Re-Routing Aviation Jobs Towards The Pandemic Response

When commercial flights were suspended during the pandemic, Ms Michelle Tan, Assistant Director, Public Service Division (PSD), led a team to redeploy aviation crew to greater areas of need. This not only supported the crews’ livelihoods but also bolstered the public sector’s ability to serve and care for those affected by COVID-19.
Redeploying aviation crew to healthcare

As pandemic restrictions put the brakes on travel, thousands of workers in the aviation sector found their wings clipped and livelihoods at risk. But very quickly, an initiative was started to redeploy aviation workers to fill urgent manpower needs in both public healthcare institutions and public agencies.

Ms Michelle Tan, who led the Public Service Division (PSD)’s efforts in this ‘Lift-and-Shift’ approach, shares that work started in early 2020.

“There was an urgency to stave off mass retrenchments from the private sector from a national perspective, and there was also concern over the wellbeing and capacity issues of the healthcare sector as we were unsure how long and what shape this crisis would take,” she explains.

To this end, the Public Service closely partnered with private sector entities such as Singapore Airlines Group (SIA Group) to initiate job redeployments. 

“At that time, this made perfect sense, given that the private sector had excess manpower, while the public sector needed additional manpower,” she says.

PSD’s role, she elaborates, was that of matchmaker and convener. They brought together all the relevant stakeholders to consolidate ideas and suggestions. PSD also steered the agenda to make things happen as expediently as possible.

Michelle shares that much of this work was unprecedented as there were many human resource, administrative, legal and financial hurdles to overcome. However, all parties had a similar goal to save jobs and save lives.

“Stakeholders in the room were visionary and saw a perfect match between the skills and competencies of aviation staff and what was urgently required by healthcare,” she says.

From Cabin Crew to Care Ambassadors

This shared mission led to the development of the Care Ambassador Programme, where cabin crew from SIA and Scoot were trained to augment care delivery at public hospitals.

In all, over 1,000 crew took on the roles of Care Ambassadors where they supported nurses in lower-risk wards by giving basic care, ambulating patients, housekeeping, serving food and engaging patients to boost their morale.

According to Ms Shirley Heng, Chief Nurse, Yishun Health, this collaboration with SIA Group helped augment manpower during a very challenging time. “Care Ambassadors were a great help in the wards as they bolstered our resources for service-related work and basic caregiving. This gave our nurses more bandwidth to attend to patients with more complex medical needs.”

Care Ambassadors were a great help in the wards.

In addition to the extra hands, the flight crew’s strong relational skills and service ethos added value to the patient experience and garnered many commendations for their service excellence. In a few exceptional cases, some even helped to save lives.

Given that a project partnership on this scale had not been done before, the PSD stepped up by working with Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft the first contract agreement, which later laid the basis for all redeployment contracts between the public and private sectors.

She shared that it took two to three weeks of work by the team to draft this keystone contract.

“To do so, we had many tough discussions. What was gratifying, however, was that everyone was united by an urgent purpose to fight COVID-19 and save jobs, which led to very quick breakthroughs.”

This programme even led to a new job role at Yishun Health’s Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, that of Patient Care Officers – who in turn were trained by SIA staff in customer service.

Patient Care Officers were trained by SIA staff in customer service.

Extending the Service Ethos to Public Service

Hundreds of cabin crew and pilots were also deployed to support other areas in Singapore’s frontline services, taking on roles such as Transport Ambassadors, Contact Tracing Executives, People’s Association Community Support Executives and Social Service Officers at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

At MSF’s Social Service Offices, the SIA crew helped to answer the public’s queries on COVID-19 support grants. Their ability to handle anxiety, share clear instructions and strong people skills all came into good stead in this role.

The foundation laid by the job secondments with flight crew also helped pave the way for subsequent redeployment initiatives for other aviation companies, ground handlers, hotels and travel retail companies that were similarly affected by COVID-19.

“These redeployments helped our public agencies to bear the manpower crunch, as agencies could re-focus on expanding their services to more citizens, or to re-allocate key personnel to support urgent COVID-19 operations,” says Michelle.

On a more personal note, Michelle reflects: “This work will always count as one of my pinnacle experiences in the Public Service. While work was extremely fast-paced and intense during that period, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to really contribute.”

She is grateful that amid the crisis, she was in the right place, with the right people, at the right time to help. “This project was a mammoth team Singapore effort; we just did what was needed at that point. In short, all the key stakeholders involved cared for the people we were impacting. We cared for each other, and we trusted in each other to carry the work to its end.”

For their support and partnership, Singapore Airlines Group was awarded the Star Partner Award at the Public Sector Transformation COVID-19 Award Ceremony 2022.

    Jul 6, 2022
    Sheralyn Tay
    Courtesy of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
    Hong Myungjin
    Lei Ng
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