How Delta kept its talent programs in flight, despite COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended industries around the world, with travel being one of the hardest-hit sectors.

“Everything, literally, in March came to a screeching halt–from our flights to our hiring,” said Delta’s Myria Peek, manager of talent acquisition technology, process and analytics, at a Wednesday session of HR Tech.

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Delta’s Myria Peek presents during the 2020 virtual HR Tech Conference.

Customer and employee safety quickly became the company’s focus, as Delta rolled out a wave of new safety policies and communications. But, with hiring on hold, countless candidates were at risk of being left in the lurch; in a normal year, the company fields more than 1 million job applications. Knowing that the organization wanted to retain relationships with those candidates, Delta turned to AI-driven talent management platform Avature, which helped it identify candidates in progress and design tailored and branded communications.

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Transparency and a focus on the candidate and employee experience are among the organization’s core values, Peek said, so it was important for Delta to be upfront with all candidates in the pipeline.

“Through identifying the candidates in progress, we were not only able to see who they were but where they were in the process,” she said, which allowed the  messaging to provide specific information about the candidate’s individual potential career path with the company.

While external hiring froze, the company quickly saw some unique talent patterns emerge internally, namely lopsided demand. People in positions like pilots, flight attendants and baggage claim workers all were sidelined by cancelled and reduced flights, but the reservations department, for instance, was inundated with customer calls about future flights, driving the need for more talent, Peek said. Also factoring into the equation was the pandemic-driven unpaid leave option that Delta offered its employees–which 40,000 people, about half of its employee base, took advantage of at some point–as well as the early departure packages it extended to workers near retirement.

“So, we had a surplus in some areas and gaps in other areas, but Delta wanted to make sure we were taking care of our business and our employees,” Peek said.

The company created a page within the Avature platform for hiring leaders to identify talent gaps, and for employees to express interest in what Delta termed “special assignments,” or transfers from their typical role to help close gaps. In the second phase of this project, Avature placed assignment openings on Delta’s internal career site, integrating the information with its HRIS system. The program allowed automated end-date management–so hiring leaders could easily communicate about whether the assignment needed to be extended–and also facilitated gathering of screening information for special assignments with different candidate eligibility requirements.

Click here to view the full presentation.

While the partnership with Avature has helped Delta take better care of its candidate relationships and support business continuity, it’s also provided valuable insight into the employee base, Peek said. Likewise, the special assignment strategy allowed employees to build relationships, and both showcase and build skills.

Looking ahead, Delta is exploring how to tap Avature’s capability to drive employee engagement and to support performance management, future rotational programs and selection analytics.

Peek advised talent leaders that, as long as they keep their core values at the forefront, being agile and creative in the face of significant challenges can produce lasting business results.

“If you’re open and creative, with a solution like Avature, you can do so much outside the box,” she said.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].