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An MFA webinar: the ‘war for talent’

Martyn Fiddler Aviation invited Marc Bailey (CEO, BBGA) and Patrick Edmond (Managing Director, Altair Advisory) to participate on a discussion on the current employment difficulties facing the aviation industry.

Often referred to as ‘the war for talent’, aviation is facing an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees. Key questions for Bailey and Edmond during the webinar were: where has the talent shortage come from, what difficulties is it posing? how can we attract and retain talent in business aviation?

Where has the talent shortfall come from?

Bailey explained that arguably the ‘war for talent’ began a few decades ago with an increased focus on academic education; “placing a greater emphasis on school leavers working towards higher education led to creation of negative stigma surrounding the choice to go straight into the world of employment, specifically manual labour.”

“The detrimental effects of this attitudes are obvious to see in recent statistics: we have a group of select skills where the average age of worker is 56 years+. This is a scary concept facing the future of business aviation, one which could lead to its downfall if not rectified.”

Exacerbating factors

Bailey and Edmond agreed the global pandemic worsened the shortfall, signifying yet another setback for the aviation industry due to the vast numbers of unavoidable redundancies. The industry as a whole worked hard to counteract these affects by trying to keep people linked to the industry so they could retain and recuperate that talent but has still been heavily affected by such loses.

Edmond noted “economic forecasting shows the industry is still not back to pre-pandemic flying levels and it is important to realise that not every sector will develop in the same way as before; this is due to the impact on long-haul traffic and other factors interrupting progress. Arguably the slow rate of recovery means the scale of new talent required to fulfil the demographic  and employment gap have reduced, however, recent research shows that there are in fact still significant shortfalls even against that lower demand.”

What challenges are being created by the shortfall:

The Onset of The Pandemic

The talent shortfall is much broader than just airline crews, it expands on to include ground staff, operational staff, engineers, and so on. The onset of the global pandemic exacerbated this and as Edmond commented “significant numbers of operational staff came to the realisation they could find employment elsewhere with more sociable hours and without high levels of complaints received from passengers on a day-to-day basis which were outside of their personal control. In turn, this made it difficult for the organisations to retain and recruit more staff; not only did business need to work harder to retain their existing team members, but they also needed to dedicate more resources towards recruiting and retaining new talent.”

Creating a More Attractive Workspace

One way to bring talent back to the industry is to create a more attractive workspace. “We have been trying to deal with the talent shortage by breaking it down into three core streams – flight operations, ground operations, and airworthiness” Bailey explained. “However, network management is a fourth category that often gets overlooked. How we train these staff should also be taken into consideration, as we cannot take our employees for granted.”

“Many conversations over the last year were with those ground staff about the shortages, and what we found was that a lot of people have moved away from the industry not necessarily because it was too hard, but because they could find more secure arrangements elsewhere. To retain staff we need to be offering enhanced benefits packages and security, and stressing the potential associated with the industry. For example, entering aviation as a ground operation professional does not limit you to that sector; aviation is a wide industry with various development paths available; we just need to stress this potential for both personal and career development.”

When looking at attracting talent from both Generation Z and through other industries and walks of life, what progress is being made?

The Glamour Shift 

“Excluding ground and operational roles, aviation has never been a particularly high paying industry, however part of the compensation was that it was a glamorous place to work” Bailey noted. “In recent years the industrialisation of low-cost carriers has led to crowded terminals, delayed flights, and serious congestion. As a result the glamour of traditional aviation has somewhat disappeared for many staff placing added pressure on to employers to increase benefits such as pay and hours.”

Business aviation therefore has an advantage to commercial aviation in terms of attracting new talent. While the tradition idea of aviation glamour may have changed, sustainability and technology innovation are attractive to many. Edmond explained “The sustainability of business aviation is proving to be a key concern especially amongst Generation Z when debating whether to enter the industry. Younger generations have been brought up to understand the importance of protecting the environment from climate change and so want to be part of an industry that shares the same passions and is committed in the same way they are.  Consequentially we are observing organisations continually developing and enhancing their sustainability policies, not only to fit in line with their ESG and CSR campaigns, but also because they are becoming increasingly important when attracting and retaining talent.”

Talent Demographics

The BBGA works tirelessly with industry to understand and attract new talent; and new talent does not have to be Generation Z. Bailey noted “a recent event held at Farnborough Airport showed that around 30 to 40% of attendees were actually second-career individuals who were looking to enter the industry. This suggests the ‘war for talent’ is far greater than simply trying to convince younger generations aviation is the ‘place to be.”

 “This is not to say we should disregard our existing efforts such as implementing vocational training packages into universities and teaching centres – however it is equally important we make it clear that people of all ages and industries can enter the aviation industry; there is opportunities available for everyone. The hardest part of packaging these opportunities is to do so in such a way that offers security and a future, whilst providing the necessary pay and benefits sought after to succeed in the long run.”

“A key challenge in retaining our existing talent in aviation is that while businesses have an idea of what needs to be done, but putting these measures into place is no easy task. Many leaders have a previous generation mentality whereby they hold on to individuals to making their own lives easier rather than introducing them to and educating them on other industry sectors. We must encourage a culture where we actively push people to other areas within the industry so they can gain experience and develop an interest which will contribute to their retainment.”

“Another issue lies with the lack of internal promotion and personal development within the aviation industry. We need to work harder at making this happen throughout all organisations, both large and small – internal training, industry training and academic training all allow for employee growth. Being seen as an employer who actively looks to enhance team member careers will actually help draw talent and aid in long term retention.”

The Martyn Fiddler webinar continued to discuss the challenge of sustainability with Patrick Edmond, (Managing Director, Altair Advisory). To learn more please visit our You Tube channel where you can watch the webinar in full. 


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