Digitization of Human Resources: Challenges and opportunities

John Webster by John Webster | Apr 15, 2019

The 2019 ACI World Human Resource Forum in Hong Kong, China, had as its main theme this year the Digitization of Human Resources: Challenges and opportunities.

The central goal of the Human Resource (HR) Forum is for committee members from the ACI membership to provide guidance information and best practices to address the latest key issues airport HR leaders are facing, such as:

  • Advice on strategic, policy and technical issues, and help formulate industry positions on leading HR practices;
  • Monitor industry Human Resource developments and trends and their implications on airports;
  • Help define industry best practice and standards in human resources and training;
  • Assist in the production of HR guidance material, training content and other publications;
  • Advise on the need and assist in the development of industry benchmark surveys, analysis and reports; and
  • Advise on the training and development needs of airports.

Given the importance and implications of managing people and associated data, in many airports, HR is becoming the central unit that coordinates and orchestrates digital transformation. As a result, the role of the HR professionals is expanded beyond talent acquisition and management, to evolve into a more strategic approach to the employee experience span from information architecture to employee well-being.

During this session, we had a panel discussion that provided regional perspectives and insights on the role of digitization and its impact on current HR trends in the airport industry for North America, Africa, Europe and Asia.  These perspectives were moderated by Kevin Caron, Director, Capacity Building Programmes, ACI World, with a very distinguished panel of experts who represented these regions:

  • Rosa Beckett, Chief Administrative Officer, Jacksonville Aviation Authority, Chair, ACI-NA Human Resources Committee;
  • Pieter du Plessis, Group Executive Human Resources at Airports Company South Africa and Chair, ACI Africa Human Resources Working Group;
  • Georgia Stergiopoulou, Human Resources Director at Athens International Airport S.A., Chair ACI EUROPE Leadership and Human Resources Forum; and
  • Justina Tan, Managing Director, People, Changi Airport Group, and Chair, ACI Asia-Pacific HR Committee

At the end of this session, there were many key takeaways from the panel discussion on the use of digitized HR plaforms:

  • Airports need to become experts in providing an engaging Employee User Experience to attract and retain staff;
  • Airports need to have the capability to re-skill its workforce and adapt to the quickly changing aviation environment and in required competencies;
  • Airports need to adopt a system of identifying Employee Personas to better map the right people for the right job;
  • Airports need to adopt more self-service options for their employees to have control over their professional development and career-path; and
  • Airport HR professionals need to become “Cultural Architects” in helping to build and promote those values that will help the organization evolve during the digital transformation process and in so doing, HR becomes a business enabler to achieve its objectives.

In quoting Justina Tan, in summation, digitalization for airport HR professionals have to make “business sense” and provide real value for the organization. Digitalization should not be undertaken for digitalization sake. It should meet at least three minimum criteria:

  1. Digitalization must demonstrate a “clear” return on investment in terms of acquired efficiencies and productivity;
  2. It must be made clear to all stakeholders on the type of value that digitalization will provide to the organization in order to manage expectations; and
  3. Finally, in implementing digital transformation, the design of any HR digital platform must factor in the importance of User Experience and embrace a User Centric Design to ensure a greater level of success and integration within the organization.

Using IT to develop and measure competencies

In the following session, Ali Al Eisri, Learning & Development Senior Manager, Oman Airports, also delivered an insightful presentation on how their Airport HR professional used an online competency-based framework designed on a digital platform that allows them to directly link each job within Oman Airports to the competencies required for that position.

This very interactive session allowed the audience to see a live version of the online competency framework designed specifically by and for Oman Airports and the interface between the employee and manager to build an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for each employee within the organization.This system provides the organization with data driven metrics that can be used by the manager to make the right decisions to address any identified performance gaps and have a positive impact on performance management, professional development, succession planning and career development.

As per Ali Al Esri, he stated that Oman Airports invested heavily in creating competency profiles as it will assist in employee retention, develop employees for succession plan and create a learning organization through many learning interventions, such as e-learning, coaching and work place projects just to name a few.

Digitization and the recruitment of new airport professionals

Gale LaRoche also provided a presentation on one of the main issues affecting all airports, which is the need to attract and recruit qualified, talented professionals in the digital era. As digitalization permeates all aspects of our lives on a daily basis, airports need to adapt to use new recruiting tools and platforms to aid them in selecting the next generation of airport professionals as well as embrace this new approach that can lead to a whole new world of possibilities for organizational success.

At the end of the session, the audience were invited to participate in a group exercise led by Danielle Michel, Director, Membership Services for ACI Europe. In this exercise, the audience were broken into four different working groups that would each look at the challenges that digitalization may bring for the new recruitment of airport professionals.

Each group at the end of the session delivered a presentation which made for a rich learning experience.

I want to thank all the contributors for making this HR Forum such a great success and provide such great insight and information for our members.

John Webster

John Webster

Senior Manager, Global Training, ACI World
John is a senior level aviation professional with over 25 years combined operational and strategic knowledge of the industry. He has a rich and diverse career that spans airports, airlines, international aviation trade associations as well as government institutions. He is currently responsible for the operational management and administration of quality training solutions in keeping with ACI's strategic vision and direction.
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