TAP Air Portugal is going places – new intercontinental routes, a revamped fleet of airplanes, and a major overhaul of its travel experience. This ambitious transformation wouldn’t be possible without the recruitment of thousands of new staff. This in turn brings huge challenges in an industry where competition for flight crew, maintenance technicians and other prized talent is intensifying all the time. Pedro Ramos, Group Human Resources Director, believes that TAP Air Portugal’s award-winning employer brand has been a key factor in its ability not just to attract the quantity of people it needs, but also the right people to take the company forward. How then does TAP Air Portugal’s people strategy and employer brand stand out?  

The interview was carried out before the full global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline industry was felt. However, the focus on employee engagement, experience, and adaptability, which is at the heart of TAP Air Portugal’s employee value proposition, has never been more critical. 

Standing Out: In less than five years, TAP Air Portugal has gone from being a mid-size national carrier to one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. What’s driving the expansion and what are your long-term plans? 

Pedro Ramos: The airline was partially privatized in 2016. This brought in a significant injection of capital, and provided the catalyst for our transformation strategy. We’ve always had a strong presence within Southern Europe, along with some prime intercontinental routes such as Rio and New York. Now, we’re flying to new destinations in Northern Europe, and North America, including Chicago, Washington and San Francisco.  

Strategies to support our expansion plans include positioning Portugal as the ideal gateway stopover for global travelers. Passengers in transit from other destinations can spend up to five nights enjoying the delights of Lisbon or Porto at no extra cost, before continuing their journey within Europe or on to Asia, Africa or the Americas. We see this as part of our contribution to the wider Portuguese economy, and becoming a leading exporter and promoter for this wonderful country. 

Alongside new routes, we’re investing in the latest generation of jets, which is giving us one of the youngest fleets in the world. This includes the world’s first AA330 neo, with more on order. Flights are quieter and more comfortable as a result. The ‘new engine option’ in the neo also uses 20% less fuel than older engines. That’s not just better for the environment, it also frees up funds for making the travel experience more enjoyable, such as improved inflight meals and entertainment. To complete the revamp, we’ve refurbished the interiors of our existing fleet. 

the investment in customer experience is just as strong on the ground as in the air and includes new apps, an increased social media presence, and a new state-of-the-art call center to serve our passengers.

The investment in customer experience is just as strong on the ground as in the air. This includes new apps, an increased social media presence, and a new state-of-the-art call center to serve our passengers. We want to balance the ease and speed of digital interaction with personal engagement when and where customers would like it. We want to be proactive in dealing with issues before they could become a problem. This has led to a significant rise in our Net Promoter Score, which measures customer’s willingness to recommend us.  

Standing Out: Tell us about the people challenges that come with a transformation on this scale? 

Pedro Ramos: People are at the heart of this transformation. So far, we’ve hired an extra 3,000 staff, an increase in our workforce of more than 25%, with more to come. Recruitment on this scale isn’t easy in any industry, but especially so in aviation. There is a growing global shortage of pilots and technicians, with competition leading to high turnover rates. As we modernize our fleet, particular challenges include the need for technicians who can work on both new and older generations of planes – these are especially scarce. We’ve also faced the challenge of bringing in call center agents with the language skills to serve customers flying on our new routes. English is taken as read. The big difficulty is securing people with command of less spoken languages like Italian, Dutch and German.  

Just as important is creating the right attitudes and motivation within our workforce. We want to build customer focus into our cultural DNA. We want people who embrace change. We want people who are committed to developing the digital, social media and other skills needed as our operations and customer engagement are modernized.

we want people who are committed to developing the digital, social media and other skills needed as our operations and customer engagement are modernized.

Standing Out: How are you seeking to bring in all these new people and what differentiates your recruitment process? 

Pedro Ramos: Our main recruitment channel is our website, where we receive several hundred new applications every week. In more specific cases, we use social media such as LinkedIn for highly qualified roles. We also deploy Facebook for specific groups, as it still has a strong capacity for attraction and dissemination among particular sources of talent. 

One of the ways we stand out is that we fully support the training and qualification of maintenance technicians. These are the aviation professionals who represent the most time and financial effort for the airline, and TAP fully bears these costs. A lot of airlines don’t.  

In the case of pilots, we also help support their training, albeit not in full. We also offer great pay, conditions and job security and excellent engagement with representative bodies. Our standards are higher than the industry as a whole. 

Standing Out: TAP Air Portugal has led the way in recruiting a multi-generational workforce and capitalizing on the benefits. Please explain the thinking behind this. 

Pedro Ramos: The multi-generational nature of our workforce gives us an important edge, both in recruitment and in the running of the company. 

We were one of the first airlines in the world to drop the age criterion when selecting and recruiting new staff. In recent years, we’ve hired pilots and flight attendants who are in their fifties. This is making a very positive contribution to growth and cultural change within our organization. In particular, it demonstrates to our people, and the market as a whole, that we prize the cognitive diversity that comes from varied experience and perspectives. 

we were one of the first airlines in the world to drop the age criterion when selecting and recruiting new staff.

It is very interesting to integrate professionals from different generations, and see how they mix. What we’ve learnt is that we can’t evaluate staff by their age. Everyone is different, and has an important role to play in our organization. 

Standing Out: What role has your employer branding played in helping you to deliver your workforce plans? 

Pedro Ramos: We’re determined to be an employer of choice, and project the employer brand that demonstrates this. A great employer brand provides an excellent foundation for the kind of rapid expansion we’re undergoing.  

This is a long-term investment. We maintain a prominent presence at international pilot fairs, for example. In Europe, we have close partnerships with the educational institutions, aviation and pilot schools that qualify and train professionals in the aviation industry. We also promote talent outreach and attraction events in growth markets such as Brazil, Africa and the United States. It’s clear that we can’t just replicate our approach within Europe across markets worldwide. We’re therefore taking the time to understand the recruitment channels, and cultural nuances within each particular market.  

This investment is paying off. We’re especially pleased to have been consistently recognized as one of the top three organizations to work for in Portugal, and number one in aviation, within the Randstad Employer Brand Research. This has helped us to attract the people we need in our home market. We’re also projecting this overseas, where a lot of our flight crew and maintenance recruitment is focused. People see that we’re a fast-growing company. People see that we’re investing in new routes, an advanced fleet of planes, and superior levels of service; and they want to be part of that. We’ve had thousands of applications from qualified personnel from around the world as a result. 

Standing Out: How do your commercial and employer brands support each other? 

Pedro Ramos: Our commercial and employer brand are highly complementary, and managed in an integrated way.  

A great employee experience is the key to providing the unforgettable customer experience we want to offer. Our flight crews, cabin crews, and call center agents project our commercial brand. So do the people working behind the scenes – the chefs preparing the food or technicians ensuring the planes take off on time, for example. We want our people to have the joy and motivation to bring their best selves into work every day. We want them to think about how they are going to deliver a better service tomorrow than they did today.  

This works in reverse as our passengers, along with their families and friends, are potential candidates. If passengers see smiling and engaged staff, that can clearly help to boost recruitment. We also need to think about how we treat candidates when they are applying for jobs with us. We risk losing them as customers if the candidate experience isn’t up to scratch. 

our passengers, along with their families and friends, are potential candidates and if passengers see smiling and engaged staff, that can clearly help to boost recruitment.

We seek to harmonize our commercial and employer brands through an organizational culture and employee value proposition that aligns the individual expectations of our people with the purpose of our company. The foundation for this common sense of purpose is regular one-to-one discussions with each member of staff about their ambitions, and how we can help them to fulfill these aspirations in a way that contributes to the success of the company. We also recognize the exceptional work of our staff in a public and energizing way through our TAP Stars’ awards for outstanding performers.  

To enhance our employee experience, we take the time to listen to them, create a dialogue with them, and support their development through world class facilities like the TAP University. To ensure we’re on the right track, we’re developing and implementing comparable HR analytics to the systems we use to understand and respond to changing customer sentiment. As part of this, we measure our net promoter score internally as well as externally. This helps us to know our strengths and know where we need to improve. 

Knowledge base: What we can learn about employer branding from TAP Air Portugal 

  • A great employer brand can provide a firm foundation for expansion and transformation. 
  • Employer branding is a long-term investment, supporting retention as well as recruitment.
  • Aligning your organizational purpose with what employees want to achieve individually can help to create complementary employer and commercial brands. 
  • At times of major recruitment and expansion, it’s vital not to lose focus on your existing employees. Make sure you listen to them, and reward them for great performance.
  • Ensuring all generations integrate, and feel welcome within your workforce doesn’t just broaden your talent pool, it also delivers the invaluable benefits of cognitive diversity. 

Pedro Ramos, Group Human Resources Director, TAP Air Portugal

Pedro Ramos currently is Human Resources Director at TAP Air Portugal Group, having previously held executive positions in a number of leading companies over the past 25 years. 

Pedro is one of the most influential human resources directors in Portugal, Brazil and Africa, and is mentioned in several international forums and studies in the area of People Management. 

He holds a PhD in Business Economics, a Master in Sociology and a Bachelor's Degree in Educational Sciences. He is a university Professor (Coimbra, Portugal) in the areas of HR Management and Leadership, as well as an international speaker. 

He is Vice-President of the Portuguese Association of People Management (APG) and Member of the Strategic Council of the Brazilian Association of Human Resources (ABRH Brasil). He is also the author of several works on Leadership and People Management. He recently published the book “PEOPLE & BUSINESS - Mobilizing for Obtaining Results”, and is co-author of several other books published in Portugal and Brazil.  

During his career, Pedro has received several awards and distinctions for excellence for his role as a people manager. This includes the Career HR Award from RH Magazine (Portugal) for more than 27 years of top management as a human resources director.

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