Airlines across Asia are enjoying remarkable growth after recovering from the Sars crisis in 2003 when passenger numbers plunged. Many have expanded their routes and invested in state-of-the-art aircraft technology. Add to this the proliferation of start-up budget airlines, and these developments have resulted in a highly competitive environment throughout Asia.
Consequently, Cathay Pacific is eager to boost its workforce, which stands at 7,100 - a 17 per cent rise over the past three years.
'It is still our people who make the difference. After all, any airline can implement the latest hardware in their aircraft, but our unique service style and philosophy of service from the heart is what really distinguishes us,' said Shirley Au-yeung, manager cabin crew, in-flight services department, Cathay Pacific Airways.
Cathay Pacific, like other regional airlines, has in recent years increased its flight routes. The airline flies to more than 104 destinations in 35 countries and territories.
New routes and more frequent flights will be added as the airline has already committed to expanding its fleet to at least 137 aircraft by 2011. It now operates 108.
Passenger load is also increasing. Last year the carrier moved 18 million passengers compared with 17 million for the first nine months of this year, and cabin crew are increasingly finding their customer profile to be more sophisticated and diverse.
Though recruitment of flight attendants is on a rolling basis all year round, the airline will have a walk-in day on November 4 in the hopes of meeting its goal of 1,200 fresh hires for next year.
'We are looking for people who are flexible, dynamic and, most important, have a service mindset. Their personality will be crucial. They must be warm, caring, pleasant, have an empathy in dealing with people from different cultures and ages and should also be patient, positive, proactive and decisive.'
Initial training will run for five weeks, concentrating on emergency, safety and service.
'Aside from safety knowledge and hands-on safety practice, we will also teach them the service of language, service procedures, how to communicate with different cultures and grooming.'
The emphasis on training will remain a dominant theme throughout their career, particularly with aircraft technology evolving rapidly. The airline has just started to retrofit all of its cabins.
'This is just one example of why our staff must be ready to learn new things all the time,' she said.
Each flight attendant will be given one familiarisation flight and are then put on a monthly roster covering a variety of routes. They will be assessed by supervisors after each flight. Cabin crew will also give feedback to their managers.
The career of a flight attendant is not confined to flying. The airline encourages its staff to take on project assignments that expose them to different types of work, including ground duty, so that they can garner a more complete picture of the industry. Job transfers are also possible.
'Cabin crew fly in different teams and at different times, so the work is very dynamic and fun, but is also quite high pressured,' Ms Au-yeung said. 'A lot of flight attendants may find adjusting to office life quite difficult because it is so very different.'
One of the biggest challenges for the management is to keep morale high and maintain a good communication system with the portion of its workforce that spends so much time away. 'The management has worked very hard to keep the cabin crew close through extending support to them even when they have personal problems,' Ms Au-yeung said.
'We maintain close contact with them to ensure they know what is going on in the company and try to meet them as often as possible face to face.'
Part of the solution to nurturing that sense of belonging hinges on the implementation of an effective recognition system that goes beyond monetary rewards.
'We need to provide the right recognition to the crew so they know that we know they are doing a good job. That doesn't necessarily have to be in monetary form or a promotion. It can also be recognising them in one of our star performer events or sharing their success stories with the community.'
Cabin crew numbers have gone up 17 per cent in past three years
Seeking 1,200 new attendants for next year
Career progression not confined to flying
Management's challenge is to keep the crew close
A warm personality with a service mindset important