Employee and skills shortages in the aviation industry: How can SWP help prevent and fight it?
Table of contents
- Flight shortages and uncertain vacations
- What is the general situation with the labor market in the aviation industry?
- How can strategic workforce planning help prevent employee shortages in the aviation industry?
- Summing up
Flight shortages and uncertain vacations
The summer of 2022 wasn’t the way most of us had planned. For the second time since the pandemic, those who planned to travel by plane abroad often found out about flight cancellations only shortly before departure.
The reason is the lack of qualified workers and the deterioration of the labor situation with existing workers. Many flights were canceled because of no crew on board or no ground staff at the airport.
Why had we witnessed such an acute shortage of workers with fatal consequences for the labor market? Could organizations expect and fill vacancies through long-term strategic workforce planning (SWP) and thus potentially prevent staff shortages? Let’s find out. But first, let’s review the development of the aviation industry over the past couple of years.
What is the general situation with the labor market in the aviation industry?
To survive the pandemic, airports and airlines have significantly reduced their workforce. According to Oxford Economics, the aviation industry has lost over 2.3 million jobs since 2019, which is 21% less than before the pandemic. However, the aviation industry faces a recruitment and retention crisis due to these staff reductions. While some airline workers have found new jobs during the pandemic, others in the industry might block their work with strikes for better working conditions. Attracting new workers to an industry known for long hours and physically demanding work is also challenging.
Labor shortages have reached such a level that one of the world’s busiest airports, London’s Heathrow, capped its daily passenger traffic at 100,000 travelers in October 2022 because it could not cope with demand. In addition to cancellations, long layovers and lost luggage add to the travel experience. Delta Airlines even sent a plane from Heathrow Airport to Detroit with 1,000 pieces of luggage and no passengers to expedite the movement of delayed bags.
Besides talent market losses, furious and confused travelers vent on different social media channels when mass delays and cancellations occur, questioning why staffing issues are affecting their flights. And this also leads to significant losses of money and investments. According to the latest US Department of Transit report about air travel consumers, there was a 35% increase in service complaints from May to June 2022, reaching a rate nearly 270 percent above pre-pandemic levels.
Source: Jim Sciutto Twitter
Experts from McKinsey and Company found that airlines suffered economic losses of $168 billion in 2020, while freight forwarders recorded growth, as seen by profits of $3.5 billion. Airports, catering, and ground services suffered losses of $31.6 billion, $2.4 billion, and $3.2 billion, respectively. The cumulative loss for the whole industry was $230.1 billion from 2012 to 2020.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) research has found that to recover and reach greater heights, the airline industry must think beyond simply filling vacancies for the time being and focus on developing the talent base. Offering career opportunities and improving remuneration standards while prioritizing continuous learning and employee reskilling and upskilling through specialized training programs can help attract and retain key talent in the long run.
At the IATA Safety Conference 2022, Emirates airline president Tim Clark said that the global aviation industry is failing to prepare for future growth. According to Clark, investments in air navigation systems, new technology, skilled aviation workers, and infrastructure are inadequate; high spending is required to provide more mental health support to aviation workers, address the shortage of skilled employees, fly sustainably, and respond to cybersecurity threats.
At an ICAO event addressing the anticipated shortage of skilled aviation professionals, representatives from the United States, the airline industry, training institutions, and students estimated that by 2026, the aviation industry would need 480,000 new technicians to maintain aircraft and more than 350,000 pilots to fly them.
So where are the biggest job role gaps in the aviation industry?
In 2021, many US aircraft maker companies forecasted that the aviation industry would need over 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years, compared to 612,000 pilots. According to Naveo Consultancy, about $84 billion is expected to be spent on aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul in 2022.
A Wells Fargo survey on aircraft maintenance and repair claims that overhaul providers found labor shortages worsened in July 2022, with 60% of respondents saying they saw a “significant impact” from the shortage, compared with 35% in the previous survey.
Unlike pilots, who can earn six-figure salaries, mechanics have lower pay and often have to work late shifts. Booking maintenance intervals, which used to require several weeks’ notice, now has to be done six months in advance, according to Kent Stauffer, chief safety officer at Constant Aviation.
“If you run your engine at 110 percent power, it will have problems, and that’s where the system is right now. We’re at 110 percent trying to keep up with demand.” — Bryan Del Monte, airline analyst and president of the Aviation Agency
Will the involvement of younger generations affect the labor shortage?
A survey by Oliver Wyman MRO states that 42% of industry leaders have identified maintenance labor shortages as the most pressing issue in the aerospace and aviation sectors and that global demand is set to exceed supply by 2027. They have identified two main reasons for this:
- A lack of interest in aviation on the part of the younger workforce.
- An aging workforce creating a gap that isn’t being filled.
This professional gap (a lack of maintenance technicians) must be resolved. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shares that the average FAA-certified mechanic is over 50 years old, making them 11 years older than the average US worker. And recruiting young mechanics is becoming more complex in the United States and Europe. In addition, according to the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), enrollment in US aviation maintenance technical schools increased by 0.55% in 2020 following the spread of COVID-19, compared to 13% in 2019.
To attract young people to study for technical positions, the aviation community can engage in outreach programs, school visits, presentations, sign-up incentives, open days, and workshops. For example, Airbus, Atkins, MBDA, Babcock, and other companies have taken part in QinetiQ’s ‘5% Club, which commits to having 5% of its total UK workforce on a formal apprenticeship scheme by sponsoring high school students and graduates.
Meanwhile, current aviation company employees suffer because they work overtime without extra pay. As a result, the aviation industry is also dealing with increased workforce absenteeism and less willingness to work overtime. This vicious circle occurs because there is no action taken about workforce planning. According to Bryan Del Monte, airline analyst and president of the Aviation Agency, if companies in the aviation industry started to undertake workforce planning now, then already by the summer of 2023, their situation may improve. Between hiring new employees and training and onboarding them, it might take several years to fix the deficiencies. We’ve raised some interesting points below on how SWP can benefit aviation businesses.
How can strategic workforce planning help prevent employee shortages in the aviation industry?
Airlines and airports will surely learn from their crisis and reshape themselves. Long hours, lack of free time, and uncompetitive pay should be replaced with better conditions to continuously attract workers to the sector with a well-thought-out strategy for building a future workforce.
Strategic workforce planning is no longer just a nicety but rather a necessity for organizational success. In today’s ever-changing work environment, it’s critical to implement a strategic HR plan to stay afloat. We consider this in detail below.
Knowing the future, where external data and data analysis are inevitable
In the first step, it’s essential to get companies out of their view of workforce planning (analyzing, forecasting, and planning labor supply and demand) and sensitize them to the market view. Next, it’s vital to get forecasts about future workforce requirements and headcount needs based on internal and external data analysis.
A data-driven approach leads to the establishment of a better planning outlook. SWP becomes more adaptive by using analytics tools, AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, and algorithms that are learning and getting smarter every day. Technologies can process data faster and more targeted, allowing companies to use current and meaningful data for their planning and analysis. Thus, through a data-based labor market analysis, organizations can get a more detailed understanding of how the market is changing, future skills requirements, emerging job roles and trends, and the competitive landscape. With this knowledge, they can plan their capacities effectively in the long term through strategic workforce planning.
Planning the future, or how scenario planning helps to future-proof the workforce
A holistic view of the organization and workforce scenario planning can help aviation businesses plan capacities better if they have the entire picture of the internal talent market in mind and consider all factors.
Scenario planning is used to create scenarios based on business drivers that simulate the future impact of internal and external factors on the company. These scenarios provide information on current and future staffing levels and needs, current and future skills gaps, recommendations on how to close them, and recommendations for further talent management measures to educate the workforce.
The aerospace industry must develop training programs, as schools that teach maintenance, avionics, and structures cannot provide appropriately trained professionals. Therefore, airline companies take junior employees’ training into their own hands. For example, Canada’s KF Aerospace has focused its scenario planning on upskilling new employees. The company provides heavy maintenance and modifications for commercial aviation, and it has doubled the number of recruits by training them from scratch. Such actions can improve conditions in the aviation industry and bring in a new generation of technical workers.
Building the future, and why SWP measures should involve employees
Strategic workforce planning should be translated into solid plans and recommendations for action and should be implemented through concrete measures. However, when it comes to implementation, companies often need to remember to include their most important asset: their employees. Strategic HR planning can only be successful if the company recognizes and utilizes the potential of its workforce. Consequently, measures should also be aligned with employees.
Examples of possible measures to improve employees’ perspectives:
- Upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling enable employees to participate in training and retraining opportunities to develop their skills and be equipped for future jobs.
- Agile career pathing allows employees to improve their skills and grow professionally.
- Succession planning entitles companies to fill vacancies with talents in the event of a sudden change (a kind of risk management).
- Skills management is an approach for companies to consider employees’ skills in planning.
- Talent mobility enables employees to move within the company when a suitable position becomes available, thus benefiting both employees and the company and strengthening employee loyalty and engagement.
Anyone who is attracting new talents, no matter where they are, knows that it takes time, and constant communication at all levels is key. By taking care of the development of the aviation industry through reorganizing employee training and adapting to new conditions, aviation organizations can benefit from attracting the next generation of workers and continuing their global growth in an advantageous and exciting industry.
Tool-based strategic workforce planning has become a valuable method for companies to efficiently plan their workforce capacities. If they use external market data and analyses, consider various influencing factors, and involve their workforce, they have the prerequisites for preparing themselves against future challenges and proactively counteracting staff shortages.