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Emirates training using real life examples

Alexis Thompson

Catherine Baird, head of cabin crew training at Emirates

Catherine Baird, head of cabin crew training at Emirates, discusses how story-telling and using real life case studies can be an effective tool when training thousands of staff

How long have you been working at Emirates?

I have been with Emirates for 9 years. My role is SVP Cabin Crew Training. I am responsible for the learning and development of our 18,500+ cabin crew community. From the time they first arrive to becoming the onboard leaders on the aircraft.

You mentioned that you like to use story-telling and real life case studies to deliver training at Emirates – how long have you been using this method of training for?

We have been using it more and more over the last five years. And the tone of voice work we’ve been doing with language consultancy The Writer has shown that it’s not just the story you tell, but the way that you tell it. I think story-telling will continue to develop particularly with the growing use of technology and social platforms. The changing generations entering the workforce will drive this too. Taking a learner on a journey through story engages them and keeps their interest. At the same time they are problem-solving, decision-making, and developing the skills and competencies along the way.  

How effective do you think it has been?

Story-telling is an ancient art that hasn’t changed much in several thousand years. In all countries and all cultures stories have a universal appeal. So, in our very cosmopolitan airline it is very relevant. Part of the initial training for our new cabin crew includes an experiential programme called Nujoum – Arabic for ‘many stars’ or as we say ‘a sky full of shining stars’. We facilitate the crew through a one day journey introducing them to our service delivery philosophy. They are involved in a variety of pioneering activities that take them out of their comfort zone. The day finishes with an inspiring and personal surprise that is often quite emotional. We do this day before they start their service skills training. They bring the power of this experience with them to the tasks and procedures. The stories we have gathered about the memorable experiences our crew are creating for our customers, since the launch of the programme, demonstrates the impact of this approach.

Do you think story-telling and real life examples engage employees more than e-learning or more traditional 'classroom' style training?

There is a place for all of the different learning platforms. It is important to keep learners curious. Recent research from the field of Neuroscience talks about the importance of reinforcement and spacing to create memories to make learning stick. We don't store memories. We grow them. Our memory is story based.

For example, in introducing our new crew to Dubai and the culture and religion of the UAE we use a variety of different platforms and activities. They complete an e-learning module in the first few days. We work together with the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and take them to visit a mosque. We also have designed a classroom as an Arabic’ majlis’ where we can talk together about the learning in an engaging and relevant environment. By coming back to the information more often there is a better result.

I guess a 'one size fits all' approach to training is difficult when you're dealing with such a huge number of staff/cabin crew – do you tailor your training to suit individual needs, or is that a difficult task within itself?

With 120 new crew joining Emirates every week at the moment it is certainly a huge task. We have over 130 nationalities who speak more than 50 languages. We customise where we can for individuals when they need help and support. We are looking at how we can use technology to help to do this more. For example, we could be asking new crew to complete their profile before they arrive, take a virtual tour of an aircraft, complete quizzes, and assessments. This would allow us to create individual learning pathways according to the experience, skills and knowledge of the person. Their training programme would then be completely customised. Some of the innovation that is happening in learning technology such as gamification will change the way we can interact with our people. We have project funding this year to explore all this as part of our vision for the future.

What other innovative training methods do you use at Emirates?

At Emirates we are very fortunate that there is an understanding and commitment to the investment in people. This is evident in the energy, time and money that goes into recruitment of our crew. If you do the maths with the number of applicants Emirates cabin crew and the number who are successful to come and join us – those successful are the top 5%. This investment in recruitment makes my job in training so much more successful. On top of this there is huge investment in our training equipment and facilities. We have very sophisticated simulators for our emergency procedures training – our trainees experience all possible emergency scenarios, fight real fires and ditch from the simulator into our onsite swimming pool. We have 14 cabin service simulators. And we have designed specialised classrooms for our image and uniform training that feel like the red carpet! Our practical training is all evidence based with real life examples. So, not only are our crew competent - they are confident because of the level of realism our equipment provides. Our Nujoum programme described earlier is really quite unexpected and inspiring. And none of this would work without the most capable and amazing cabin crew training team.   


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