With more than 200 locations worldwide, Menzies Aviation has taken on an aviation services training challenge to bring this century’s modern thinking and technology across the globe.
Alan Glen serves as head of operational learning for Menzies Aviation, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He says that in the last two years, a more centralized approach has been driving all training programs for the airline services company, including its ground handling division.
Station sizes can range from 30 to hundreds of staff members, so much of the standardized training Glen and his team are working on can be incorporated into any size classroom, and then added to by local trainers to support their local operation.
“Training is so fast paced, requires so much detail and technical skills,” says Elena Flynn, head of training – UK for Menzies Aviation. “There’s so much work to ensure someone knows how to do their job correctly and safely, and then be on their own.”
Glen agrees. As the head of all operational training for Menzies, he says the trick is to balance investment and profit margins with safety and a well-rounded education.
“I think that’s part of my role to manage this centrally, so that we can improve our efficiency,” he says.
This is difficult, as he says Menzies Aviation operates hundreds of stations within different cultures, and then established models of learning within those locations. This is the journey Glen has been on, to provide better training resources as well as a centralized and easily adaptable educational program to support better employee retention.
A Re-Focused Training Approach
“We set the standards centrally,” says Glen. “We do a lot of the training design for the materials that are distributed worldwide. That’s a change in direction for Menzies over the last two years – taking this more centralized approach on design.”
He says the three-pronged method includes establishing company standards for safety, security and performance, which incorporate the industry’s best practices and known standards. Flynn says that having a consistent portfolio and process for training is a large part of this re-focused approach.
“We work very hard to ensure our training teams possess high qualifications so we don’t have to look externally to pass along training,” she says. “They can deliver the industry standard and licensed requirements, and then provide consistent training internally across all our locations.”
Glen oversees the work being done in setting standards for learning for global teams and all disciplines at Menzies, including ground handling. He also then sets audit standards to make sure the training benchmarks are being met.
Flynn believes this consistency has made a difference in the field. She says that 30 trainers around the United Kingdom report to her and then work with other local trainers in their regions. The challenge for them that this new approach addresses, she explains, is to stop “chasing their tails” when training all the time, dealing with seasonal projects, and then also finding time and resources to actually teach. This centralized delivery method is making a difference for these trainers and the new employees who need to feel confident in their work.
“We want them to feel comfortable enough to do their job, the trainer to be comfortable that they can do the role, but also know they don’t know everything,” Glen adds. “We want them to know they should always be confident enough to ask questions.”
Reaching 200 locations worldwide and the wide variety of languages is a challenge that Glen says the company faces more each year. But they are beginning to address it.
“We’re finding our way,” he says. “We can't assume English in most places and need to better support our local teams.”
For example, the new Dangerous Goods in Aviation eLearning program is being translated into multiple languages, a first for the company.
Since the classroom materials are centralized, he says the local translation can be done by the staff on the ground.
When it comes to necessary training, Glen says a typical ground handler will drive basic equipment, perform ramp activities and help load aircraft. For Menzies, that’s usually a week or so of classroom learning, and then practical training follows. That training phase is all heading towards a series of a competency assessments.
“Not everyone will take the same time with this,” he says. “It’s all about getting to the standard.”
Following curriculum, Glen says a person can be safe and productive on the ramp in about two weeks.
Flynn adds to this, saying that a development path approach has been successful in the UK after the basic training is completed. Every six months, employees are skilled to another level, whether loading bags, driving different equipment, etc. She says she can remember when she was new in the industry, working on a couple of services, but needed to be trained in five, six or seven other systems.
“We don’t do that in one go – it’s quite challenging,” she says. “We make sure to teach in methodology for each level and lead up to other systems to make it easier for everyone.”
Adjusting As They Go
Glen says Menzies’ “Excellence Manifesto” is a big driver of this company-wide training initiative, which is helping provide learning materials from a centralized source. A big part of the process has been finding out where training tweaks are needed.
“I have to listen when we have incidents and issues,” says Glen. “I get a lot of action items from our safety and security action group, things we want to be transferred into learning.”
He says the question in these open discussions becomes: “Is this actually a learning issue, or a process or compliance issue? Quite often, it’s a learning thing.”
At that point, the team sits down together with our technical services, and addresses what processes should be put in the manual, how it can be trained, and then work together to roll this out.
Glen says his role is to find a solution if training is needed. From looking at current materials, deciding to add or change something and just sometimes figuring out what to do next.
“The benefit of the centralized approach we’re driving is that information can be shared across the network,” he says. “Some training must be localized, of course, but often we see similar things popping up.
“We want to make sure the processes and training go hand-in-hand,” he explains. “That’s how we’re able to drive this from the core.”
Flynn explains that part of the adjustment in training has been understanding how new ground handlers actually learn. The days of only PowerPoint presentations are gone, as Menzies realizes adults learn better with hands-on, task-oriented training.
“We have to help them study and learn the different theoretical elements, but then allow them to do some competency basics and demonstrated their learning practically,” she says.
The new training approach has been proving itself successful, with the huge improvement in the U.K. stations’ safety performance. Flynn says incidence rates have been reduced considerably, and when there has been one, it is very rarely related to a training problem.
“This has shown us that they have been given the right tools, and sometimes it’s just more of a human factor rather than they weren’t given a chance to learn the job in the first place,” she says.
While Glen admits there is a lot to do yet, he believes this has been a journey already, and will continue to be a long, winding one. He’s excited to see some “wins,” though, along the path, like the safety numbers mentioned above.
To streamline and organize training documents, technology has become a big part of the new Menzies Aviation protocol, and the team’s focus on centralized training.
“We think this is significant, from a management perspective,” says Flynn. “There used to be so much room for error, when paperwork was moving from one area, to a trainer, to the next database. We were constantly having to audit and double check what was in the paper trail.”
Today, real-time data and training actions are recorded digitally. Glen says inches of employee records stored in a filing cabinet are in the past. Today, trainers are taking tablets in the field, and monitoring the training process digitally. Competencies are signed off when completed, and trainers never have to break and go back to the office to file paperwork.
When the new learning management system is available globally, Glen can monitor staff training worldwide from his Edinburgh office. This will be a value-add for customers, who can easily audit Menzies’ training records centrally, rather than going around to every port, which Glen says is a win for both sides.
“But more importantly, we’re beginning to integrate our training records into our rostering system and integrate those records into telematics systems for our vehicles,” he says.
This has given Menzies control over when an employee can operate a piece of ground support equipment on the ramp.
“If that equipment is out of their training capacity, they will not be able to start it,” explains Flynn. “The learning management system is completely accurate and is real-time data we can trust.”
Glen says that it also applies to those ground handlers who haven’t kept up their training requirements and have expired certificates.
“It gives us an assurance in safety, too,” he adds. “In the future, this will also help with scheduling. We won’t roster someone to do a task on a shift they are no longer qualified or were never qualified to do. We are beginning to connect the dots with technology, and it gives us internal efficiency but also improves safety.”
The training initiatives are in place, Glen concludes. “I think it will differentiate us. It’s been hard to do, but sometimes the things that are hard to do will make you a more attractive partner. It’s required a lot of rethinking of what we need to do, but it’s quite exciting.”