Behind the scenes at Emirates Aviation College

Training the employees of one of the world’s largest airlines is no small task. And Emirates Aviation College is rising to the challenge
By Ruchi Shroff
Sun 24 Feb 2013 05:12 PM

To run one of the biggest airlines in the world, requires well trained and professional employees. And the fact that Emirates Airline is so closely tied with dnata, a mammoth ground operations handler, and Dubai International Airport, the fourth-busiest airport in the world, makes its employee circle that much wider. It is no small task to train some of the almost 40,000 people (excluding cabin crew & flight crew) who work at Emirates and dnata, but it is done by Emirates Group Learning & Development at Emirates Aviation College. “The majority of our work is for Emirates, but we still cover a large share of dnata’s requirements too,” says Brendan Noonan, senior vice president, Emirates Group learning and development at the college’s Building B. “The trainees come from all over the world, from as far afield as Los Angeles and Sydney or as close as Al Ain, Sharjah and Dubai.”

Dubai Aviation College was established in 1991 by the Department of Civil Aviation, initially to provide aviation-related training to private students and corporate clients. The College has since expanded and diversified and now offers an extensive range of educational opportunities designed to provide aviation-related specialisations that service both the technical and management sides of the aviation industry. In September 2001, the Dubai Aviation College was merged with Emirates Training College and today forms the ‘academic wing’ of the Emirates Aviation College Group.

There are three colleges at the Aviation College. Building A is the academic building with classrooms and all of the undergraduate and postgraduate classes are offered there. External students can gain qualifications that give them opportunities to join Emirates or a variety of other airlines after receiving training there. It is also the home of Emirates Flight Crew Training. Last year, the academic college introduced four new programmes to support the functions of safety and security.

Building C is the crew building, which houses simulators for pilots and cabin crew to practice in real-life environments.

Building B handles all elements of corporate training, including operational training for airport and cargo, commercial training for call centres, retail offices and sales training, strategic service initiatives, manages service enhancement projects throughout the group, IT training and also English language training for national staff who work in dnata or Emirates. It also has an extensive e-learning department that manages and builds e-learning content and programmes for the group and also provides expertise to select third party requirements. “E-learning is a very powerful tool for us as we use it as a support mechanism in a blended learning process,” Noonan says. Either before or after a candidate comes for training, h/she is required to complete e-learning modules in their own time outside the classroom. Building B also has an in-house quality and standards division to ensure all trainers are developed and top quality programmes are produced to meet company needs.

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As the college and airline have grown, so has its corporate induction process. “In the early days we used to show a few slides and that was it,” Noonan says. “Today we have a world class induction process that is the envy of the aviation business; we have revamped the whole process and made it much more interactive.”

Emirates Group has invested in a brand new facility for all new joiners including cabin crew and flight crew who join the group. The objective is to reconfirm and reassure new joiners that they have made the right decision to join Emirates/dnata, says Joyce Donohue, manager of strategic service initiatives. In some cases new joiners have moved to Dubai with their families from all over the world. For some it can be a daunting situation in a new country with different cultures and some are naturally concerned about settling into Dubai with a new job role. The new induction programme reassures staff and makes the joining process easier.

Some of the people being trained in Building B are people who need the IATA-approved certification and are not actually Emirates or dnata employees, but require certification in dangerous goods, load control or other industry regulatory courses. The college also engages in a whole new area of training termed ‘business partnerships’. “In the past, we were like a factory,” Noonan adds. “People would send staff to be trained here and we would send them back. However, no one knew how good the employees were when they got back to their jobs. As part of the business partnership, it allows us to look at individuals, see what their needs are and evaluate accordingly. It is a valuable form of return on investment. We can show the business what they have gained from the training and what benefits they bring to the business as it includes requirements from the business to support the learner on return from the training.”

Despite all the facilities that it currently has, Emirates is continuing to grow and there are plans to expand the buildings. “The growth has been such, that the demand is phenomenal,” Noonan says. A new $136 million flight training academy planned for Dubai is set for completion in 2014. The academy is to be located at Dubai World Central Airport and will act as the dedicated training centre for Emirates’ National Cadet Pilot Programme, able to train up to 400 students at a time. To expand on the facilities of Building A, the academy will have ground school classrooms, ab initio flight training, ground based simulators, and modern accommodation with recreational facilities. Another facility is also being built at Silicon Oasis to house the growing number of academic programmes.

All this development should give Emirates the edge over some of its competitors while helping it retain employees. One of the biggest issues facing airlines today is the shortage of trained pilots and technicians. Most airlines need to fill those slots and keep them occupied.

However, Emirates does not face that problem much due to its popularity as an employer. The recruitment website gets about 190,000 hits a month. Out of that, about 15,000-20,000 apply to the airline, giving the airline a good pool to select from. “We get a great catalogue of individuals who want to work for the airline,” Noonan concludes. “We are in a very lucky position where we can cherry pick the best of the people we want. This is important because we double in size as an organisation every three years.” With the opportunities for growth and the unique training program, Emirates is poised for increasing demand for training services in the future.

On the next page we take you through the three steps of corporate induction at Emirates.

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The first room that new employees are taken to is the Arabian majlis. A lot of new employees come from around the world and don’t know much about the culture and history of the UAE and the Middle East. Here they are told about the dos and don’ts of living in Dubai and what will be expected of them culturally. They are also allowed to ask questions about the local style of living and the Islamic religion. The session usually ends with Arabic coffee and dates. Many employees have also requested to bring spouses to this session to acclimatise them to their new surroundings.

The next room is the modern training room where the new employees learn about Emirates Airline and dnata and their respective histories. The room is meant to give them a feel of how modern the organization is and also gives them a more interactive orientation opportunity as they view training videos and are allowed to interact with trainers and other new staff. The ultra modern settings represent the growth of the company in the past four decades since the establishment of the UAE. Further, they learn more about the company’s code of ethics and working in Dubai.

The final stage in the induction ceremony involves watching a video on what it is like to really work for Emirates. The video follows four families through their routine days and asks them about what their experience has been like working and living in Dubai. The four families have been in Dubai for differing amounts of time and have different cultural backgrounds. According to Donohoe, this stage usually makes the employees more confident of their choice to move to Dubai and starting afresh. Employees are also encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ and come up with new ideas for training and related activities.

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