Hartsfield-Jackson Vendors Recruit Workers as Travel Surges

June 16, 2022

Jun. 15—Cynthia Chase stood among a crowd of people at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Tuesday, but she wasn't part of the crush of passengers that sometimes snakes through the domestic terminal atrium when security lines are long.

Instead, Chase spent her time talking to airport vendors who'd set up hiring booths, part of the latest blitz in a months-long battle to recruit enough workers to handle surging passenger traffic at the world's busiest airport.

As travelers rushed to their gates, job seekers like Chase sauntered from booth to booth. About 1,500 registered to attend the event, where employers staffed 46 booths to fill 2,000 jobs in the second career fair the Atlanta airport has hosted this year. The unemployment rate in metro Atlanta is at an all-time low, and workers have lots of options from which to choose.

Chase found out about the job fair on Facebook as she searches for a position in administration or customer service, after two years of being self-employed doing contract work.

"I've been out of the workforce for a minute, raising my children ... I'm ready to go back out," Chase said.

When she moved to Atlanta from New York three years ago, Chase could only seem to find warehouse jobs. An ankle injury makes warehouse work unappealing, she said, and those positions didn't fit her past experience in administration and payroll for the New York Police Department.

Job seekers re-entering the market are a welcome sign for the concessionaires, rental car agencies and airport contractors who are racing to fill their vacancies to tackle a summer travel season with millions of travelers taking to the skies on a daily basis.

More than 2 million passengers have passed through airport security checkpoints nationwide every day for the last nine days, according to Transportation Security Administration figures.

Meanwhile, some airport eateries still don't have enough staff to reopen all of their locations or maintain full operating hours. That's causing frustrations for travelers who find limited food options, particularly late at night, and long lines at the eateries that are open.

Faye Henderson, general manager for Trans-Air Concessions, is hopeful that she'll find enough job candidates to reopen a newsstand location on Concourse B.

"If I can get five good bites today..." she said. Henderson is offering $15 an hour, adding: "Right now, you're not going to get anybody if you're not paying $15. You don't have a dog in the fight."

Javon Hawkins went to the job fair looking for higher pay. Hawkins, 19, has applied for a technician job at Emory University Hospital, but he also spoke with a few employers at the airport Tuesday.

"Bills are getting high, for real," Hawkins said. "Everything's going up. Gas is $5.09."

One of the challenges employers face in the tight job market is job applicants who are no-shows for scheduled interviews.

Goldbergs Group talent acquisition manager Mark Sette cited the example of one opening for which he received 72 resumes and scheduled eight in-person interviews, only to find that none of the interviewees showed up.

"It's just so much saturation" of hourly job openings, Sette said.

Some candidates find other jobs outside the airport while they're waiting on background checks for security badges to work at Hartsfield- Jackson.

"I've hired people over the last month that are still waiting on badges," Henderson said. "People say, 'You know what, I went on a job interview and they started me the same day.'"

Concessionaire Dwayne Heard has 14 positions to fill for a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf location at the airport, with hopes of returning to full operating hours.

"We are suffering," Heard said. "It's painful... We cannot physically staff those hours," from the first morning departures to the last flights at night.

"It hurts me for the travelers," he said. "I see people wait in line for 15, 20 minutes and they're looking at their watch and you can tell they're thinking about their flight, and they leave."

That, in turn, hurts his bottom line.

Airport officials are also pushing concessionaires to reopen to full hours, and are hosting job fairs in an effort to help them staff up.

"The pandemic has caused a setback," Heard said. But, he notes, "the public is traveling and they deserve services."


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