Hot on the heels of the “Identify, encourage and develop diverse talent, provide mentorship” panel on 20SEP23 at the ACHL in Athens, followed a second people-focused panel: “Attracting Young Talent: Enhancing Appeal and Incentives for the Next Generation.” Unlike previous panels, this one consisted entirely of Next Generation representatives in the industry.
For this panel, Chris Notter passed the moderating baton over to VRR’s Abedin Dula, who had called out the lack of young voices on panels last year. Dula welcomed BeCon’s Kristin Beck and Christian Leffler, Nallian’s Sara Van Gelder, and hoopo’s Tal Leemor on stage, with the words: “Last year we were missing diverse, young talent and voices from ground operation, too. We are not going to focus on the challenges as we all know them, but on the methods. Let’s look forward together.”
How is ‘by accident’ scalable?
Within the first five minutes, two commonalities arose in the panel’s personal stories of how they came to be in the air cargo industry: by accident/coincidence, and because of their fathers. Kristin Beck, influenced by her father's expertise in cargo consulting, transitioned from a career in IT: “I ended up here by accident or coincidence. I decided to join my father’s company after some years in IT.” Christian Leffler found renewed purpose at BeCon, where he was given educational opportunities lacking in his previous role. Sara Van Gelder, whose father is also in the industry, said: “I was offered a role where I could have ownership, impact, purpose. The boss led with vision that attracted me, and I wanted to work on that mission.” Laughing at the fact, that she, too, was attracted to the industry by accident, she asked: “How is ‘by accident’ scalable?” Completing the ‘Father Full House’, Tal Leemor confessed that her journey was also influenced by her father's involvement, stemming from his career as a pilot.
“And what keeps you here?” Glyn Hughes from the audience, wanted to know in one word. Sara Van Gelder answered “Purpose”, Tal Leemor and Christian Leffler both chose “Impact”, whilst Kristin Beck said “Ownership”.
So, how can we attract young talent from an operational perspective?
Digitalization was a common answer from all panelists – get away from paper processes, reduce complexities or repetitive tasks by investing in tech solutions. But also from the point of view of communication. Van Gelder pointed to using social media to inspire potential candidates in the first place: “My sister works for a circus. They allow the artists to take over their TikTok channel to show what they like to do, and market their pride. Snackable short digital communication. TikTok is also great in targeting with job offers. If we don’t do it, other industries will and do!”
Tal Leemor pointed to demonstrating flexibility and perspectives: “Focus on the attractiveness of the role. Is it possible to change shift models? How can the timing be flexible to accommodate the younger generation? Research what might be interesting for younger talent. Growth and development are important factors for Gen Z. Brand the position as a career and not just as a (short-term) job. Offer different courses and learning opportunities so that they can feel they are growing and developing. Also, promote interdisciplinary teams. People are interested in different things, not just one thing, so give them opportunities to work with different departments.”
Prospects and Purpose
Van Gelder confirmed: “Our industry needs cultural change. People want a job with purpose and ownership, aligning with their personal values. Values should not just be buzzwords – they need to be genuinely incorporated in how our job is done. We are not very good at this culture for those not already in the industry.” She delivered more food for thought: “Look at people’s mental age and not the physical one. You get stamped as a junior, even though you can really contribute to certain topics!” Her message to the audience at the end was “Go back home, look at your team. Select representatives for the younger generation and give them half a day to talk to people to attract them to the industry.”
Leffler agreed with the necessity for a cultural shift towards genuine purpose and ownership, and stressed the importance of recognizing and listening to the concerns of shopfloor workers: “People want to feel seen and heard. If someone comes with a problem, we need to listen and take people seriously. Talk to shopfloor people and listen to them. New projects need frontline involvement. Those working with the new tech have the best input when creating them.” On the point of work and input, Beck – advocated for change management and agile project management.
“A little exposure can go a long way!”
Abedin Dula, who began as a baggage handler in the industry and then met the right people responsible for his career progression to his current position, stated: “A little exposure can go a long way!” The panelists agreed that there is a general lack of knowledge of the industry and that more should be done to strengthen the bond between air cargo companies and universities. A point that James Wyatt, from from Germany-based Air Cargo Management Consultancy aeroconcept emphasized: “We need to go back to grass roots level in terms of selling air cargo. I lecture at 2 universities in Germany. That’s my way of giving something back. At the start of the session, I ask who will go into air cargo? 9/10 people don’t raise their hands because they don’t know the industry and that you can make a long-term career, etc. We all need a bit of a reality check. All of us are responsible for attracting young talent!”
Either you love cargo or you don’t!
The discussion also touched on social and environmental responsibility, goal transparency, social impact activities, and giving leadership opportunities to younger people. Beck, however, was of the opinion: “You either love air cargo or you don’t. Sustainability won’t really change much to get new talent. We must do more as an industry. The attendance here, for this panel, shows that there is still not enough importance of the topic – and there is a lack of knowledge of the industry.” Van Gelder again picked up on the knowledge topic and advised: “Get in touch with schools. We launched the Young Airfreight Network, reached out to universities with logistics programs and invited students to share pizza with us at the airport. We held the networking event to show what cargo does, and to put it on the radar. Some universities have now launched an air cargo course and asked us for input. That only started because we first put effort in there.”
Same again but better, next year
As is often the fate of the final panel of the day, Chris Notter lamented the meagre audience numbers.: “It’s such a shame that there are only around 30 people in this room. Can we make a commitment that we bring 4 more people to a similar session? And perhaps record it, as is Glyn Hughes’ wish.”.Des Vertannes, closing the first day of the conference agreed: “You were deserving a much greater audience than you had. We will have this panel again next year,” inviting the panelists to “come back and tell us what you learnt in the year. What you witnessed. We should make this the first panel of the day, when everyone is here. Finance, Tech, Media, Arts are the first four areas that young people want to go into. Aviation is struggling. Air Cargo had the biggest opportunity to sell to talent during Covid, since we played the biggest role globally to sustain human life, and yet, where do you hear about it? We need you to be the voices!”
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