Editor's Note

Oct. 19, 2007
The Qualified Employee

In speaking with our editorial advisory board and other members of the ground support community, one of the issues that has become a serious hurdle for the past few years and is not going away … is finding and retaining qualified employees in our industry. In fact, so prevalent is this concern it was recently on the front page of USA Today’s Money section.

On a positive note, according to the article, “airlines are getting serious again about hiring … after nearly six years of shrinking their workforces.”

Though U.S. employers terminated 4,000 jobs in August, the airlines were not only unaffected, but in June, six major airlines hired 1.3 percent more workers than last year. Gone are the days of pre-9/11 when union contracts protected pay and benefits at record levels. Add to this the fact that qualified applicants are getting more difficult to find. Why? Are potential recruits timid about entering what has been a turbulent industry (pun intended)? Are other industries offering greater benefits and perks? Or has the airline industry greatly devalued the jobs by extreme cuts in pay and benefits … some now paying the same or less than retail jobs? Perhaps it is all of the above.

Of course the problem of attracting, training and retaining ground support agents is two-fold; wages, in some cases, have been cut in half since 9/11. A factor that will never change — working in extreme weather conditions on the ramp — can be undesirable to say the least. However, according to USA Today, airlines are having some success enticing potential workers with elaborate recruiting events and schemes such as signing bonuses, referral fees and even ice cream social and fishing parties. Whatever it takes, eh?

There is one more factor not mentioned in the article, however. Many of our GSE veterans are nearing retirement. Several of these people started their career path on the ramp, tossing bags. But that was in back in the “golden age” of aviation when the opportunities to move up the ladder were endless.

Do those same opportunities exist today … and even if they do, given the circumstances today, will ramp workers survive long enough in the industry to climb the steps? Please take the time to sound off on these questions and issues at my blog at www.groundsupportworldwide.com/blog/.

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