Should employees pay for their training?

Air Canada’s Mickey Mouse education


It might seem like a magical dream come true — Air Canada announced it would send its new flight attendents on a trip to Florida for training. But then, the other glass slipper dropped.

The airline said on May 27 that new Rouge flight attendants will undergo mandatory training at the Disney Institute in Florida—at a cost to those employees. For the three years following their Disney training, Air Canada will deduct $49 a month from  their pay cheques. If they leave before that term, they are required to pay the remainder of the $1,764 owed.

Air Canada argues the employee Disney training is an investment in themselves, to be used over their whole career, and that everyone involved has agreed to the terms.

Federally, it is not illegal for an employer to pass on the cost of training, says University of Toronto labour relations expert Dr. Laurel MacDowell. It’s up to the union, she says, to influence those busness practices. The Air Canada Component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) contends Air Canada should pay to train its employees. “When an employee is living close to the poverty line in Toronto, who can afford to pay for Disney training?” its president told National Post in a statement (The union did not respond to a request for further comment from Canadian Business).

But sharing the cost of specialized training with new employees is not uncommon, says Vancouver-based GNA management consultant Derek Belyea. Many trades and professions have this model, he says, including aircraft pilots.

“This scheme has the potential to increase the level of commitment the employer can expect and reinforces the idea for the employee that training is a valuable investment and not just a cultural ritual they must endure.”

In a recent ad for new flight attendants, Michael Friisdahl, President and CEO of Air Canada Rouge wrote, “We’re looking for fun, dynamic, likeminded (and styled) people to offer warm, welcoming service.  And you can do all of this all while travelling with close friends . . . your fellow flight attendants.”

Belyea expects applicants who balk at this scheme to seek  work elsewhere. However, Air Canada risks that new employees who become disenchanted may decide to stay on until they have repaid their obligation. Ironically, he says, even with Disney training, “dissatisfaction with the bargain they have made could impact customer service levels and the attitudes of co-workers.”

The effort to save money effects all of us in the end – the employee, the customer – says MacDowell. “In the North America [airline industry], it is the rush to the bottom, which is getting tiresome isn’t it? This is not fair or just,” she says of the business costs downloaded onto new employees.

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