SINGAPORE - After 26 years of having only women cabin crew, SilkAir has decided to let the men in as well.
The first batch of air stewards will be recruited this month month, start their training in May and begin flying in August.
The major shift is necessary because it has become "increasingly difficult" to attract "the right (women) candidates with the qualities that we uphold", SilkAir said in a recent e-mail to staff.
Amid an overall manpower crunch, the airline told staff that it also has to compete for stewardesses with other local and foreign carriers, such as parent Singapore Airlines, budget carriers Tigerair and Jetstar Asia, as well as Middle Eastern airlines Emirates and Qatar Airways.
At the same time, there is a need to hire even more cabin crew to support future expansion.
From over 500 air stewardesses now, the target is to grow the cabin crew pool to more than 700 within the next two years, a spokesman told The Sunday Times.
To cushion against the impact of a slowdown in the long-haul premium air travel market, the SIA group is boosting its regional services - through SilkAir in the full-service sector and Tigerair in the budget space.
In February last year, SilkAir welcomed the first of its 54 new Boeing jets, its biggest ever order.
SilkAir's decision to hire air stewards is a "positive and long-awaited" move, said Associate Professor Seshan Ramaswami, who teaches marketing at the Singapore Management University.
"Even for Singapore Airlines, where the Singapore Girl is a longstanding branding icon signifying very high levels of service, there are stewards and stewardesses on board the flight, and passengers expect very high levels of service from the entire flight crew".
SilkAir's new hiring policy "reflects a moving away from a stereotype that only women are suitable for these flight crew duties on board", he added. At the end of the day, what is critical is the training, he pointed out.
The men, whose uniforms are now being designed, will be subject to the same recruitment terms and 14-week training period as the women, who don one-piece lime green or rustic red wrap dresses, the airline's spokesman said.
On why SilkAir never hired air stewards before this, she said: "Our earlier strategy was to hire women crew who embodied nurturing characteristics in line with the SilkAir experience we aimed to provide customers."
Mr Tony Sim, who heads the Singapore Airlines Staff Union that represents SIA as well as SilkAir cabin crew, does not expect any adjustment issues for existing SilkAir air stewardesses.
"On SIA flights, we have men and women who work well alongside each other, so we are confident we will see the same camaraderie on SilkAir flights" he said.
This article was first published on Mar 01, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.