8 Key Strategies on Attracting and Retaining Talent in the Airport Industry

Arpad Szakal by Arpad Szakal | Oct 13, 2022

Navigating today’s airport talent market and the new competitive market for aviation skills

We’ve all seen the news reports on airport staffing crises causing long delays at check-in and security and mountains of lost baggage as well as flight cancellations. Finding suitable candidates is only half the story, as it can take many months to get the required clearance for people to work airside.

Earlier this year, ACI World set up a ‘workforce challenges’ task force to investigate short-, medium- and long-term solutions and will on 24 October release a White Paper on the subject at the upcoming ACI Africa/ World Annual General Assembly, Conference, and Exhibition.

In the short-term the focus has been on firefighting measures such as capacity and schedule reduction and moving staff between airports depending on where they are needed. In the medium-term, the sector is looking to implement automation technologies to make the industry more attractive by improving working conditions and creating clear career pathways.      

Airports around the world are experiencing stiff competition for staff at all seniority levels from other industries such as: retail/e-commerce, manufacturing and high-tech firms. To compete successfully for talent, airports must do a better job articulating why the industry is a brilliant career choice for those interested in developing a long-term career. Employers in the sector must also ensure and highlight that there is great earnings potential for ambitious professionals wanting to move up the ladder.

Key strategies to engage and retain top flight talent

The rules of the talent game have changed. While professionals at all seniority levels are demanding (and receiving) higher compensation, we have experienced that many of them also want more flexibility and sense of belonging to the culture of their future employer to accept a permanent role.

In light of these changes, what can air cargo companies and freight forwarders do to attract & retain talent?

1. Focus on the candidate experience

The days of engaging candidates the ’old way’ — the process by which companies are putting through them days and weeks of multiple interviews — are over. It’s a new world. Today, as a hiring organization, you need to pitch to a candidate rather than being pitched to by the candidate.

As a result, companies in the airport space need to engage and recruit candidates differently. Instead of leading with a job description, employers should start with the workplace culture and craft a a compelling value proposition, such as “you get to change the world” or “we’re leading the industry with these types of products.” Basically, it’s a pitch to candidates to help them better understand their purpose in the role and the wider organization.

2. Create a compelling company vision your team can get behind

Workplace culture is a big push and pull factor for airport professionals today. Employees want to feel like they belong – and they want a purpose and direction for what they do. Social and environmental issues are also a higher priority than ever before.

It makes a big difference if your company mission is clear and compelling. Can your team see their impact on the business, customers or the planet? If you can give your employees a worthwhile purpose, it will strengthen their feeling of belonging and their desire to make a difference – especially if you have an inspiring CIO with a clear vision for the role of technology.

3. Rethink the ideal candidate profile and expand the talent pool

To compete successfully for today’s talent, hiring organizations must think more creatively about candidates. What about the nontraditional candidates who aren’t even on your radar? These might include “boomerang” employees—those who return to a business after leaving—and others currently doing part-time, consulting or contract work or leading their own one-person start-ups. Next-gen and step-up candidates from the lower ranks in an organization, who may be less proven but are highly capable and motivated, become more appealing. Don’t overlook the importance of promoting within and give employees ‘stretch assignments’ to train them into future leadership roles. 

4. Think about retention at the hiring/onboarding stage

Setting up a reliable and effective onboarding process is critical. Onboarding should consist of relevant and purposeful training, regular feedback and check-ins, along with practical support for the new hire. A smart onboarding process can reduce attrition and helps new team members understand an organization’s subtle rules and processes.

5. Prioritize career development: put learning at the heart of the working experience

Frustration with career progression is a significant factor behind the “great resignation” across the aviation industry. What airport professionals want is a clearly structured career path, with transparency on their progression and promotion prospects.

Airports can stand out from the crowd by implementing or improving formal personal development plans. Ensure every individual on your team understands the specific requirements for reaching the next seniority level. Set out a career path, which defines the skills, knowledge and behaviors associated with different roles and levels of seniority. Then, ensure each employee is given regular opportunities to learn and practice those skills, especially if these are outside of their current job description.

6. Prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB)

We have observed that if an organization isn’t diverse and doesn’t promote inclusion and belonging, their retention rates will likely be impacted. They often struggle to attract talent too. Diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives start with leadership. Employees imitate what they see from their leaders. Ensuring that your leadership team is committed to building a culture of inclusion and belonging will pay off in the long run.  

7. Think beyond pay: offer benefits and perks that actually help employees

Perks and benefits are a huge incentive. The office will become a more attractive destination for your staff if you provide help with costs such as: parking, transportation as well as meal plan options.  An increasingly diverse workforce requires flexibility, imagination and innovation from its employer’s reward and recognition program. Traditional one-size-fits-all employee benefits schemes no longer work.

8. Conduct ’stay’ interviews

Don’t wait until exit interviews to ask your staff what they like (and dislike) about their position. Stay interviews are a great opportunity to ask employees what matters most to them. You will have the chance to make changes based on their feedback and they will be less likely to leave as a result. If they crave growth and long-term career progression, show them the way. Listening to your employees, anticipating and addressing their needs and concerns is a great first step in building longevity in the workplace.

The way forward

Now more than ever, the airport sector must redefine attraction and retention strategies to build a competitive value proposition for their current and future employees. The longer they wait, the more burnout they will create among existing employees, potentially leading to even more attrition.

Arpad Szakal

Arpad Szakal

Aviation and Aerospace Lead, Cormis Partners
Arpad is a Principal Consultant at London-based executive search firm Cormis Partners, with experience delivering senior-level searches for clients that include FTSE 100, Fortune 500 and DAX 30 companies, as well as private equity firms and their portfolio companies. He has a broad industrial background with a special focus on C-Suite and senior management assignments within infrastructure, transportation, and energy. Arpad is an ICF accredited executive & leadership coach and a qualified solution-focused therapist. He is also a certified facilitator of the Hogan Leadership Assessment Suite.
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