than 18 years of service are eligible for $50,000; and those with at least 18 years of service but less than 23 years are eligible for $75,000.

  • In each case the retention allowance is divided and paid out once a year in a lump sum over a three-year period.

Campbell notes that while the military’s powers of persuasion are limited and it is ultimately up to the individual involved to make career decisions, the military must act proactively and make the occupation as attractive as possible. “I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t hope for a downturn in the economy to solve our problems of pilot retention.” 29

5.2 Transport Canada

TC has traditionally relied on the air force for CAI candidates and has often ‘poached’ aviators looking for a more stable lifestyle. Air force pilots have proven to be a reliable source of recruits in the past since retired officers can transfer their pensions directly to TC without a penalty. Additionally, they have proven to be strong candidates as all have staff officer experience which has prepared them well for drafting regulations, reporting violations of compliance, and managing resources as part of the Civil Aviation Program. With the significant downsizing that has occurred in the Canadian military, the rich recruiting pool that the air force once provided cannot be relied on as a source of eligible candidates for TC in the future.

While the DND approach of offering retention bonuses is not a unique approach to difficulties with attrition rates, the policy itself is a realization that old recruitment and retention practices are no longer applicable to the new environment of aviation in Canada. As Campbell noted, governments have tended in the past to rely on downturns in the economy in order to secure a highly skilled workforce by providing a ‘recessionary proof’ occupation which does not expose pilots to the uncertainties of the aviation business. This has proven to be an ineffective recruitment and retention strategy, as it is not designed to serve the organization’s long term strategic goals.
As illustrated in Figure 3: Staffing Resources vs. Service Demands, TC’s inability to manage its recruitment and attrition challenges results in an inverse situation regarding available resources and demands for services. TC is losing skilled and qualified individuals to the industry at the very same time the industry is demanding more regulatory services. In such an environment it is essential to better predict when industry surges will create a greater demand for the Department’s resources and to better reflect those changes internally within the Department. As demonstrated, industry surges often correspond with an increase in employment opportunities for licensed aviation personnel and a corresponding increase in compensation as the recruitment pool of qualified individuals draws increasingly shallower.

Year 1

It was also noted in interviews with TC management that a homogeneous human resource strategy is not the most effective method of addressing ‘chronic’ staff vacancies that are specific to a branch and/or a certain operational region. It was suggested that initiatives tailored to the specific components of the program would be required in order to address the difficulties some regions, such as Ontario, and service lines, such as CBA, were experiencing in recruiting and retaining CAIs. Reporting data derived from TIPS supported management’s observations that the level of staff vacancies is not comparable across all regions and service lines.

There are a number of initiatives undertaken by TC to make it an attractive alternative to other employers in the sector. And there is a broad commitment by TC, through the creation of a ‘first time’ Human Resource Plan, to “… develop a positive and innovative work environment for all employees for their training and professional development.”30 However, many managers expressed frustration with the results of these initiatives, their inability to address issues of rising attrition and the difficulty of TC to attract qualified candidates.
For example, many managers noted that exchange programs with the industry were thought to provide a ‘win-win’ situation for both TC and the participating air operator. It was thought that by providing these exchanges, TC would be able to offer CAIs the opportunity to maintain or update their technical skills and gain a better understanding of the aviation business environment while the air operator would gain knowledge and insight into the regulatory environment. Unfortunately, interviewees reported that the industry exchanges often ended with the CAI moving to the participating airline due to a significant difference in compensation offered by the participating parties. The practice of exchanges has largely ended, as managers are not willing to risk losing a valuable employee.
It should be noted that TC has been relatively successful in making itself an attractive employer by providing a lifestyle that better responds to the specific needs of its employees. However, in many interviews with TC management and staff, it is apparent that there is a widely held perception that there has been an erosion of working conditions, specifically more overtime, primarily due to long-term vacancies and heavier demands from industry. This perceived erosion of working conditions comes about at a time when the salary gap between industry and government has widened considerably.
During interviews with management and CAIs, there were four primary factors affecting perceptions regarding the TC working environment. These four factors are:

  • The hours of work must not change without compensation. Staff are willing to work overtime, but would resist any attempts to change the hours of work without some form of compensation;

  • The provision for more frequent and pertinent training. Staff wishes to be afforded the opportunity to enhance their skills and see training and currency as essential to their credibility in the role of inspector.

  • The establishment of a career progression model. Management must provide opportunities for advancement within and between the different branches and regions of TC.

  • The maintenance and/or increase of allotted flying time. Staff expressed a concern that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain their currency if they are not allotted flying time that is adequate to maintain their skills.

It should be noted that TC management noted that beyond the issues of compensation and the working environment are the difficulties with filling vacancies in a timely manner, from both internal and external sources. It was noted in Department interviews that there was an identifiable need for establishing the tools necessary to respond to potential candidates in a timely and effective manner.

Another noteworthy issue that arose during the interview process with Department management was the narrowness of the salary bands for CAIs. This may result in management earning a salary close to those inspectors reporting to him/her, not including overtime or in command flying allowances which favour line staff. It was thought that the narrowness of these salary bands has acted as a disincentive for the staffing of vacant management positions within the Department as there is not a great deal of compensation for a greater degree of responsibility and/or authority.
Finally, it was noted in both the private sector and TC, that there was a need to clarify the conflict of interest policy that governs the behaviour of inspectors and, in some interviewees’ minds, restricts TC from undertaking innovative practices which would improve the working environment. The current conflict of interest policy is perceived by many as a double standard, especially with the increase of delegated authority to individuals in the industry who are not restricted by the policy. An inconsistent policy may unnecessarily restrict those inspectors working outside of the Department and not allow for a closer relationship between the inspector and the industry while maintaining third party impartiality.

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