Thousands of ground handling staff left the aviation industry during the pandemic. Now as aviation ramps up, the severe shortage of skilled ground handlers is shedding light on the need for reform to stabilize the talent pool.
In the immediate term, the most pressing issue is the bottleneck for security clearances as the airline industry prepares for the peak northern summer season. Longer-term, IATA urges the ground handling sector to;
- Adopt a stronger talent acquisition strategy
- Streamline onboarding processes
- Develop a more compelling retention proposition.
“The peak northern summer travel season is fast-approaching, and passengers are already experiencing the effects of bottlenecks in getting security clearances for staff at the airport. Additional resources are needed to accelerate the processing times for employment security clearances which can be as much as six months in some markets. The shortages we are experiencing are a symptom of the longer-term challenges to achieve a stable talent base in ground handling,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for the Operations, Safety and Security.
At the IATA Ground Handling Conference, IATA proposed a comprehensive approach to recruitment, onboarding, and retention.
Attracting fresh talent is critical. This is made more challenging by perceptions created in the pandemic with the critical retrenchment of large numbers of staff, including those in ground handling.
- An awareness campaign to highlight the attractiveness and importance of ground operations in global logistics and transport operations.
- Adoption of the 25by25 campaign to help address the gender imbalance across the industry.
- Apprenticeships in partnership with trade schools to revitalize candidate pipelines.
- Career path mapping to demonstrate long-term prospects for people entering the sector.
Training and security clearance for new staff can take more than six months. More efficient and expedited onboarding will allow the sector to adapt quickly to demand changes, including those which are seasonal. IATA recommends a greater focus on competency-based training. Moving to more online training and assessments will improve speed, flexibility and efficiency of onboarding. Meanwhile, mutual recognition by authorities of security training and employee background records will expedite onboarding and reduce redundant processes.
Greater standardization will improve performance, provide employment flexibility and broader career options. The IATA white paper recommends:
- Implementation of IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM) to standardize ground operations. Along with significant operational benefits and more efficient onboarding, this would provide additional flexibility and opportunities for staff in terms of relocation, reassignment and recruitment.
- Training passports that mutually recognize skills and training across ground handlers, airlines and/or airports.
- Adoption of new technologies and automated processes to create diverse job opportunities and career paths to attract a new generation talent
"An industry-wide approach to lay the foundations for more efficient talent recruitment, onboarding and retention will pay big benefits in terms of efficiency for all concerned. The cornerstone is the standardization that can be achieved with the adoption of the IGOM. Its global implementation will have a huge and positive impact in all aspects of ground handling, including talent management. The potential is to shift working in the sector from having a job to developing a career,” said Careen.