A combination of pandemic-forced layoffs, staff career changes and pent-up demand for travel poses a huge resourcing challenge for the commercial aviation industry – at a time when its finances remain under pressure.
Analysis by Oxford Economics, in conjunction with aviation trade bodies, shows 2.3 million jobs have been lost in civil airlines, airports and aerospace groups since the Covid-19 outbreak – a 21% reduction from pre-pandemic levels.
But, with millions of people suddenly eager to travel again as lockdown restrictions ease globally, companies are having to rush to recruit new employees.
After laying off 10,000 employees, British Airways, owned by IAG, is recruiting 3,000 cabin crew. Meanwhile, global airport operator Swissport wants to hire 30,000 workers, after losing 20,000 staff in a bid to cut costs when the pandemic hit.
While these shortcomings remain, many businesses struggle to address them. In May, UK union Unite warned of “chronic staff shortages” in the aviation industry and said employers would pay “the price of mass layoffs during the pandemic”.
Aerospace headhunter Emma Robinson says it’s not just a rehire. “The biggest problem facing the aviation industry right now is the lack of staff: they lost manpower during Covid, and they [workers] didn’t come back.
Robinson points out that many aviation workers had low or minimum wages before the pandemic and have since found themselves “better off” in alternative jobs requiring a similar skill level.
“They might still lack job satisfaction in their new role, but they work more social hours and have a better work-life balance,” she notes. Aviation job locations can also deter applicants, post-Covid. “People don’t want to commute like they used to,” says Robinson, “which means that, if a job can’t be done remotely, there’s now a limited pool of people who live in the area who might be suitable. “.
Unite said the industry would not be able to recover from the staff shortage if companies continued “to offer low pay and poor conditions to new hires”. But, with airlines suffering $200 billion in losses due to the pandemic, paying higher salaries to attract staff is not an easy solution.
Other rising costs, such as fuel, are already putting pressure on margins, exacerbating the problem, Robinson says. “They can’t afford to pay people more, which would attract better candidates.”
Given the unprecedented challenges facing the aerospace industry, many workers said they felt stressed.
“You also have a high level of middle management burnout, due to pressure from management teams and junior team members, which can fuel a stressful workplace,” Robinson observes. To solve this problem, she says, the sector needs “a top-down culture change”.
She says, “Leadership is hugely important to a company’s culture, from how you talk to and trust staff, to their work environment — staff need to feel inspired. Processes, leadership, motivation, and productivity are all essential. . . Hire well, trust your employees, treat them right and they won’t leave.
An effective way to attract more people to the industry is to provide a range of career opportunities, according to Alison Gregory, a human resources and change expert at management consultancy PA Consulting.
“With so many different roles in such a vast industry, there should be opportunities for people to have ‘zigzagging’ careers and secondment opportunities – helping to retain key talent and providing an attractive proposition to potential candidates. “, she says.
Pierre Michard, business unit director at Welsh aircraft manufacturer STG Aerospace, believes the sector remains attractive to anyone interested in technology and science.
“The key skill we’re looking for beyond technical proficiency is curiosity,” he says. “We need all of our designers to be technology and application curious.”
However, Michard notes that expectations and requirements vary across different demographics. “Young designers are looking for an environment in which they can develop their knowledge base and eventually their career. One of the most frequently asked questions in interviews today is: “Who will guide me?” » . . . More experienced candidates, especially those in larger organizations, seek an environment where they get more design freedom and less bureaucracy. »
But to maintain the flow of qualified candidates for aerospace technology positions, some believe the industry needs government help.
John Young, Head of Strategic Campaigns for Space at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, said: “With the growing demand for technical and non-technical expertise, the skills gap continues to widen. Public-private collaboration will be essential to enable the next generation of skills for the space economy.
Along with government support and investment, he promotes the idea of a national space academy that would “regain the position of such a dynamic and innovative sector.”
“A more collaborative environment,” he says, “will create common storylines to help us bridge the talent gap, create key standards – especially related to salary, as well as share industry insights to recruitment and retention best practices”.