Alaska Airlines knows a thing or two about getting people where they need to go. Since 1932, they’ve had a reputation for making air travel as easy and painless as possible. The Seattle-based company flies their customers to 120+ different cities across North America with a total of 1,200 flights a day. To keep that sort of complex operation running, you need airtight training for your employees.
When it comes to those team members, Alaska Airlines’ headcount is close to 23,000. Of that number, almost 10,000 are pilots and flight attendants. The other 13,000 include maintenance crew, office workers, managers and more. All these employees play an essential role in ensuring the airline maintains its positive reputation for reliability, premium service and efficiency.
Company decision-makers know their people are their greatest asset. To deliver their brand of care for guests, they need to ensure their team gets the same first-class treatment. That’s why they brought Cornerstone aboard to ensure they had everything necessary to get every employee ready for takeoff.
The lead-up to launch
Prior to partnering with Cornerstone, Alaska knew its LMS system needed an update. They wanted people to be able to download training and take it offline rather than only allow for completion when someone was plugged into Wi-Fi.
“We went out, did some demos, and Cornerstone was the winner,” says the airline’s Senior LMS Administrator, Val Dotson.
“We did a phased implementation approach,” she said. “The very first group to go on Cornerstone was our flight attendants, followed by our pilots. Then after that, about a year later, our airport ops group came on, as well as the smaller groups like legal, compliance and safety. As of a couple of years ago, everybody that was targeted to be on Cornerstone was on Cornerstone.”
A travel-friendly learning management system
It should come as no surprise airline employees may need to learn on the go. But Alaska realized early on it was difficult to find an LMS capable of training a team who regularly traveled all over the world.
“One of the biggest selling points of Cornerstone was their mobile app,” she says. “They had an app our users can take their training on. That means they can download training and take it offline. And this was a huge need for our flight attendants and pilot groups because they're up in the air all the time. Sometimes, they go to locations that don't have a great data connection or even Wi-Fi.”
It's also key that the app be mobile and tablet-friendly. Alaska’s pilots and flight attendants are issued iPhones and iPads to do their training, rather than desktop or laptop computers. The smaller devices make it easier for them to pack light during a life spent almost constantly up in the air. With that said, Dotson and the team also appreciated they could use any browser or computer on hand to access the same training.
Getting everyone where they need to go
Different subsets of the organization require different types of training. Alaska knew they needed learning and compliance solutions capable of meeting the needs of very different groups throughout the airline’s infrastructure. While there’s plenty of universal training, it’s obvious pilots and office workers may require different focal points at times.
“Each division handles their own training,” Dotson explains. “They have their own administrator, their own developers, and they basically take care of their own population.”
Dotson supports all these groups, and she’s found Cornerstone’s offerings have ensured every team gets exactly what they need. It allows for customization in terms of who gets trained on what — as well as when and how that happens.
“I just love working with the product,” she says, “and I love training people to use it even more. So while the admins of the other groups aren't part of my team, I work with them very closely. I train them. They're amazing to work with.”
As for when Dotson herself needs help, she can always turn to Cornerstone to find the solutions she needs. Between the robust online how-to documentation and multiple 24/7 customer support channels, she never feels like she’s at a loss.
“It's very intuitive,” she insists, “but the help is wonderful. The introduction of the knowledge articles has been incredible too.”
Helping everyone learn what they need to succeed
At every tier of the organization, Dotson has put Cornerstone and the Cornestone app to good work. There’s now a clear throughline from the initial onboarding of brand-new employees all the way up to leadership development from executives.
At a very basic level, these Cornerstone offerings have helped the airline remain compliant in one of the most highly regulated industries in the world.
Dotson explains: “We have to make sure that pilots, flight attendants, our maintenance and our airport ops folks all have the required training that they need to do their job.”
On a higher level, Alaska is also taking advantage of Cornerstone’s capacity for customization to help manage leadership development. They’ve combined Cornerstone functionality, their own learning materials and materials from third parties to deliver their Leader Academy. This offering weds both online and in-person training.
“For years, our managers have always been saying they need help and training,” she explains. “They need things to help them do their job better. So my team has been working on putting together Leader Academy, which consists of six sessions, five of them being in-person all-day sessions. We use Cornerstone for users to sign up for the sessions as well as track their progress.
Making their way through turbulence
As any pilot would tell you, a lot goes into making flight look easy. A smooth takeoff, airborne journey and landing all require rapid-fire troubleshooting and problem-solving in real-time. Dotson has learned the same proves true for the employee learning process.
“Implementing the Cornerstone app was a huge win,” she recalls, “because we went live with it in 2020 right when COVID-19 started. It was all done virtually. But we had a great project manager, we had an awesome communications manager. It just went beautifully. So that was a huge win.”
Between the support from Cornerstone and her own team’s resilience and resourcefulness, she was able to get all the materials off the ground. After weathering the storm of the pandemic, Cornerstone and the Cornerstone app - have proven just as trusty and reliable as any given radar system. They always point each team member right where they need to go.
“I think my manager was a little nervous about how it was going to go because of COVID-19,” Dotson remembers. “But I think because we had a strong team and had our ducks in a row and just had a great plan, it was successful. The transition was almost seamless.”
Sticking the landing
Despite a bit of turbulence along the way, Dotson and her team took the tools Cornerstone provided them to build out a more robust learning experience than the airline ever had before. They’ve utilized the products’ customization opportunities, aptitude for adaptability and innate accessibility to build an LMS infrastructure they can now practically keep on autopilot.
“Cornerstone's superpower is just enabling us to get training out when we need to,” Dotson says. “We can just upload a list of 2000 people and create a group and deploy training to them. In our old system, that was not possible.”
Any day in the life of Alaska Airlines is sure to come with plenty of adventure. Every team member needs a personal navigation system pointing them in the right direction. With Cornerstone as their copilot, they’ve already taken to the skies — and they plan to stay there.
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