In November 2018, the Airport Authority was awarded Elite Veterans Honor Roll status by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce for its ongoing efforts to hire and retain veterans. Elite status recognizes businesses with an employee population comprised of at least 10 percent veterans.


Jerry Sanders, President & CEO of the Chamber, lauded the airport’s veteran hiring practices, saying, “As one of the largest military regions in the country, we have an immense amount of talent and expertise in our veteran community. Without organizations like San Diego International Airport setting the bar for veteran engagement, our work would be far more challenging.”

One way the airport boosts veteran hiring is through the Veterans Fellowship program, which helps veterans transition from active duty to the civilian workforce by providing an opportunity for them to gain practical work experience in our integrated aviation environment. The fellows are employed full-time by the Airport Authority for the duration of the program and receive a salary with full benefits. Each veteran fellowship position offers hands-on work experience, specific to the role they are fulfilling in their department.

Established in 2014, the program began with three veterans who were selected for a 6-month fellowship, which was followed by a new cohort of three veteran fellows every 6 months. In 2018, the program duration was lengthened to one year. Five fellows have been hired on as full-time employees since the program began.

In addition to their duties, fellows also participate in workshops on resume writing, interview skills and networking — skills to further help make them competitive job applicants in the future. These workshops are held in collaboration with Easterseals, which assists the fellows with their continued career development and navigation after the fellowship has concluded.

In 2019, the Airport Authority also launched a new Military Internship program through the Department of Defense. The program allows fully employed military service personnel who are six months from transition to accept intern or apprenticeships with organizations in order to gain experience in the civilian workforce. The military continues to pay full salary and benefits for the internship period.

The Veterans Fellowship and Military Internship programs help strengthen the airport’s ties to the community by investing in young, local talent. But it is also part of a broader strategy aimed at addressing the question, “What will the airports of the future need to do to remain competitive?” Increasingly, the answer is to engage young minds, educate them about the aviation industry, and encourage them to explore opportunities within it.

One of the biggest threats airports face today is the aging workforce, and the availability of qualified talent to replace these workers as they retire. At SAN, about one out of every three workers will become eligible for retirement in the next five years. This is a significant number of people with solid experience and proven, valuable skills. What’s at risk is institutional memory – a treasured asset at any organization. Employee turnover is expensive in terms of lost productivity and retraining costs.

At SAN, we are looking to solutions such as aviation education outreach, internship programs at the undergraduate and graduate university levels, and innovative programs such as the Veterans’ Fellowship program. The airport also hosts local high school and college students for half-day seminars on the aviation industry called “Take Flight” about four times a year.

In other words, we’re “farming for talent.” These programs help plant seeds of interest in different places in the hopes that we can harvest talent when we have a need, rather than simply hunt for talent when the need arises.

Career Development a Focus at SAN

2018 Snapshot

The Airport Authority in 2018 implemented a new career development program in support of the Authority’s core value of continuous learning for employees. Specifically, the Airport Authority is now offering an extensive program of monthly learning opportunities in leadership training, resume building, emotional intelligence, and other skill sets.

SAN’s Talent, Culture & Capability Department earned the Business of Airports Conference’s 2018 HR Excellence Award In recognition of its human resources strategy and programs. The award reflects the team’s efforts in four areas of HR: change management, developing future leaders, people management, and employer branding. The Authority’s Veteran Fellowship, ACE Interns, Performance Management, Leading at All Levels, and Employee Engagement programs were also cited in the award.


Training Opportunities Abound

The ease and efficiency of e-learning may be the latest trend in workforce development, but there is still a slow reaction to adopt e-learning in preference to in-person instruction. This is also compounded by the technical difficulties and costs of providing the necessary infrastructure to further e-learning availability. Another challenge is in collecting and analyzing results data from the various career development efforts to provide proof of concept.

Over the next year, online learning modules will be better leveraged to meet the organization’s needs with improved promotion and facilitation of system adoption and use. A new manager onboarding program will be created in addition to the launch of an Authority-wide mentor program.

Highly Lauded Workforce Looks Like San Diego

2018 Snapshot

The diverse and inclusive workforce at SAN is representative of the greater San Diego area. In 2018, nearly 44 percent of employees at the Airport Authority were women, including 38 percent of our Executive Leadership and our Board Chair. All work-eligible age categories are represented, with nearly 8 percent of the workforce under 30 years old. Through our Take Flight, Airport Career Experience Internship, and Veteran’s Fellowship Programs, we continue to introduce diverse, urban youth and emerging workers to the variety of career opportunities available at the airport and nurture the future Airport Authority workforce.

It’s not uncommon for employees to garner awards or receive special recognition. Last year, for example, Customer Relations Manager Maggie Hartnett was selected for a Top 40 Under 40 award by Airport Business Magazine. Maggie was recognized for leading one of the largest airport volunteer programs in the country.

In addition, the 2018 Employee Team of the Year was a 46-person strong collaborative effort with employees from nearly every Authority department. This team oversaw the construction and opening of the new International Arrivals facility within 16 months. Design, construction, logistics, information technology, security, all had to be coordinated efficiently and smoothly to achieve an accomplishment of this magnitude, which might normally require 24 to 30 months.

Two significant emerging issues will have potential long-range impacts on the Airport Authority’s ability to attract and retain a diverse, highly skilled workforce. First, the cost of housing continues to escalate throughout the San Diego region with the median home price approaching $549,000. The high cost of housing presents a significant barrier to skilled workers wishing to relocate to San Diego. In addition, with new limitations on deferred compensation under the Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA), the Airport Authority’s executive level compensation package is not as competitive as it once was in the labor market.

To sustain the diversity of our workforce and support the economic inclusion of all communities, the Airport Authority joined the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation’s Inclusive Growth Steering Committee. The Committee identified long-term goals and strategies to build a strong local talent pipeline, equip small businesses to complete, and address the affordability crisis. These efforts will bear fruit as the Airport Authority works to build new community partnerships and enhance its current talent acquisitionand supplier diversity programs to amplify their impact in the coming years.

Providing Vital Oversight

2018 Snapshot

Under California law, the Airport Authority must have a full-time, independent internal auditor who directly reports to the Airport Authority Board. The Chief Auditor’s Office serves this role by providing oversight on business practices and executing audits to assist Airport Authority management in maintaining the financial and operational integrity of the organization. In 2018. a new chief auditor, Lee Parravano, was appointed by the Authority’s Board.

The Chief Auditor’s Office is also responsible for managing the Airport Authority’s Ethics Program and responding to any allegations of Ethics Code violations. In fiscal year 2018, two ethics issues and one workplace issues of concern were investigated.

No significant challenges were noted in 2018. All allegations, whether submitted through the Ethics hotline, web form, or in-person, were fully reviewed and investigated if warranted.

The Chief Auditor’s Office will continue to oversee business practices, execute audits, manage the Ethics Program and perform other duties as needed in 2019.

SAN Safety Team is on the Rise

2018 Snapshot

SAN’s Safety Team has successfully developed a workplace safety manual comprised of 16 programs to ensure compliance of Cal OSHA standards. This included the roll-out and implementation of e-learning safety trainings. The year also brought SAN into compliance with all observations from San Diego Fire and Rescue’s CEDMAT division’s inspection of three airport facilities.

This fiscal year there was a lower recordable incident rate with lost time reduced by almost 25 percent. There was a decrease in recordable injury cost by almost $10,000.

Keeping aging facilities safe and free from risk of injury to staff is an ongoing challenge, as well as mitigating the hazards and daily safeguards that come with managing 661 acres and more than 9,400 employees airport-wide.

In 2019, the increase in safety e-learning opportunities will help support a more informed and prepared workforce. A plan for cultivating more leadership communication is planned as well as more orderly evacuation drill processes for more efficient and safer emergency preparedness.