Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Because It Feels So Good When I Stop

In Canada, Air Canada represents the traditional pinnacle of a pilot career. That doesn't mean that every single commercial pilot in the country is aiming for a front seat at the flag carrier, nor that anyone who finishes a career without such a job has failed. There are lots of interesting, important well-paying jobs that do not have red maple leaves painted on the side of them, and I'm sure there are plenty of unhappy pilots at Air Canada, too. Regardless of whether pilots want to work there, they are also the largest employer of pilots in the country and thus the primary driver of pilot hiring. When Air Canada hires, pilots all over the country get jobs, if not through being hired by Air Canada, then through being hired by companies whose pilots were hired away as a result of the wave that sweeps through the industry.

Why do I keep applying to Air Canada? I first applied to them as soon as I got my commercial licence, because that was the wisdom back then. You keep sending them a resume every six months so your file gets fat and dog-eared and eventually they'll pull it out and call you. Who knows if that was true. You really did send them off a paper resume and cover letter, and presumably they had some kind of filing system for them all. Later there was an official update form to fill out. It was something I did with the passing of the seasons, renew my Air Canada application.

Eventually they computerized the system and you could do the updating online. You didn't need a new cover letter every time then. Then they outsourced it so another company managed the applications. They explicitly have no published minimum experience, which I've always assumed was to facilitate nepotism, or equal opportunity hiring. Realistically you need a few thousand hours and more turbine experience than I have. At one point the company almost went under and there were layoffs, and no hiring for a long time.

At the time I started writing this I was procrastinating in my writhing attempts to craft the perfect cover letter. Struggling with even the beginning, I e-mailed an Air Canada captain to find out whom I should be addressing it to. He said, "To be honest, I really don't know who is looking after the hiring. We haven't done it so long the committee members are doing other things." Yeah. They haven't hired anyone in so long they've forgotten how.

Why do I bother? Well, at the time they were hiring fifty-one plots. From the whole country. I know I don't have the right mix of hours, or the right ration of experience to age to hit their sweet spot. Almost every commercial pilot in Canada aims for AC at some point, so there is tonnes of competition. I personally probably know fifty-one pilots who on paper, or by the numbers of the electronic application, are better qualified for this job than I am.

If I got an interview, and then impressed them sufficiently to continue with the process, I'd have to pass a battery of tests. Academic tests of knowledge are not a problem, and I should pass a medical, but my medical history is not flawless. There's also a battery of psyche tests. I'm mentally stable, but will I test out as fitting the airline pilot profile when it's based on men born in the 1950s who happen to be good airline pilots? How do they distinguish the bias that makes people hire people who are like them from the qualities that make someone a good airline pilot? They don't need to. They can find enough people that fit the established profile and have the required qualifications without going outside their parameters, so why would they?

“Although a pilot’s technical skills. education, training and experience are all-important in meeting the challenges of a complex and demanding environment, it is the individual’s emotional intelligence that ultimately determines success or failure in this rapidly changing industry. Incorporating the EQ-i® into Air Canada’s pilot selection process has enables our company to identify candidates who not only possess advanced technical skills, but also the necessary emotional and social competencies predictive of long-term success as an Air Canada pilot.”
-Captain David Legge, Director, Flight Operations Technical, Air Canada

I own an EQ book, but I haven't read it yet. It's orange, a colour that turns me off. And there are lots more books in that pile. While looking for information on something else I found this fascinating age discrimination suit on hiring practices at Air Canada in the 1970s. Boy times have changed in terms of the structure of the Canadian air transport industry "He informed James that he required a commercial Licence, Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine Rating and around 200-300 hours flying time." Candidates of 35 and 36 years of age had notations on their resumes marking them unsuitable by reason of age. "He spoke with Captain Bill Irvine of Air Canada who said he was rather old since he was 29 at the time." They preferred candidates in the "low to mid twenty age group."

The tribunal, in 1982, found for the pilots claiming age discrimination. But I don't know what good that did them. They weren't going to get hired after all that time. I don't know that it would fundamentally change the institutional memory of the way things are done at Air Canada. I'm sure ever since there have been a couple of older people in every groundschool, and that no one ever writes on a resume any reason for unsuitability that is considered unlawful discrimination in Canada, but it's easy to write instead that the person had a poor attitude or did not carry herself with sufficient authority.

I laboured over that application. Why do I do this to myself? Fifty-one is a very small number. Maybe they don't all want to be Air Canada pilots. I'll just apply this one last time, then I will be free. I need to sort myself out and find a sensible, attainable career goal. Ducks can't be astronauts.

I send it off anyway. An e-mail comes to my inbox. It's an automated reply: We would like to thank you for applying for the position of Pilot-CAN10041 We have received your application and are currently reviewing your experience and qualifications. Yeah, I bet you are.

And then the other day someone told me Air Canada just hired a guy who is fifty years old. Sure, he has better experience than me, but dammit by fifty what couldn't I do? I think I'll have yet another opportunity to make my last application ever to Air Canada.

I can't remember who sent me this, but it's about right.

I also hope you get to work for Air Canada or any other company with great colleagues, a work schedule that makes you feel you work neither too much nor too little, and a pay that lets you pay your bills and order what you like from the menu most of the time. Air Canada would be cool, though, wouldn't it.


Chris said...

The OZ equivalent is QANTAS and oddly the conventional wisdom is the opposite. The theory is your first application has to be very competitive, otherwise they just relegate your name into an uncompetitive pool and never update it again.

The only people who know the truth aren't telling.

Anonymous said...

Over 30 years I saw AC hiring practices migrate from something largely done locally at the base CPs office, to a guy sitting at a desk in Montreal who had no particular training or skills for the job, but obviously enjoyed it, and some might say also liked the ego trip.

I saw the HR dept. get more deeply involved, and also the legal department as more lawsuits from various age, gender, race, and language issues cropped up.

I witnessed from close-by the process behind the hiring of the first woman pilot, the first over-40 pilot, and the ongoing struggles to accomodate Canada's other official language, regional expectations, and all the various political issues involved, especially after AC bought into the regional airlines.

We won't even talk about the ongoing union issues in all this.

So, while I emphathize with your angst over the application process, I also have some sympathy for the folks charged with finding the best candidates while stumbling their way through all these "road mines."

Good luck!

Cedarglen said...

You will make it to AC or you won't and most of it is beyond your control. Accept the reality and concentrate your effort on doing the very best flying possible, wherever you do it and ever single time. The AC badge may be impressive to some, but their line pilots slog through the same daily grind as do line pilots from any other line. Some flying has got to be better than walking. Ya know?

Anonymous said...

Aviatrix. Well said! I must visit your site more often.

Thought I would pay a visit to say "thank you" for sending many visitors to my site.

I feel your frustration! As you know I mentor many pilot hopefuls. I have had five emails the last two days asking what they should do.

What do I tell them? Take a four year aviation degree, go fly up north to build your time and then you have a 25% chance of making it to AC.

I taught 8 new hires yesterday. They were all great candidates and they will all do excellent.

But not one of them had jet time (one did have 150 hours) and none of them flew to the busiest airports of the United States. In fact, not one flew to St, John's Newfoundland. Every pilot I know has a "Tore bay" story!

The highest time guy had 4500 hours. I too am scratching my head.

I am SOOOOOO thankful I did not have to jump through the hoops new prospects do.

Captain Doug