The largest aerospace manufacturing facility on Vancouver Island, Viking Air has had to be creative when it comes to recruiting. Ten years ago, they introduced the Viking Academy, an eight-week, paid training program that accepts people at an entry level and prepares them for a career in aerospace. Designed to teach basic aerostructure assembly skills, the Academy curriculum provides both theoretical instruction in the classroom and practical instruction in Viking’s training workshop.
Successful graduates of Viking Academy become full-time employees of Viking and begin a rewarding career, learning to assemble hundreds of different aerostructures such as cockpits, wings, and cowlings.
“They can double their entry-level salaries in three years,” said Robin Ambrose, Director of People and Wellness at Viking.
Investing in training and education before people join as staff can be a business risk, but Ambrose noted, “It’s a necessary risk because the greater risk is not meeting customer objectives by not having enough people to do the work. It’s a risk that we have to take, and the rate of retention is fairly good coming out of the program.”
Before they are accepted, applicants complete an aptitude test looking for manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude, a practical test, plus an interview. “Attitude is always the most important,” said Ambrose.
The graduates go on to train with a mentor. The learning continues on the shop floor until they’re skilled enough to work independently, which is normally about a year.
Part of the retention success is tied to the organization’s emphasis on safety and employee wellbeing.
To hire and retain people, you have to have a positive safety record and a good reputation,” noted Jeff Hayes, Viking’s Occupational Health and Safety Manager. “A great reputation in the region is a competitive advantage for Viking Air.”
“With a shortage of labour, you simply can’t afford to hire people, train them, and then have them leave,” Hayes said—”so if you don’t have strong training and safety programs, you just won’t be able to get the work done.”
Viking Air first got involved with the Manufacturing Safety Alliance two years ago. “The idea was to improve our safety management system. It’s incredibly important to us to strive to be a world-class organization, and this was a natural progression to get there,” Hayes said.
“The Alliance helped us by providing that standard and the support we needed in setting goals, conducting audits and gap analysis, everything we needed to get to the finish line.”
“For me, safety is part of the big picture,” said Todd Sjerven, Plant Manager at Viking, who has been with the company for 31 years. “Viking is always looking out for its employees, not just from a health and safety perspective, but from a personal perspective, from a career growth perspective. It’s one of the factors why certainly I and many, many others want to be here.” In fact, two current Production Managers were graduates of the Viking Academy 10 years ago.
“We narrowed down the demographic of who we’re looking for. Initially we thought “mid-career change is our most successful graduate because they’ve been in the workforce and really appreciate what Viking has to offer—and they really have the commitment to make. We are looking for people with general mechanical aptitude and a passion or interest in working with airplanes. That’s the perfect combination,” said Ambrose.
The company is also actively trying to recruit more women into the program. “It’s great work for women. We have a clean facility, the parts are light weight, and the job is detail-oriented in nature,” said Ambrose. “Diversity of the workforce is healthy. We are knocking down the gender roles that have traditionally been in aerospace, and we want to be a leader.”
ABOUT VIKING AIR Viking is the Canadian-based, global leader in utility aircraft services and manufacturer of Series 400 Twin Otter. Viking is the Original Type Certificate holder for all out-of-production de Havilland aircraft (DHC-1 through DHC-7) and the Canadair Aerial Firefighter fleet (CL-215, CL-215T, and CL-415). Viking provides exclusive spare parts manufacturing and product support for these global fleets and continues the proud legacy of producing and supporting these exceptional Canadian aircraft. At a luncheon this month following the 2019 Annual General Meeting in Victoria, members of the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC and its board of directors joined 30 provincial MLAs to celebrate success and discuss priorities for improving health and safety in the manufacturing sector.