Take VAS for instance, the 100% subsidiary of Frankfurt Airport that took up its ground handling license at Austria’s Vienna Airport in August 2000. VAS has already made its mark, securing Alitalia as its first customer followed by Air France, Buzz (the low cost airline from KLM) and German charter, Aero Lloyd.
The establishment of the company’s Vienna operation offers an insight into how such increasingly international organizations like Frankfurt Airport tackle recruitment overseas. Jumping from one European Union (E.U.) country to the next is not as straightforward as some non-Europeans might imagine.
"When we started in Vienna we were warned that it would be very difficult to recruit ramp staff," Station Manager, Esther Abel, told GSE Today. "Unemployment in the Vienna area is very low."
Nevertheless advertising in local newspapers attracted almost 300 applicants for ramp positions. Most had no experience of the ramp environment, and Abel and her team spent a great deal of time interviewing for just 20 ramp positions.
"Many of the people interested in the job were too old, could not speak German very well, or were just not interested in hard work," explains Abel. Others failed the company’s physical examination prior to employment.
Out of the 20 staff originally employed back in September 2000, 19 remain with VAS. Many others have since applied for positions with VAS, including employees from other entities working at the airport.
Labor contracts mean that VAS is tied to the same wage scale as Vienna Airport ground handling staff, the other incumbent handler (and one time monopolist). Entry level staff receive a fairly low wage. According to Abel, the initial salary for a loader is about EUR 1345, although there are, of course, annual increases.
VAS is unable to offer additional benefits to attract staff because of the strict labor policies at Vienna Airport. "There are plenty of people who would like to work at the airport but never have a chance," laments Abel. The benefits on offer from VAS take the form of multi-functional jobs with good career opportunities, rather than bumper salaries. VAS needs to remain competitive and can not afford to start passing on high salary costs to customer airlines.
Although most of the company’s staff came in with little or no airport experience, advancement is rapid. "They can become a head loader or drive a high loader or pushback truck within a short time which also includes better salaries," explains Abel. "We have already appointed six load masters and they only started to work in ground handling in September. The start up ramp team received a lot of training at the beginning and some of them even started as pushback drivers."
This is very different to life at Frankfurt where it can take, maybe, 15 years to become a pushback driver because there are so many people vying for the position. "At VAS, all ramp staff is multifunctional and everyone is able to work in the baggage hall one day and operate a high loader the next.
"If you have a small team you have to give the staff more responsibilities and I think they like that."
Training for VAS staff was shared between Vienna and Frankfurt. "Part of the practical training is performed at Frankfurt, for instance, on the job training for equipment handling such as pushback and the use of high loaders."
VAS management was sourced from Frankfurt. This included Abel, as Station Manager, and an Operational Manager. The rest of the VAS staff was employed locally without major input from Frankfurt.
Finding people of management caliber from Frankfurt was not easy, says Abel. Many people do not want to move overseas because of family commitments. "I volunteered and got the job," she says.
Frankfurt has worked on developing a pool of people for international assignments for several years and now has an operational support pool. The pool consists of operational staff from all of the different service sections of Frankfurt ground handling who can be sent as trainers to locations abroad. Several trainers from the pool went to Vienna to qualify the staff, which proved a huge success.
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