The cargo and passenger businesses are thriving at German airports but growing personnel shortages in the field of ground handling services are becoming a major stumbling block, adversely influencing the daily performance. Since the labor market is practically empty some actors started recruiting campaigns in other EU countries to fill vocational gaps.
The personnel department of Rhine-Main operator Fraport is not to be envied. Their pressing task is to fill about 2,000 vacancies – the faster, the better. It’s mainly ground handling staff they
are seeking, for passenger services, baggage handling or for driving vehicles within the security area of the airport.
Fraport’s problem: There are plenty of empty jobs but hardly anybody seeming to want them. This is not because the operator has a poor reputation or pays wages near minimum level. That’s not so! Fraport is the largest employer in the state of Hesse, the top tax payer, offering a wide variety of job opportunities and careers, enjoying an excellent standing.
Tense labor market situation
However, there are far too few applicants looking for employment. “The local factor market is literally swept clean, particularly for semiskilled workers,” confirms Maria Linden, spokesperson for personnel matters at Fraport. This is explained when taking a look at the cost of living in and around Frankfurt, including housing, which is very high, thus hardly affordable for those who attained only lower educational levels and hence vocational qualification.
Hit by the manpower shortage are also cargo handling agents, confirms managing director Patrik Tschirch of LUG aircargo handling GmbH. In addition to Frankfurt, LUG also runs stations at the airports of Munich and Hamburg where the situation is quite similar. “We expanded our business considerably last year by gaining Emirates SkyCargo and Etihad Cargo as new customers, so in our case the major recruitment drive is currently over,” he says. “Nonetheless, we still are in need for an additional workforce.”
Will applicants from other EU countries solve the problem?
To overcome the existing shortcomings, LUG started recruitment campaigns in Poland, where wages are significantly lower measured on German standards. However, applicants need to wait nearly six months in order to obtain permission to enter the airport security areas of Frankfurt or Munich, following thorough security checks by the local authorities.
Accommodation offers are in the basket
Fraport even goes a step further and will launch a recruitment initiative in Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia, where the operator runs a number of local airports. According to Frau Linden, job applicants should be willing to emigrate, moving from their EU home countries to Germany for good. “As a matter of fact, we are not interested in seasonal workers but offer suitable applicants in ground handling a long-term vocational perspective.” Required is basic knowledge of German and English, an official proof of good conduct and a valid driver’s license. Fraport even goes as far as offering accommodation for candidates and their families in the vicinity of the airport.
However, she emphasizes that her company’s main target group to fill the many vacancies are local German nationals together with immigrants that have been living in the country for a longer period of time. “It would be a major success if we succeed in filling five percent of the 2,000 vacancies with candidates coming from other EU countries,” she states.
The housing issue goes for Munich Airport as well, confirms head of cargo, Markus Heinelt, pointing at residential homes the operator is building. By offering this incentive, MUC hopes to overcome the current labor bottleneck.
Refugees can’t solve the problem
There are a variety of criteria that have led to this manpower shortage at major German airports, mainly in ground handling. Firstly, the burgeoning economy drove the unemployment rate down to currently 5.1 percent (latest May figure) making it difficult for the industry to find suitable candidates when vacancies occur. The many refugees from Africa, Afghanistan and the Arabian countries, according to national data 1.1 million since 2016 on a net basis, don’t make the situation easier because authorities need around nine months to decide on their asylum application. During this approval phase no newcomer is allowed to take on any kind of job.
Cargo chaos weeks
Thirdly, the fast passenger and cargo growth, particularly Frankfurt and Munich enjoy since mid-2016, is continuing unabated. More traffic requires more people to enable smooth operations day after day.
That things have partially gone wrong was seen in Frankfurt last fall when freight forwarders, handlers and airlines were hit by huge backlogs of shipments, a situation which lasted for several weeks.
Similarly, passengers eager to catch a flight need a lot of patience to pass the security controls at Frankfurt’s Terminal 1 or conversely have to wait in long queues to pass immigration after arrival from a non-Schengen country. This annoying situation has been going on for many months. Fraport cannot be blamed for the latter as the Federal Police are responsible for the passport controls of travelers. And they are lamenting about staffing bottlenecks for quite some time, however, so far without any response by the state authorities who are responsible for hiring additional officers.
In comparison, at many foreign airports immigration checks are conducted much faster, noted Fraport helmsman Stefan Schulte during Fraport’s recent Annual General Meeting. He urged the state authorities to invest in personnel and up the number of controllers, checking the identity of travelers.