Emily van den Akker is a Comm ‘18 Grad. She is working at Air Canada in their Management Trainee rotational program, and is currently based in Toronto. This week we got the chance to chat with her more about what made her interested in an international job, and the ways her work is global.
Was international business an interest of yours in undergrad?
Yes, for as long as I can remember I have wanted to work abroad as an expat. Coming straight out of graduation it is very uncommon to find a job somewhere outside of North America but that doesn’t mean you can’t work in international business from within North America to start out.
It wasn’t until exchange that i realized how the first two years of Queen’s Commerce are quite North America focused. I did my exchange in the Netherlands and i found that all of my courses had an international focus even when it wasn’t in the course title. Being in the EU with classmates from around the world our focus was broad – we never exclusively narrowed in on the Dutch market.
In fourth year, once I found this interest, I decided to take mostly International Business courses. Commerce has some really good upper year international business courses, and my favourite course was COMM 398: Business, Government & the Global Economy.
What made you interested in a job at Air Canada?
For as long as I can remember I have been very interested in the airline industry. Stemming from a childhood living abroad and travelling a lot, i grew to love everything about airports, planes and flying.
When i began thinking about where I wanted to start my career when I graduate it became clear to me that is wasn’t just the role that mattered to me but also the industry and brand. I knew that if i was going to enjoy my job, I needed to be in an industry which is competitive and exciting and work behind a brand which i like. I was lucky enough to have an internship with Air Canada the summer after exchange working on the brand team. In my third and fourth year of Commerce i took most of my courses in the area of marketing and international business, which meshed very well with Air Canada. And of course, the flight privileges didn’t hurt!
Tell us more about your role as a management trainee.
I am currently in the graduate hire management trainee program which is similar to any company’s rotational program except that it is somewhat less structured. For the first year with the company I’m rotating through 3 different departments before being placed into a final role.
The first rotation is 4 months of operations for all management trainees. In this placement, I spent my first 5 weeks shadowing the day to day operations at YYZ doing things like pushing back planes on the ramp, understanding the baggage process, following customer sales agents and observing the Station Operations Control (STOC) and premium product experience. Given the complex nature of airline operations, this shadowing experience was like a crash course of all things airports and frontline staff. Following this I completed my four months in operations working on a process improvement project. This was essentially picking apart an operational process, finding the problems, solutions, recommendations and in some cases implementation. For the next two rotations, management trainees could be placed anywhere in the company based on a combination of need and interest.
I am currently in my second rotation in downtown Toronto with the Air Canada Sales team. Believe it or not Air Canada’s revenue is about 70% made up of agency sales largely from corporate clients so Sales is actually a rather large department which has global branches to service customers in all of our global markets. The idea of the rotational program is to expose you to the different aspects of the business to set you up for success and help you decide what you like best after the three rotations.
How are you involved in international business in particular at Air Canada?
When one thinks of Air Canada the first thought that comes to mind may not be international business given that we are Canada’s flag carrier. We actually service over 200 destinations world wide, meaning that our customer market is global.
The airline industry is extremely competitive with over 200 airlines around the globe. Many perceive Air Canada as holding almost a monopoly in the Canadian market however, there are over 60 different airlines who serve the Canadian market through our 3 major hubs (YYZ, YUL, YVR). Air Canada acts as a gateway for both Canadians and Americans to Pacific and Atlantic markets and vice versa meaning that many of our customers connect through Canada but do not originate or terminate travel in Canada.
Our business is global at its core. We have staff around the globe, we follow many international regulations, we have global business partners in the way of airlines through our alliances and joint ventures and much more.
How does the international component of operations at Air Canada create barriers? How do you deal with them?
The success of an airline relies very heavily on things beyond its control. These include tourism, safety, mother nature, oil prices, as well as governments and regulation, on a global scale. A customer’s experience on the day of travel is largely dependant on how an airport operates, including security clearance and customs clearance. Having strong working relationships with these third parties globally is crucial to creating a positive customer experience. Running an airline is very operationally complex. What you plan for is not always what happens. For example, a storm in the US could prevent an aircraft from making it to Toronto in time for its next flight to Vancouver. As a customer with a flight from Toronto to Vancouver, it would be difficult to understand why your flight is delayed 5 hours because of a storm happening on the coast of the US. As an airline, operations has to find a balance of building in buffers to try and prevent delay and cancellation rippling effects but also fully utilizing our fleet and staff to serve more routes and more customers.
Check Emily out on LinkedIn.