Air travel is no fun, these days. Being at an airport is no longer a relaxing interlude, but pure stress. Cancelled flights, long lines at check-in counters and security checks, an
eternal wait for luggage. All this because, thanks to the pandemic, there is apparently a shortage of staff everywhere. Summer vacations are at risk and politicians are intervening; staff hired
on the quick is supposed to save the situation. That is the message the media are sending, but what does that really entail, and can the politicians’ appeals actually be
Anyone who delves deeper into the matter will see that the current situation raises fundamental issues that cannot simply be resolved over the summer period. Carsten Spohr, CEO of Deutsche Lufthansa, is right when he states that a sustainable improvement is not to be expected until 2023. It just should be tackled now and done properly, together! Yet, it is unfair to get upset about the staff redundancies at the airports in 2020 and 2021, because no HR manager would have implemented these measures so consistently back then with the knowledge of today. We recall: air traffic (with the exception of air freight!) came to a standstill.
Less bureaucracy would be better
The requirements for a job in aircraft or cargo handling are high, not to mention when it comes to aviation security. An official background check, an impeccably documented record, German and English language skills, a driver's license, and specialized examinations must be proven before anyone is allowed to touch a bag or a plane. This often takes longer than eight weeks, during which time a prospective employee is happy to leave because there are attractive alternatives without weekend and night shifts, or where the physical strain is less.
The recruitment of employees in the EU area is even more complex due to the necessary provision of accommodation, training facilities, and social support to facilitate the entry of future colleagues into the workplace.
Together would be better
So now, airports and handling agents are all individually trying to find a solution to the problem. Dozens of recruiting companies have been commissioned in parallel. There are calls to increase the number of handlers at airports - as if multiplying interfaces and responsibilities will solve the fundamental need for staff in the first place. Recruiting programs are established only to discover that the devil is in the detail. The employment agencies are not much help. Smaller staffing agencies try to tackle the biggest problems with their own limited resources, partly because large staffing agencies such as Randstad, Manpower, or Adecco, have not yet demonstrated any significant involvement in the airport business.
The only right strategy would be one where ground handlers at the airports work together with agile personnel service providers who know and master the airport environment: A jointly supported training academy that recruits employees in various EU countries on a decentralized basis in a first step, tests them and initiates the official requirements, provides them with a basis in language and qualifications on site and, in a second step, gives them the final polish as baggage, aircraft or cargo handlers in a central training facility in Germany. All this with an appropriate training allowance and taking care of social integration or housing. Yes, this is complex and expensive, but air traffic in Germany has lost so much of its reputation (and business!) this year, that this should be an investment worth considering.
Berlin dead duck
Smooth handling at German airports requires motivated and qualified staff - and not barely trained people who are given no prospects and abused as a short-lived flash in the pan. Not to mention the hardly manageable on-the-job training effort.
It will only work if everyone cooperates. The incredibly short-sighted considerations of those in government in Berlin, to fly in 2000 Turkish workers at short notice to fill the gaps, are a complete joke.
Author: Winfried Hartmann
Head of Strategic Planning, Prime Aircargo Services GmbH
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