Air Canada takes off with inclusive hiring initiative, Ready, Willing & Able

From left to right : Julian Wong, Tamara Biancini and Christopher Biagioni-Guezzaou

Since its founding in 1937 Air Canada has been one of the nation’s leading corporate innovators and is among the largest airlines in the world, employing 30 000 people. Nathalie Lemyre, Director of Talent Acquisition, Chantal Dugas, General Manager, Linguistic Affairs and Diversity, and Holly Smy, Head Manager, Cabin Environment Quality, saw an opportunity to further develop inclusion within their teams by collaborating with the federal initiative Ready, Willing & Able (RWA) – which partners with employers to promote more inclusive and effective workforces. Since the partnerships inception Air Canada has hired three employees through RWA.

Hired in December 2017, Hans Dupuis has Autism Spectrum Disorder. His full-time job as a Training Specialist/Office Clerk at Air Canada’s head office in Montreal includes, among other things, coordinating room reservations made throughout Canada, handling employee and instructor questions, and ensuring the timely delivery and coordination of equipment, material, and catering orders. “This is a job that involves many tasks and requires strong organizational skills. Hans is the meeting point of all questions and inquiries related to employee and manager training throughout the country,” explains Ms. Dugas, his supervisor.

“The positions that are currently occupied [by RWA candidates] are unionized jobs that require speed and a high degree of efficiency, which can be challenging,” explains Ms. Lemyre. Having Hans on her team was not conceivable a year and a half ago. “It’s extremely important to have the support and involvement of the supervisors, because we can take all the right steps to hire inclusively, but ultimately, on a daily basis they are the ones who work together.”

The assistance that Air Canada received from RWA, and the employment agencies, partners of RWA, ensured the successful onboarding of these candidates. “When RWA presented the initiative to us, they explained that we would receive on-site, personalized support that would be responsive to both the employer and the employees’ needs. Whether it takes the form of job coaching or on-site presence, we have received, word for word, what RWA presented to us, and that is proof of the quality of this initiative,” says Ms. Lemyre. “If we had not received the support and expertise of RWA, we would not have gotten to where we are today,” concludes Ms. Dugas. “We now know how to apply best practices in terms of supporting employees with an intellectual disability and ASD.”

From left to right : Geneviève Poirier, Hans Dupuis, Chantal Dugas and Nathalie Lemyre

According to Hans’ supervisor, inclusive hiring encourages growth within teams because it leads the employer to focus on employee needs more attentively and collaboratively. “Training and onboarding Hans led us to review our internal policies and procedures; and by simplifying directions and clarifying expectations it has allowed us to improve our communication as a department. Simply put, my whole team has benefited from Hans’ arrival,” she explains.

While there is room for growth, Hans’ supervisor already sees the benefits of inclusive employment: “If we had to redo it, I would do it all over again tomorrow morning, that’s for sure.” Hans’ learning curve may be longer, but it is constantly progressing. Ms. Dugas says that Hans is a thorough, dedicated, engaged employee who is vigilant in ensuring his work is done well.

In Toronto, Holly Smy did not have to work hard to convince Tamara Biancini, Customer Service Manager, to hire employees with an intellectual disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder. In their eyes, Julian Wong and Christopher Biagioni-Guezzaoui, hired via RWA as Cabin Maintenance staff, are indispensable. “They do excellent work and complete their tasks with enthusiasm and pride. [Julian and Christopher] are exceptional people. It is a pleasure to work with them and this has played a big part in their successful onboarding. Our department is like a very big family. We work closely with each other, every day.” After a six-month probation, Julian and Christopher were both hired on permanently by Air Canada.

Impressed by the partnership with RWA to date, Ms. Smy has shared her departments’ success with various management teams in Canada inspiring interest in other managers and departments. “Something that started out on a small scale has ended up snowballing with managers in several Canadian cities! Talking about our success, we knew that we would encourage other managers and, on a larger level, other employers throughout the country to do what we did,” affirms Holly.

For Don Gallant, National Director of Ready, Willing & Able, RWA’s biggest strength is its national presence- “For companies that have many service points throughout Canada, such as Air Canada, the value of RWA is that it can respond to their needs on a multi-jurisdictional level, no matter where they are on the map. It’s an inclusive hiring solution that makes diversity and inclusive hiring possible on a large scale.”

Ready, Willing & Able (RWA) is a Canada wide partnership of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA). Its goal is to increase the labour force participation of people with an intellectual disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with labour market partners, employers and employment agencies from coast to coast. (http://readywillingable.ca)