"Wanted young, smart candidates with good communication skills and a flair for customer service..."
"Travel the world and get paid for it. Join..."
"As a cabin crew with our airline, the world is only a smile away..."
These among many others are the catchlines leading domestic and international airlines use to influence the impressionable minds of ambitious, career-oriented youth of today. The term - "new-age careers" - has come alive in customer centric industries like aviation and hospitality in India today.
With the sheen having worn off from BPOs, the youth are more keen than ever before to explore avenues that have traditionally been the bastion of the bold and the beautiful. According to the BDA executive summary provided by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) if India were to acquire 200 new aircraft by 2010 there would be an additional requirement for approximately 8000 cabin crew and approximately 10000 ground handling personnel. In reality India has placed orders for 400 aircraft of varying configurations for deliveries upto 2012-13. This would virtually double the complement of crew and ground personnel required by the airlines.
So, what has fuelled this take off in the aviation sector?
With the unprecedented growth in the Indian economy and foreign direct investment on the rise each year, the strengthening of the Indian rupee, innovations in tourism like medical tourism, business tourism - Indians have emerged as strong contenders for space in the global travel market.
Events like the Cricket World Cup and the Asian Games have only added fuel to the engine that is propelling what promises to be another run(a)way success!
The Hotel industry that has traditionally seen synchronized growth with the aviation sector is a strong marker for the prosperity of the health and wellness of the industry per se. According to sources, the Government of India has already approved the construction of 300 five star hotels that will provide approximately 75,000 rooms to the inbound guests in what could be seen as an attempt to extend the joys of the skies to sustained satisfaction on the ground. Industry sources estimate that the actual number of rooms that would be required within the next five years in India would be in the region of 150,000.
Additionally, whether it is in Aviation, Hospitality or for mega events like the ones mentioned above, there will be a highly demanding element of specialized services like security and allied services that will be called upon to ensure a seamless guest service experience. For the discerning guest who avails of any product from the service industry these days, the elements of safety and security are no longer in the realm of unspoken needs. Security in the aviation industry forms the core function that translates into a guest extending his trust to travel from one destination to another.
Whereas, developing hotel properties, buying aircraft or building airports and creating infrastructure could be a challenge within the stipulated timeframes, these activities come under the gamut of projects that have budgets and durations. The real challenge that could bog this industry is the availability of skilled manpower.
With demands on production going through the ceiling and touching the skies, the turnaround time for personnel from induction to initiation will be tested as the years go by. There would be pressure on the HR function to release skilled resources sooner -to the galleys and lounges, to meet and greet or to serve and deserve.
Longevity, an essential ingredient to growth within an organization, is being redefined both in terms of duration and functionality. Vertical and cross functional promotions and non-annualised upward movement are now used frequently by airlines to retain good people with an aptitude for learning and of course with a good attitude. Gone are the days when a person had to wait for an annual appraisal to take on a new responsibility as a reward. Today at appraisals it is common to see, two or more Heads of Department evaluating an employee. The airline industry offers opportunities for progression from Cabin Crew to In-flight Manager, Trainer and Base Manager in an accelerated mode for the right candidate with the right attitude. What would have technically taken about ten years to achieve is now possible within 3-4 years across all functional areas in airlines.
The question that most people ask is "What is the right profile for success in these industries?"
Globally, there has been a paradigm shift in the perception of the value of soft skills and the role they play in the business environment today. Whereas technical or job related skills are mandatory to appropriate fitment into a functional responsibility, it is imperative to bring along a high degree of social skills into the work place. Organizations are spending millions on training programs to enhance soft skills among their rank and file, but what cannot be denied is that employment is often based on these very skills that set a person apart from another. These skills act as a differentiator between two people with the same technical skill set.
The aviation industry is no less expectant or demanding in that sense of the term. Where as all functional skills and technical knowledge is provided by the airlines as per DGCA approved norms, what sets the pattern for recruitment is the ability of the candidates to display a genuineness as far as a passion for customer service is concerned. Since there is a very high degree of face-to-face interaction with guests, a pleasing personality, good communication skills and a clear complexion are important for both boys and girls, whether it is for cabin crew or ground handling staff.
Passion for customer service: Cabin crew jobs are demanding in terms of timings and schedules. Individuals with a genuine interest in providing service will discount the discomfort associated with odd hours and schedules.
Communication skills: Gone are the days where beauty ruled and over ruled brains in the field of customer service. Today the ability to relate to the customer at his level is of paramount importance to building customer loyalty. Whether it is a first class traveller or a first time traveller - both expect to be treated alike.
Spirit of adventure: Both cabin crew and ground staff are exposed to travel to new destinations, posting to new stations, short-term assignments at different bases. They must have a desire to travel and see new places albeit for short durations.
Pleasing personality: The customer expects to meet a warm and gracious person who understands his needs and wants, and smiles through the process which at times may be challenging. A pleasant disposition towards other people beyond the domain of a job is a vital requisite for success in this industry.
After the charismatic group of United Breweries successfully launched its flagship venture Kingfisher Airlines, which has set a benchmark in the Indian aviation industry as far as guest service is concerned, a path of backward integration was logical. Considering the vast experience and appreciation of what passengers look forward to in the service environment, it seemed appropriate to put together a program that provides a platform for young aspirants to discover their potential in terms of their service orientation and provide skilled manpower to the industry. Kingfisher Training Academy was born out of this vision. We encourage participants to work on their communication, grooming and to hone their spoken English. At our mock up, food and beverage lab and through simulations we expose them to the nuances of aviation, hospitality and customer service- building a heightened appreciation of the finer aspects of these industries, so that when they join an airline, hotel or service industry they can comfortably slip in to any uniform and are ready to "Soar to the Top".
The Kingfisher Training Academy promises opportunity for growth and success. KTA will create a climate for one's professional and personal development by giving to the industry a polished individual refined and redefined in form and ideological structure. A gracious individual, who will fit into any customer service profile because of the internalisation of principles that drive guest delight.
(The author is executive vice-president, Kingfisher Airlines)