Arpad Szakal, Principal Consultant at UK-based executive search firm, Cormis Partners, held a presentation on “Attracting and Retaining Talent in the Air Cargo Industry” at the recent World Cargo Symposium in London, 27-29SEP22. He has summarized the key points for CargoForwarder Global, and provides suggestions as to how air cargo companies can successfully hire and retain skilled personnel.
Talent attraction and retention is a long-standing issue affecting the air cargo and logistics sector since years. According to IATA’s most recent Global Skills Survey (AUG22), almost two
third of cargo businesses are concerned about staffing levels in their organization. 57% of surveyed cargo firms felt they are insufficiently staffed for smooth operations due to the lack of
experienced staff available and lower than usual numbers of applicants to the sector
The IATA survey also highlighted the urgent need to train new and upskill existing personnel. However, operators are struggling to provide proper training to new recruits due to operational demands. The high turnover within the sector is attributed to the challenging working conditions.
The survey saw 40% of respondents identifying the attraction and retention of talent as being a very significant or significant challenge for the next 2-3 years.
The New Competitive Market for Skills
Air cargo is experiencing stiff competition for staff at all seniority levels, from other industries such as: retail/e-commerce, manufacturing, high tech firms, or HGV businesses. Competing industries are using cutting edge technologies and rapid digitalization as an attraction tool. The air cargo sector is also having to tackle a negative image and many misconceptions. Cargo and freight forwarding are not seen as attractive employers for many candidates due to poor public image and media coverage.
This industry needs to get better at promoting itself. A big part of employer branding is sharing your organization’s story with applicants and prospective employees. The cargo sector has a unique story and plays a critical role in enabling global commerce. Employer brands need to be authentic. Potential candidates want to hear from other employees, not corporate or HR. They want to know why people stay with a company. What makes it special and different? Showcasing real employee stories on job sites and social media accounts could make a significant difference for cargo companies.
The cargo sector must do a better job of articulating why the industry is a brilliant career choice for those interested in developing a long-term career. The industry should also ensure and highlight that there is great earnings potential for ambitious professionals wanting to move up the ladder.
Making Air Cargo an Attractive Career
The past couple of years gave people the rare opportunity to reflect and think about what they really wanted to do with their career and life. As a result, some left the cargo, logistics, and freight forwarding industries to pursue new careers, and others turned to freelancing or self-employment.
The rules of the talent game have changed. While professionals at all seniority levels are demanding (and receiving) higher compensation, we have experienced that many of them also want more flexibility and a sense of belonging to the culture of their future employer when deciding to accept a permanent role.
In light of these changes, what can air cargo companies and freight forwarders do to attract & retain talent?
Top Tips on Attracting and Retaining Talent in the Air Cargo Industry
Focus on the Candidate Experience
The days of engaging candidates the ’old way’ — in other words, the process where companies put people through days and weeks of multiple interviews — are over. It is a new world. Today, as a hiring organization, you need to pitch to a candidate rather than expect being pitched to by the candidate.
As a result, companies in the air cargo and logistics sectors need to engage and recruit candidates differently. Instead of leading with a job description, employers should start with the workplace culture, crafting a compelling value proposition, such as “you get to change the world” or “we’re leading the industry with these types of products.” Basically, it is a pitch to candidates to help them better understand their purpose in the role and the wider organization.
Start the Hiring Process Early
Clients now spend more time at the outset, to get all the internal stakeholders in agreement, before launching searches. Hiring organizations must create a compelling narrative early on in the process, regarding the opportunity, the broader business strategy, and the compensation package. As a search firm, we observe that when it comes to recruitment, the most successful organizations invest a lot of time on aligning stakeholders to create an impactful story that outlines the opportunity and benefits for candidates.
Rethink the Ideal Candidate Profile & Expand the Talent Pool
To compete successfully for today’s talent, hiring organizations must think more creatively about candidates. What about the non-traditional candidates who are not even on your radar? These might include “boomerang” employees - those who return to a business after leaving - and others currently doing part-time, consulting, or contract work, or leading their own one-person start-ups. Next-gen and step-up candidates from the lower ranks in an organization, who may be less proven but are highly capable and motivated, become more appealing. Do not overlook the importance of promoting within, and give employees ‘stretch assignments’ to train them into future leadership roles.
Think About Retention at the Hiring/Onboarding Stage
Setting up a reliable and effective onboarding process is critical. Onboarding should consist of relevant and purposeful training, regular feedback, and check-ins, along with practical support for the new hire. A smart onboarding process can reduce attrition and helps new team members understand an organization’s subtle rules & processes.
Invest in Your People First. And Then Invest in Digital Transformation.
As an employer in the air cargo industry, it is critical that you stay current and invest in the digital transformation that is going on.
So, when an employee comes to you and says, "Hey, I'm really interested in maybe moving to another team/part of the business, or developing my skill in X or Y or Z," you should have the capacity and the willingness to invest in them and to develop those skills. Done properly, this can actually be a more powerful attracting tool and magnet for your current and future employees than simply paying them more money.
Prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB)
We have observed that if an organization is not diverse and does not promote inclusion & belonging, their retention rates will likely be impacted. They often struggle to attract talent, too. Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives start with leadership. Employees imitate what they see from their leaders. Ensuring that your leadership team is committed to building a culture of inclusion and belonging will pay off in the long run.
Think Beyond Pay: Offer Benefits & Perks that Actually Help Employees
Perks & benefits are a huge incentive. The office will become a more attractive destination for your staff if you provide help with costs such as: parking, transportation, as well as meal plan options. An increasingly diverse workforce requires flexibility, imagination and innovation from its employer’s reward and recognition program. Traditional one-size-fits-all employee benefits schemes no longer work.
Conduct ’Stay’ Interviews
Do not wait until exit interviews to ask your staff what they like (and dislike) about their position. Stay interviews are a great opportunity to ask employees what matters most to them. You will have the chance to make changes based on their feedback, and they will be less likely to leave as a result. If they crave growth and long-term career progression, show them the way. Listening to your employees, anticipating and addressing their needs and concerns is a great first step in building longevity in the workplace.
The way forward
Now, more than ever, the air cargo sector must redefine attraction and retention strategies to build a competitive value proposition for their current and future employees. The longer they wait, the more burnout they will create among existing employees, potentially leading to even more attrition.
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