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Strategic Recruitment of Gen Y - Air NZ Case Study

Top-flight thinking a winner for Air New Zealand

In the end, it was the Xenomorphs who triumphed.
On a sparkling day at an Auckland sports stadium, Hamish McKay, Rowan Lingstone, Nick Winwood and Callum Harvey of Invercargill’s James Hargest College managed to make their soft-drink can plane glide 101m to win Air New Zealand’s Make It Fly competition.

The Xenomorphs – the monsters from the Alien movie series, if you were wondering -- beat 20 secondary-school teams from all over the country. The students’ planes cost next to nothing to make – the fuselage had to be a can, and the add-ons recycled materials worth no more than $20 – but they have become a symbol of how creative thinking can really take off.

Make it Fly was part of an Air New Zealand campaign to encourage more teenagers into aeronautical engineering apprenticeships, and that campaign saw the company take out the top prize at the EEO Trust Work & Life Awards 2008 in late October.

The Awards, now in their 11th year, celebrate organisations which actively help their employees achieve balance between their work commitments and their diverse and varied lives.

This year, we revised the categories to recognise employers who take advantage of our diverse population by encouraging and supporting diversity, either through a single initiative or an organisation-wide approach.We also introduced the future-focused Tomorrow’s Workforce category that Air New Zealand won. The judges also awarded Air New Zealand the Supreme Award, made at the judges’ discretion from the winners of the five categories.

The judges were impressed with Air New Zealand’s innovative and highly successful attraction campaign, which was designed to meet a pressing challenge: a slump in the number of young people signing up for aeronautical engineering apprenticeships. The company needs an army of engineers to keep its planes in the air, but the average age of its 2,700-strong workforce is rapidly increasing.

Like many New Zealand employers, Air New Zealand needed to connect effectively with Generation Y. It also needed to combat the widespread perception among young people, parents, teachers and the general public that aeronautical engineering was no longer a secure, long-term way to earn a living. CEO Rob Fyfe acknowledged to judges that this perception was influenced by the loss of 200 engineering jobs in 2006. However, Air New Zealand is not alone in struggling to attract engineers - it is a challenge facing airlines all over the world.

Air New Zealand’s Simon Pomeroy says the company needs young people to see the opportunity in this sector, rather than viewing it as second-best to academic or professional careers. This is what its attraction campaign seeks to achieve. Air New Zealand recognised that it needed to harness the skills and attitudes of young people in order to communicate effectively with them. Its strategy group included a 17-year-old staff member, and a central plan was to talk to young people in the digital environments that are such a large part of their lives.

In May 2007, ‘Andy’, aka AeroCareerBoy – a 21-year-old staff member – arrived on a Bebo social networking site. His message was to the point: “We're looking for smart, intelligent people like you to enter into the Air New Zealand aeronautical engineering course!”

Simon says that Bebo provided a platform for Air New Zealand to listen to young people and understand what was important to them. Engaging with young people through a portal with which they felt comfortable was critical to achieving their trust and building a relationship.

Within three months of launching the Bebo site, Air New Zealand was talking with 1500 young people. As a result, it developed various other ways of reaching Gen Y – for example, sending posters to schools careers advisers to encourage teens to send text messages for more information. Air New Zealand followed up by phone.  Internet and paper newsletters and an interactive website ( showcase the sort of work engineers do and emphasise the world-wide career opportunities. School visits and road shows which put young engineers in front of potential recruits are also an important part of the campaign.

Rob Fyfe says when asked to visit schools, he prioritises girls’ schools to encourage young women’s interest in flying. It’s a small but significant step towards redressing the profession’s gender imbalance. Students who want to know more are taken to the engineering bases in Auckland and Christchurch for in-depth site visits during which they are buddied up with previous trainees who can tell them exactly what it is like to work for Air New Zealand.

They were also lured by significant prizes in the Make It Fly contest: $20,000 worth of technical and computer equipment for the winning school, with the winning team landing a choice of one of three prizes: travel to the Big Day Out summer music festival in Auckland or Sydney with accommodation and a chaperone for winners aged under 18, a Gold Coast holiday, or $2000 worth of holiday vouchers.

The response was huge. The company built a network of schools from Kaitaia to Bluff and held 20 regional heats across the country.
An important part of the campaign was engaging parents and teachers. The push to grab their eyes and ears was timed for the week leading up to the school holidays. Parents were alerted to Make It Fly through advertising in national and regional newspapers, and teachers were sent a letter explaining the benefits, a poster and a newsletter.  And the result of the campaign?

It has been a resounding success with 108 engineering trainees recruited in 2007, the highest intake for a decade. The company is talking with more than 4000 young people through social networking sites, competitions and tours of engineering bases.

According to Air New Zealand, the cost of developing and running the programme was less than $100,000, in great contrast to the $400,000 invested in attraction strategies in previous years. This year, the company aims to have spent a total of $70,000, which includes design and promotion of Make It Fly, prize money and the maintenance of other communications mechanisms that have worked well.  The company hopes to broaden Make it Fly to parents and teachers, lining them up against students. It also plans to devise other programmes to attract, for example, young people who dream of being pilots, as well as underemployed migrants with engineering skills.

The EEO Trust Work & Life Awards judges were impressed with the way Air New Zealand developed and executed its attraction campaign. It consulted with young people throughout, and devised channels that appealed to not only to young people but to their teachers and parents as well.

This campaign captured our imaginations. It was cost-effective and cohesive, with its roots firmly anchored in the company’s cultural branding.

This article was written expressly for HRINZ publication by Dr Philippa Reed, EEO Trust Chief Executive.



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