As voted for in the previous year’s event, two of the three key topics of the 2023 ACHL in Athens focused on the human factor. “Identify, encourage and develop diverse talent, provide mentorship” was the bullet-point title of the second panel on Day 1 - 20SEP23. A diverse selection of industry leaders discussed their viewpoints.
Once again moderated by Chris Notter, the panel this time consisted of Celine Hourcade from Change Horizon, Wilson Kwong from HACTL, Dirk Goovaerts from Swissport, and Kai Domscheit, from CHI.
Same soundbites or new ideas?
Notter opened the panel at 15:30 with a characteristically frank reflection on the topic: “We’re again going to be talking about something we talked about last year. Sorry to say, we often have the same soundbites, so hopefully we’ll hear some good ideas now.” The passionate characters on his panel delivered on his request, illustrating what they have and are already doing within their respective company.
In answer to Notter’s first question: “How do you go about identifying people that organizations should invest in?”, Kwong called for a focused approached to talent identification, reminding the audience that the “topic is not just about talents at high skills level, but labor across the board is in shortage, so a focused approach is needed.” Saying that HACTL was “blessed with workforce of 2,000 people – almost all own staff. We want people to know what HACTL stands for – are they aligned with our purpose?”, he portrayed the authentic, caring approach of the company, and later cemented the impression with a personal anecdote of support during a challenging pandemic period in OCT21, underlining the importance of being there for employees in times of adversity: “Following a single positive case of Covid-19, 107 colleagues (25% of the warehouse staff) were sent to 21-days’ quarantine overnight, without argument. Many customers said to think about people not coming back. I assured them that things would be fine. I was there for 21 days, 2 typhoons, and public holidays, making sure everyone felt supported.” Needless to say, the forecasted attrition did not happen. Leadership, therefore, is about showing face, care, and hands-on support.
Pride and Passion
Hourcade’s advice for encouraging people to stay with industry, was to instill pride in them and ensure that they understand what air cargo does in terms of great service for the world. Those companies capable of explaining their uniqueness, company values and culture have a better chance of retaining and attracting staff. “As an industry, [we need to show] what we do and how we contribute positively to the world. How can we be better and minimize negative impact on the world? This is the question the new generation is asking. We need an open dialogue on the value we bring and how we plan to overcome negative impacts.”
Domscheit delivered an energetic, no-frills soundbite: “Stay authentic! As a newcomer, I felt all there are all these dinosaurs talking about an old boys’ club.” He wants more disruption and risk-taking within the industry and in selecting/encouraging staff, rejecting what he termed a PC operational façade: “I don’t need the soft or hard skills. I need one skill only - and that’s PASSION. Everything else we can teach. If you pass away, what do you want to be seen as, remembered as, and what do you want to change? There are so many things we can change – take the project, do it, and foster change!”
“This is the circus you are in”
“Why does the industry struggle to keep people for longer than 3-9 months?”, Notter wanted to know. Goovaerts detailed Swissport’s global approach. “[We asked] how can we make a large impact globally? Currently 60,000 people [work for us], but with high attrition and large costs to replace - not just attract, but also retain. We launched a value proposition within the company and simplified our values to ‘Show you care and win as a team’.” He emphasized that employers must show that they deliver on their values by showing respect, empowering people, tackling and demonstrating diversity, and paying people the right salary. He advocated for reward mechanisms and ensuring that people can feel part of the family and have the right leaders. Internal guidance, support and above all, work-life balance are crucial. Treat everyone equally and show them a career path: “If we would give travel benefits to all staff, we would attract more staff. [And] employees want to see growth perspectives.”
Domscheit’s approach was blunt and straightforward: “We give you [the candidate/employee] an opportunity. As an employer, we say ‘this is the circus you are in, but it is also down to you as an employee’. It’s a two-way street in communication. As a prospective employee: speak up and let us know what you are looking for.” In CHI, “we put people on a fast-track and they can have their own entity and branding our organization,” encouraging others to do the same.
Mentor and Motivate
The panel unanimously acknowledged the value of mentoring (differentiating between coaching, training, and mentoring) in business, highlighting the personalized nature of mentorship and its benefit for both the mentor and mentee. Hourcade, pointing to the impact of mentoring initiatives such as ‘Women in Aviation and Logistics’, said: “Mentoring is a dialogue. It is about identifying needs and getting support to grow. Emma Murray and I cofounded Women in Aviation and Logistics because we want to make a difference, also through the power of mentoring. Individuals can show they care in this way, by volunteering their time.”
Kwong added the importance of the individual’s requirements and immediate environment: “Put yourself in the shoes of the cargo warehouse agent and see what is important for them. Not everyone wants to be a CEO or manager one day. The job of management and supervisors is to know what each employee wants.”
Dirk Goovaerts picked up on the immediate environment and urged for a welcoming workplace: “Working on the floor is very important. I check the toilets and the microwave [when I visit onsite]. If they are not good for me to use them, I don’t want my employees to use them.” He also emphasized proper shift planning and security for employees: “30+ days in advance is necessary – not one week to the next.” And that extends to the future, too: “If you can upskill people, you can create career path for them.”
A multifaceted approach is therefore needed to nurture diverse talent within the air cargo industry – from individual requirements to company values, workspace conditions and future prospects.
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