How Should We Address the Labor Shortage?

May 19, 2022
Staffing skilled employees is a significant challenge facing aviation and the ground handling sector, but efforts are being taken to attract new personnel to the industry.
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Staffing skilled employees is a significant challenge facing the ground handling industry – and aviation as a whole. The ground handling labor shortage was a critical topic throughout the panel discussions during the 6th GHI Americas Conference.

As some ground handling personnel are leaving the industry to take jobs that may pay better or are less demanding, David Barker, divisional senior vice president of airport operations at dnata, said it is important to re-evaluate how we look at careers in the ground handling sector. He encouraged attendees to consider this work as a profession – not a job – and invest in the career path of employees.

He noted ground handling entities are harming one another by undercutting each other in shared markets.

“It’s ok to compete, but we should not be competing for minimum wage,” Barker said. “It’s not about competition. It’s about being aviation professionals.”

Glyn Hughes, director general of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), said the need to attract the next generation of the workforce is paramount to the industry’s success. He added the industry needs to do a better job of appealing to women, who make up 50 percent of the world’s population but are not represented to the same degree in ground handling.

Robert Fordree, executive vice president of cargo at Menzies Aviation, encouraged the industry to accelerate the use of technology as a way to attract the next generation of the workforce.

“We do have future growth potential – enormous growth potential,” he said. “We can make it an attractive business.”

On the topic of new technology, innovation in ground support equipment (GSE) is also critical for the ground handling industry.

Michael Bloomfield, chairman of the International Airport Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (IAEMA), highlighted key trends in the GSE space. Among these trends, autonomous technology is being incorporated into ground support equipment to help with menial tasks around the ramp and help overcome labor shortages.

Elsewhere on the labor front, the U.S. House of Representatives’ House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee reviewed and approved a bill that aims to establish a National Center for the Advancement of Aviation, which would bring together stakeholders from across the military and private sectors of aviation to provide STEM-focused resources to high school and collegiate curriculum developers, among other goals.

The bill, H.R. 3482, was introduced in May 2021. Companion legislation in the U.S. Senate was introduced in Feb. 2020. The bill now moves to the House floor for deliberation.

“NBAA is totally committed to promoting the development of our industry’s future workforce and we look forward to doing all we can to ensure passage of this legislation,” NBAA President Ed Bolen said.

Is the solution to aviation’s labor shortage better employee recruitment and retention or turning to technology and automation to lighten the workload? The answer is likely a bit of both.

How is your business approaching the ground handling labor shortage?

Please reach out to me at [email protected] with specific examples. I welcome your feedback on the topic.        

About the Author

Josh Smith | Editor