When serving 200 million customers each year from every corner of the world, Delta believes its team should reflect the same people who choose to fly it. It's why the company has made intentional investments to introduce the aviation industry as a career possibility to more diverse demographics starting at a young age.
To meet the increasing 21st century demands of the travel industry and the workforce needs required, Delta is working to remove economic, racial and gender barriers through targeted education programs like WING Flight, Ace Academy, Propel and more.
"There are two schools of thought – you can continue to fish and hope you get the best talent to bite, or you can farm. Our pipeline strategy is to grow, inspire and nurture our future talent and ensure we have an employee base that's reflective of the world we serve," said Keyra Lynn-Johnson, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. "We recognize the barriers to joining this industry are real, whether economic or the historical pipelines that side-stepped underrepresented groups, like women and racial minorities. If we leave it to chance, those barriers are not necessarily going to be removed in the next decade."
Through the company's pipelines, a grade school student can gain aviation exposure, experience and employment – from flying for the first time on a WING Flight to gaining their first flight hours and even attending a four-year university that provides a career path direct to Delta.
WING Flight & Dream Flight
Delta created the WING Flight, or "Women Inspiring Our Next Generation," in response to the historical lack of female pilots. Approximately 5 percent of pilots in the United States are female.
Each year, young girls from middle and high schools are invited to fly with Delta on an entirely female-operated flight, from the ramp agents to pilots to dispatchers. The WING Flight gives girls an opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of traditionally male roles. Last year's flight was also joined by female mechanics, engineers, technicians and IT specialists.
In 2019, Delta celebrated 20 years of the Dream Flight, in partnership with the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, which flies predominantly black and brown students ages 13-18 from Atlanta to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. for a summer camp event.
Delta's support of grade school students also include its nonprofit partnerships with organizations like Junior Achievement, 3DE, Young Enterprise, Center for Workforce Innovation, Atlanta Public Schools, Atlanta Science Festival, FIRST Championship and KaBOOM! that develop more sustainable communities by funding education.
Ace, Solo & National Flight Academies
Each summer, Delta introduces elements of the aviation industry from aircraft maintenance to flight operations to information technology through sponsored programs in partnership with the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals and the National Flight Academy.
At ACE and Solo Flight Academies, young adults aged 13 to 18 spend a week interacting with aviation professionals and gaining hands-on industry experience, like what it takes to maintain an aircraft or dispatching a flight.
While students learn the ins and outs of everything that makes running an airline possible, a select number are interviewed and chosen to receive 15 hours of flight training and the opportunity to solo their first aircraft – all of which is a typically costly endeavor for families.
"Being in the trenches with actual professionals and gaining real-world experience is how we're laying the foundation for a successful career in aviation," said Johnson. "It starts with planting the seed and educating young people on the resources available that could lead to a future at Delta."
Delta is also the official airline of the National Flight Academy since 2013, providing scholarships to thousands of children from community partners, partner airlines, military dependents and Delta employees each year to attend an immersive learning experience aboard a 102,000 square-foot simulated aircraft carrier.
Delta also engages with middle and high schools to introduce aircraft maintenance as a viable career, and provides real-world experience through tours, job shadows, mentorship and the donation of serviceable parts, engines and airframes to nearly 50 maintenance training programs the company is partnered with.
As one of Delta's largest educational investments, students enrolled in 3DE schools have the opportunity to identify real business solutions for Delta through case teaching method. This past year, 200 3DE students worked on change management as it applied to the introduction of new uniforms for employees.
Propel and AMT Partnerships
Within the next decade, Delta expects to hire more than 8,000 pilots as its current workforce reaches or nears the mandatory retirement age. In the same time period, more than 2,000 aviation maintenance technicians will also be eligible for retirement.
Delta launched the Propel Pilot Career Path Program in 2018 to offer a customized career path to college students interested in flying for Delta through partnerships with select universities. Propel is the first in the U.S. to offer students their choice of three unique career routes and an accelerated timeline to progress to Delta, in 42 months or less, after flying for a Delta Connection carrier, job-share flying for Delta Private Jets while instructing for one of Delta's collegiate partners, or flying for the military.
Delta stays engaged throughout a student's Propel journey with on-campus events, visits to the world headquarters in Atlanta and mentorship by a pilot currently flying for Delta.
Even with the career paths offered, the largest barrier of entry continues to be the cost of quality flight training. Delta introduced financial assistance through Wells Fargo, offering an affordable private student loan for up to $25,000 and setting Propel apart as a true standout from other education pipelines for pilots.
In addition to college students, Propel also offers a career path to current Delta employees looking for a career transition.
Delta also supports the workforce skills of future aircraft maintenance technicians through investments in nearly 50 training programs across the U.S. In 2018, The Delta Air Lines Foundation contributed $350,000 in grants to nine colleges to enhance their curriculum development, projects and material support.
Delta also offers a range of internship, Co-Op and full-time hiring opportunities for undergraduate students ranging from corporate to engineering to flight planning, as well as employment opportunities through its MBA Associate Program.
A Journey, Not a Destination
Identifying, inspiring and fostering a new generation of Delta is a journey, and the company is broadening its reach beyond the ranks of pilots and mechanics.
"You'll continue to see us take on more," said Johnson. "We're plugging into organizations to get more women and minorities in STEM fields. Because it's not just the people flying and maintaining our aircraft who are essential to our business success – it's cyber security experts, engineers, tech specialists and much more who will all help carry Delta into the future."