In 2018, Singapore’s Changi Airport was voted Skytrax World’s Best Airport for the sixth consecutive year. Changi Airport Group (CAG), which oversees the operations and development of the airport, as well as providing emergency services, is also the organization that people in Singapore most want to work for (Randstad Employer Brand Research Winner 2017). 

Justina Tan, CAG’s Managing Director, People, sees Changi’s ability to delight travelers and talent acquisition as two sides of the same coin. “Exceptional people create an exceptional experience. In turn, potential recruits see the passion we bring to our work, the wonderful sense of community within the airport, and they want to be part of that,” she says. 

So how does CAG create and sustain the personal touch in an airport that’s already one of the busiest in the world, and continues to expand at a rapid pace (the new terminal 4 began operations in 2017 and a new Terminal 5, part of the Changi East Development is being developed and the first phase will be completed in around 2030).? How does CAG ensure their talent acquisition is spot on in one of the world’s tightest and most competitive labor markets? How is the airport harnessing innovation to make the most of its people? How does the airport maintain such strong cohesion and community spirit when there are more than 200 companies operating within it?

what are the exceptional qualities that make Changi the world’s favorite airport?

Justina Tan: People are at the heart of everything we do. We connect people, we touch their lives. On average 170,000 passengers pass through our terminals each day, but we don’t see these travelers as simply statistics, but as unique individuals with personal stories – people on their way to a family reunion, for example. In the same way, we don’t see cargo as just a box or a barcode, but something that’s special, like a birthday gift or vital medical supplies. It’s this very personal ‘passion for service’ that air travelers cherish. However fast we expand, this focus on each customer’s individual ‘story’ keeps us true to our core values.

there are around 200 companies operating within the airport. How do you create a strong sense of community within such a large network?

Justina Tan: CAG has just 1,800 employees. Changi Airport’s total workforce is around 50,000, encompassing a huge array of different roles, types of people and perspectives. But we have a common goal to create a great ‘One Changi’ experience for our passengers. This means that if someone sees some litter on the floor, for example, they pick it up rather than think that it is a cleaner’s job.

Together with our partners, we’ve developed common goals and key performance indicators. We also have a ‘community’ app and One Changi TV network for the entire airport workforce to stay connected. But what really drives the ‘One Changi’ spirit are informal dialogue and interactions. People swap information and ideas, and if they need to sort out any issues, they can sit down together to work out a solution. 

Another important aspect of our ‘One Changi’ modus operandi is the sharing of each other’s success. Highlights include our Annual Airport Celebration, now in its silver jubilee year. This year’s ‘Service Personality of the Year’ award-winner is 26-year-old Nguyen Thi Tuyet Trang from Certis CISCO Aviation Security. In the short period of about six months, she saved two lives. Nothing speaks more about the dedication of our people than this! 

people are a very scarce resource in Singapore. How do you seek to appeal to talent?

Justina Tan: Our people best represent us as an organization. So what better way to project our brand as an employer than through our people? Within the organization, we have recruited 100 ambassadors, who are all enthusiastic volunteers. They participate in career talks, fairs and road shows to communicate the passion that is at the heart of our organization. Potential recruits value authenticity, so this is a great opportunity for them to speak to our people about what it’s really like to work for CAG. This hugely benefits our talent acquisition strategy.

Changi Airport has a strong international brand presence, and its success on the world stage is a great source of pride for Singapore. CAG is also a relatively young company – incorporated nine years ago in 2009 – which has undergone an exciting journey of expansion and transformation over the years. Both these factors are a strong source of attraction for local talent within the country.

We also believe that the value of workplace diversity in broadening our talent pool and bringing in fresh ideas can’t be overstated. We reach out to a wide range of educational institutions and participate in various career fairs to interact and attract candidates with different interests, specializations or experiences. They could be scholars, new graduates, or experienced personnel – we look out for people who share our passion and values.

how are you looking to strengthen your talent appeal?

Justina Tan:  We’re always looking for fresh ways to make new connections. A key priority is reaching out to millennials through the development of digital platforms. For instance, we’ve been steadily building up our LinkedIn presence – we don’t just use it to raise awareness of job opportunities, but also to tell our stories. Recently, we hosted some of our LinkedIn ‘followers’ – people interested in our work, but not necessarily looking for a job – on an office tour. Through the session, they got to know more about our business and also had the chance to hear from our colleagues working in various divisions, who shared stories about their work life and experiences at CAG. This is a great way to strengthen our professional networks, encourage followers to explore opportunities within CAG, and have them share positively about us to their friends.

how do you deploy technology to make the most of your people?

Justina Tan: We operate against a backdrop of constant cost and manpower constraints. Therefore, we constantly need to innovate to enhance work productivity, while keeping the personal touch that makes the Airport special. 

Technological innovation is an essential part of this. For example, our new Terminal 4 is the first terminal at Changi Airport to use Fast and Seamless Travel (FAST) for departing passengers. The automation of check-in and use of biometric security screening mean shorter queues and greater convenience for passengers. Crucially, these developments also free up check-in agents to spend more quality time with passengers, dealing with their queries and enhancing the experience.

We’re also looking at how to transform the experience for customers through our ‘Living Lab’ program, through which we’re collaborating with innovation-driven companies and start-ups to develop new technology solutions in a ‘live’ airport environment. The idea is to apply technology so it frees-up time for employees to have more time to assist passengers. We’re running trials in areas ranging from automated vehicles to ferry passengers between terminals, to taxi queue sensors to monitor wait times and ensure sufficient taxis are available to meet demand. 

If you want to look at how people and machines can collaborate in the most effective, but unexpected ways, our cleaning service is a great example. While robots now carry out a lot of the work, we’ve found that they’re just not set up to get into corners and other difficult to access areas, so that’s where our physical cleaners step in. We also have sensors to send alerts to supervisors when bins are full, so our cleaners can be deployed more effectively.

how do you develop talent within your organization?

Justina Tan: Career growth is clearly a critical element of long-term retention. Our people also need to develop their skills as our operations grow. 

Development is anchored by one-to-one conversations with supervisors about aspirations and how we can help employees to meet their/our goals. Future leaders can in turn take advantage of a range of onboarding and career acceleration programs facilitated by the top management as part of their own development.

And, we’re constantly looking at ways to enhance the available opportunities. Pilot initiatives include ‘M.O.V.E’ (more opportunities, valuable experiences), a job rotation program, which aims to give our people more scope to try-out new and different roles. The group’s investment in airports and representative offices overseas increases opportunities for exploring new horizons.

Changi Airport is an ultra-busy, round-the-clock operation. How do you balance work and life demands?

Justina Tan: While this isn’t a nine-to-five operation, we want to look after our people’s welfare and create an appealing work environment through what we call ‘work-life integration’. A key part of this focuses on health both through on-site medical facilities and regular check-ups and ensuring our people can take ‘care’ leave for children and elderly relatives when necessary.  It also includes team building and constantly looking for ways for making working here more enjoyable – our Fun Friday social events are especially popular. 

knowledge base: What we can learn from Changi Airport Group

  • technology can’t do everything, but it can help people to make more valuable use of their time
  • even within complex partnership operations, a common sense of mission can shine through via formal and informal collaborations
  • your people are the best advertisements for your employer brand 
  • always be on the look-out for new and original ways to connect with potential recruits and bring followers closer into the fold.

Justina Tan

Changi Airport Group’s Managing Director, People

As Managing Director, People, Justina Tan provides strategic leadership for all aspects of people operations, people development, and plays an instrumental role in shaping the organizational culture and how people experience the organization.

Justina has more than 15 years of experience in the airport industry and has held senior positions in various airport business functions spanning international relations, airline account management, marketing and promotions, airport retail and consulting work.

Over the years, she has driven cultural change initiatives, initiated a more structured approach for talent management and leadership development, spearheaded employee engagement efforts, as well as looking into the design of rewards and performance management systems to drive organizational performance.

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