Increased air cargo volumes? Ramping up for an industry restart? The formula sounds straightforward: Hire more cargo handling people, get them trained, and the air cargo industry is good to go. Yet, it is not that simple. Poor pay is just the first hurdle. A far more complicated one is the issue of training. CFG spoke to an industry insider on the challenges being faced by today’s trainers. Challenges that airlines and ground handlers need to be aware of and should be working to solve.
In 1758, Benjamin Franklin wrote “A little neglect may breed great mischief." Safety is paramount in aviation, and thus all those involved – in particular, cargo handling staff – must be made aware of the rules and regulations to ensure that their activities do not result in a disastrous “great mischief”. Yet, air cargo training is under great strain these days due to myriad reasons, though the key misery cause is – as so often – a lack of investment. Neglecting to budget adequately for staff and the required training is causing a noticeable increase in course failure rates, CFG is told. The expert speaks of 40-50% of participants not making the grade in course tests at the end of a cargo handling training – a growing trend over the past years – coinciding with companies relying more on out-sourced staff who are generally less well paid.
You get what you pay for
The detrimental effects of poor pay in cargo handling was recently discussed in depth in two CFG opinion pieces (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/10/10/cargo-ground-handlers-deserve-to-be-treated-better/ and https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/10/31/air-cargo-industry-needs-a-mindset-change-on-the-topic-of-people/). No question, poor pay is the first struggle to find people. The unfortunate reality these days, is that those taking on these low-wage cargo handling jobs are often those with limited schooling, and increasingly people with a poor or next to no command of English or the particular main language of the international airline company.
The problem with language
“The trainer is often the first contact for the new staff. These people, used to physical labor, are suddenly having to adapt to a pen and books training environment which they likely left behind at age 15/16, possibly without much interest in learning theory or overwhelmed by complexity. In addition, they have difficulties in properly understanding the language the training is being held in, and are thus unable to communicate and ask questions, let alone successfully sit a test at the end. This causes frustration on all ends – for the participants and for the trainer,” the training expert explains. Though courses are mainly taught in English, the situation would be a great deal simpler if they would be offered in local languages. Yet, who pays the costs for translation into the respective languages? Where are the native tongue trainers to carry out the training? And how can the quality of the translation and the trainer be properly established? Not to mention, who ensures that the material is kept up to date in all languages? One provisional solution he has worked with, is ensuring an interpreter is present in the class to relay the English material into the majority language – for example, Russian. Yet, here too, “lost in translation” causes issues, the course takes longer, and the test at the end remains in English.
Cutting costs leads to a shrinking trainer pool
Surely, for an international airline or global handling company, it should be no problem to arrange an internal pool of trainers or interpreters and translators to cover the regional languages? Unfortunately, cost-cutting in airlines and handling companies, not just during the pandemic, but already in the leaner years before, often leads to the result that the same or an increasing amount of work is carried out with a decreasing number of staff. Firstly, not everyone makes for a good translator or interpreter, simply because they speak the language. And secondly, more importantly, inhouse trainers are rarely purely trainers, but often have a “day job”, too. Less available staff means less management interest in lending out local staff as trainers, since they will be difficult to cover for, and may well be gone for several days, even weeks, at a time. Add to this the phenomenon that, when inhouse trainers retire, not only are they often not replaced, but their vast cargo experience also leaves with them. The days when staff worked their way up from the shop floor are over. Supervisors or office staff these days who may make good trainers, often lack the practical warehouse knowledge, so time has to be invested for them to get a feel for the physical side of the business.
So, go online…
With all the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, online training seems to be the perfect answer. Yet, online brings its own challenges, the expert says. In his experience, cargo handling staff often first need to be supported in how to use a mouse and navigate the computer, so someone needs to be on-hand to guide the participants. Add to that, the issue of not every station being equipped with adequate IT and a conducive training environment. And, in the event that online courses are steered from afar, there is the problem of not necessarily being able to see the participants (who may refuse to activate a camera) and judge from their reactions whether the material is coming across.
…or outsource the training to local external providers!
There are good and less good training institutions out there, the expert points out, adding that the quality of the training needs assessing before the airline company accepts it as comparable standard. Once again, who carries out the assessment? And what if the auditor does not speak the local language? Aside from the lengthy audit and acceptance process, external providers are likely to be more expensive than inhouse offers – and here again, given that the main air cargo language is English, courses in the relevant languages will still be hard to find.
Do the math
Is it wise to “save” on translating training materials or by not building up a native trainer pool? Sending new staff to a training location incurs course costs, daily allowance expenses, overnight and travel costs. At a 40-50% failure rate, almost 1 in 2 participants result in “sunk costs”. Surely it is not only far more effective but also cheaper in the long run to front the investment in providing the training in the required language? And done right, an inhouse trainer pool can be a great incentive and career progression tool.
Does your company pass or fail when it comes to training provision?
How do you assess the training situation in your company? Are there enough qualified trainers? Are employees given the time to attend trainings? Are enough relevant trainings on offer? Locally? In their native language? Is the training environment conducive to learning? Are the training contents realistic and useful? Are staff achieving a good pass rate? If you can answer yes to all the questions, you may well be in a class of your own – or perhaps it is time to come to a few clear decisions on how to improve the overall situation.
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