Airlines seek reforms to end shortfall of ground handlers at airports
Worried by the shortage of ground handling personnel at major airports globally, airline operators have called for an urgent reform in the recruitment protocol to allow more hands into the critical sub-sector of aviation.
The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), yesterday at their ground handling conference, said the sub-sector was due for holistic overhaul to manage the long-term need for a stable talent base.
Indeed, 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 stabilise 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 summer season. In the longer-term, IATA urges the ground handling sector to adopt a stronger talent acquisition strategy, streamline onboarding processes, and develop a more compelling retention proposition.
IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security, Nick Careen, noted that the peak summer travel season was fast-approaching, and passengers were 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 today are a symptom of the longer-term challenges to achieve a stable talent base in ground handling,” Careen said.
IATA proposed a comprehensive approach to recruitment, onboarding, and retention. In the area of recruitment, the airlines noted that attracting fresh talent was 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.
IATA recommended an awareness campaign to highlight the attractiveness and importance of ground operations in global logistics and transport operations as well as the adoption of the 25 by 25 campaign to help address the gender imbalance across the industry. Also, IATA wants apprenticeships in partnership with trade schools to revitalise candidate pipelines; and career path mapping to demonstrate long-term prospects for people entering the sector.
On the need for more efficient onboarding processes, an expedited onboarding will allow the sector to adapt quickly to demand changes, including those, which are seasonal. IATA recommended a greater focus on competency-based training; moving to more online training and assessments will improve speed, flexibility and efficiency of onboarding. Mutual recognition by authorities of security training and employee background records will expedite onboarding and reduce redundant processes.
On retention programmes, greater standardisation will improve performance; provide employment flexibility and broader career options. The IATA white paper recommended the implementation of IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM) to standardise 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.
Also, training passports that mutually recognize skills and training across ground handlers, airlines and/or airports; and adoption of new technologies and automated processes to create diverse job opportunities and career paths to attract a new generation of 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 standardisation 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,” Careen said.