Keeping the Talent Pipeline Flowing

“What will the airports of the future need to do to remain competitive?”


At the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, that’s a question we think about often.


The answer might not be what you’re thinking. The secret to remaining competitive in the future is not just technology-based. It’s not about offering the best Wi-Fi or developing the latest smartphone apps, although those things are certainly important.


The most important thing airports of the future will need to do to remain competitive is attract new talent, educate them about the industry and encourage them to explore opportunities in the aviation industry.


One of the biggest challenges airports face today is the aging workforce, and the availability of qualified talent to replace workers as they retire. In our organization, 23 percent of our workforce will become eligible for retirement by 2020.


That’s a significant number of people with solid experience and proven skills. What’s at risk is institutional knowledge – a valuable asset to any organization.


Employee turnover is expensive in terms of lost productivity and retraining costs. As a result, we are taking a long range view with regard to our workforce. Strategic workforce planning, which includes determining what kinds of skill sets we’ll need in the future and marketplace analysis to fully understand the supply and demand of such skills, allows us to better identify potential future talent gaps.


In addressing potential gaps, the Airport Authority is committed to seeking diverse talent pools, as diverse teams of people outperform homogenous teams.  In that vein, we are looking to traditional solutions such as internship programs at the undergraduate and graduate university levels, and employee development programs such as a “Leading at all Levels” leadership training. This is in addition to a new Career Development Program that is employee-led and manager-supported.


In addition, we have introduced innovative programs such as our Veterans’ Fellowship to bolster our talent pool. The Veterans’ Fellowship program launched in 2015. Designed to help veterans transition from active duty, the six-month program provides veterans with valuable work experience, career development support and networking opportunities designed to support a transition to full-time employment in the civilian workforce. If a Fellow has the right combination of leadership and technical skills, the transition may be to filling an immediate need in our workforce.


Then there’s the “Take Flight” program. Through a series of hosted panel discussions, diverse pools of young students engage with a wide array of airport professionals. The goal is to ignite the students’ interest in exploring aviation-related careers. These students have an opportunity to meet high-performing airport employees, tour our operations and seek answers to career-related questions.


These approaches are designed to help us farm for talent, rather than hunt for it. In other words, we are planting seeds of interest in different places in the hopes that we can harvest talent when we have a need, rather than simply hunt for talent when the need arises. We also place a special emphasis on hiring from the local community, with over 55% of recruited executives being from the greater San Diego region.





Fostering Engagement in a Changing Employment Marketplace

At the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, we view employees as the lifeblood of our organization. Without a stable workforce made up of engaged, informed and committed employees, none of our goals would be achievable.


The key to unlocking an organization’s potential is achieving maximum employee engagement aligned with the organization’s vision and strategies. To that end, the Airport Authority has strived for the past 13 years to be an “Employer of Choice.” That is defined as “a workplace with practices and a culture which allows the employer to attract and retain the top talent necessary to execute the business strategy.”


So, how are we doing?


Over fiscal years 2014 and 2015, our turnover rates were 9.17 percent and 7.94 percent respectively. While there is no national airport industry benchmark for employee turnover, SAN’s numbers are approximately half or less than the turnover rates typically reported in the government and related trade, transportation and utilities sectors. Employee engagement over the same period has averaged 75 percent, a value that greatly exceeds norms.


For voluntary employee terminations, the primary reason is retirement.


By all practical measures, we have achieved our goal of becoming an Employer of Choice. This has required continual calibration of our workplace practices to ensure ever-changing business challenges and employee needs are met.


This also means we must continually strive to make SAN a place where people are energized about coming to work.


In 2015, we were proud to launch our new Performance Management practice, which takes the whole concept of employee evaluation and retools it from the ground up.


Re-imagining how talent should be cultivated, this program is moving the Airport Authority toward a new coaching environment intended to enhance the potential of everyone who works here.


We’re excited to be in the forefront of an industry transforming how we look at performance – where employees are excited about what they do.

SAN Volunteers

Here at San Diego International Airport (SAN), we know we’re part of a broader community, which is why SAN employees and their families in 2015 volunteered a combined 738 hours for important causes such as the San Diego Food Bank, St. Vincent De Paul Village, Read Across America, the United Way Day of Action and Coastal Clean Up Day.


Employee Effort Brings ‘Drinkable Air’ to SAN

Through a remarkable team effort conceived and executed by airport employees, SAN has acquired two Drinkable Air machines. Also known as an atmospheric water generator, this remarkable gadget extracts humidity from the air and turns it into 99.9 percent pure drinking water. Not only does the water taste great, the machines serve as great conversation starters on the subject of sustainability.


Sustainability Fair Growing in Scope

The Airport Authority has hosted an annual Sustainability Fair for more than 10 years. Over time, the scope of the event has been expanded to cover more aspects of sustainable living.


The Sustainability Fairs are open to all SAN employees. Participants can:


  • Drop off universal and electronic waste for proper recycling
  • Donate gently-used clothes and household items to Goodwill
  • Check out information from SDG&E on water and energy conservation tips and rebates
  • Purchase LED energy-saving light bulbs at discounted prices

Ethics Program Aims to Ensure
Public Confidence in Integrity of Airport Authority

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority operates under a Code of Ethics to help ensure public confidence in the integrity of the Airport Authority and its effective and fair operation.


Members of the community, Airport Authority employees and persons doing business with the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority can report suspected violations of the Code of Ethics by a Board member or Airport Authority employee through two means: the Ethics Violation form or the Ethics Hotline, (866) 56-TRUTH.


All alleged unethical activity reported through the hotline or the violation form is investigated promptly by the Airport Authority Ethics Compliance Officer.  If the report of unethical activity appears to have merit, the investigation is passed onto the Ethics Compliance Committee.


Staff training on Ethics and Conduct and reporting of suspected violations of the Code of Ethics is conducted periodically through presentations to employees at their regularly scheduled departmental staff meetings.

SafeSAN Works to Ensure Safety of all Airport Employees


At San Diego International Airport, the health and welfare of our employees is a top priority. The airport’s Employee Safety Committee, SafeSAN, has about 20 members and meets monthly to discuss safety issues, concerns and ideas about how to maintain and improve safety throughout the airport. The committee reviews injuries and trends, and members take important safety information back to their departments for distribution.


The airport’s Risk Management Department is reviewing 18 core employee safety programs and is conducting training. Topics include confined space safety, fall protection, aerial lift, electrical safety, and more. The Facilities Management Department participates in safety training at least once a month on various safety programs. The plan is to expand the trainings to other departments, as well.


Additionally, the Risk Management Department will publish the safety programs on the intranet, after they are approved by various stakeholders. These safety programs will guide employees and help ensure the airport is Cal/OSHA compliant.