Hire and Hire
By Richard Rowe
Recruitment in the ground support industry is tough at the best of times, but today’s tight labor market means that organizations are having to be even more creative than ever, as Richard Rowe discovers.
By and large the global economy is booming, but all is not well in the offices of human resource directors in the ground support industry. The struggle is with the wage pressures and stiff competition for jobs that come with low unemployment.
Recruiting and then retaining good employees in the more bread and butter positions in the bag room and out on the ramp is particularly difficult. People, bags, cargo and mail have to be loaded and unloaded, safely and efficiently. It can be a dirty job, and it’s not for everyone, particularly when the pay scale for new entrants is comparable with what’s on offer at fast food restaurants and retail stores.
The choice for some is no choice at all. Work indoors from 9-5 in a comfortable retail store where you don’t get yelled at, versus aviation’s hard, physical labor, shift work, and all-weather operation.
Curiously, ground staff rub shoulders with millions of dollars of equipment every day. They operate in a risky environment, and are indirectly responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers. Charged with so much, they are paid so relatively little.
But if a new hire position pays the same as burger flipping, how can someone be persuaded that airport life is more of a meaningful challenge? After all, turning an aircraft is a little different to putting a pizza in the oven.
Airlines and ground handlers lament that not long ago they could attract a good proportion of college graduates to the ramp, but far fewer recruits today are college graduates. A college degree, of course, is not a prerequisite, but a pattern has formed. Some airlines even whisper that the caliber of people they are able to attract, both in customer service and on the ramp, has dropped.
Different organizations have different recruitment needs. An airline operator with a strong home base will need to reach into that community to attract employees. An expansionist ground handler will have to fathom how best to populate its expanding operations, and whether to do it centrally or locally. Whatever the need, there is now a greater incentive to be more creative in terms of attracting and then retaining a solid base of employees.
It is about bringing in a caliber of employee that blends with the existing workforce. A group of individuals that can develop together and move forward into positions of greater responsibility.
"Everyone must have a vested interest in terms of the training and retention of employees and what’s going on in the industry," believes John Kinney, Hub 2000 Workforce Development Manager, United Parcel Service (UPS).
In the past, UPS was in a similar position to other organizations trying to attract workers. The only difference is that the carrier has pulled out all the stops to rectify the situation back at its home base in Louisville, Kentucky.
Not long ago, UPS had a tenuous grip on its workforce. Turnover was horrendous, and the demand for employees was far outstripping labor supply in Louisville. Similar to Federal Express at its Memphis base, UPS had a very large employee base in the area and subsequently a dramatic affect on local wages. Back then it was around $8 an hour--about the same as McDonalds.
"We expected to attract a lot of students," says Kinney. "We wanted to bring them in because it would give us a pool of available workers that could eventually become full time UPS workers, but also because a part time job fitted in well with a student’s schedule.
"However, the demographics at the time in Louisville put us in a very bad position. We were non-competitive. We could not attract students and were not the employer of choice. So we had to change a few things."