Such was the discussion in the recent aircargo club Deutschland (ACD – German air cargo club) in Frankfurt am Main last week. The ACD had invited air cargo and logistics industry experts to discuss forum’s 2023 theme: “Air Cargo – insight [sic] out – Air freight and the conflict between external perception and internal self-image,” to bridge the skilled worker gap. In the same week, VACAD published sobering air cargo development figures for Germany, and a drop in the number of employees.
Brands create trust, was the overall message. That, and the point that air cargo should make use of the positive exposure it received during the pandemic, having been “a background process,” according to Mario Arnold, Head of Global Public Relations at DB Schenker. He shared that public "awareness of the importance of stable supply chains grew, and with it an appreciation for the processes behind them,” something that his company had leveraged to demonstrate what it was doing for society and sustainability, for example – with positive gain. “In an internal statistical survey, we found that the media's perception of our company has increased significantly compared to before Corona, both quantitatively and qualitatively [as seen] in the fact that in addition to trade media, many general media are now also interested in air freight. The industry has become closer to journalists, customers and the general public," he felt.
Strong industry awareness will attract skilled workers
Image building is a crucial factor and more needs to be done to highlight the huge impact of air freight in on national economies. “Air freight is enormously important and that's how it should sell itself,” was Prof. Dr. Rembert Horstmann, Professor of Marketing and Sales at CBS International Business School and expert in brand management at Medienbüro am Reichstag GmbH’s view. “So far, the industry has suffered from not being a 'brand'. It has not managed to present its top performance in a credible and attractive way. In addition, only a few companies have recognized the benefits and necessity of strategic brand management. If the industry were made up of a large number of strong brands, this would pay off in the long term for the image of the entire industry," he predicted. Brand transmit values and USPs, and those that exude trustworthiness have the best success in attracting skilled staff (and, or course, customers).
Prof. Dr. Christopher Stoller, President of aircargo club deutschland, agreed, adding: “Through image and brand building, we can raise awareness of the career opportunities in our industry and make it more attractive to skilled workers. By working together to communicate the benefits of a career in airfreight and create attractive working conditions, we can counteract the shortage of skilled workers. However, confidence in Germany as an airfreight location is also important in order to hold our own against the strong competition in a globalized world. Strong brands provide orientation and security in this respect. In this regard, the industry must pull together to improve its image in the long term."
Tonnage continuing to drop in Germany
That confidence in Germany is taking a slight battering according to current air cargo volume statistics. In the same week as the ACD, Germany’s Association of Air Cargo Handlers (VACAD) revealed that Germany’s cargo volumes are declining at a worse rate than the global decrease. “The year to date continues to be characterized by uncertainties that are making themselves felt in the air cargo handling industry. After record tonnages in 2021 and the decline the following year, we continue to be in a trough. Constantly changing order situations are nothing unusual in the air freight industry. Nevertheless, we are concerned that economic conditions in neighboring countries are improving faster than in our country. It is therefore all the more important to make the right changes to ensure that we can keep up with the European competition when tonnages start to rise again,” VACAD Chairman Claus Wagner, said, referring to the still too slow background check process required to get new cargo employees on board, as well as the difference in EU regulation interpretations in Germany that are pushing business to other countries. Uncertainties weigh on global economy
In the second quarter of 2023, air freight tonnage in Germany declined 14.5% (380,000 tons handled), following a 16.4% decline already in the first quarter. VACAD members’ sales dropped by 6 million euros in the second quarter, to around 38.3 million euros for VACAD members. Staff numbers also decreased by 2.5% compared to previous year, with just over 3,100 people being under air cargo handler employ.
To echo Stoller’s words: “the industry must pull together to improve its image in the long term.”
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