Almost half those attending IATA’s World Cargo Symposium in Doha had been in the airfreight industry for more than 20 years, prompting lengthy debate about where the next generation of employees is going to come from.
An emotional Ram Menen, who steps down in three months as head of Emirates SkyCargo, summed it up well after delegates paid tribute to his massive lifelong contribution. “In 28 or 29 years, I have kept meeting the same people but with different business cards,” Menen said. He was suggesting that, while senior executives switch between companies, fresh input from outside the industry is lacking.
IATA has been displaying posters at airports and events under the slogan “Air cargo makes it happen” to underscore how aspects of everyday life – delivery of essential medicines, flowers, food, the latest electronic business and entertainment gadgetry – depends on aviation. The organization pledged to continue with this campaign, with the idea of reaching out to the public and potential future employees.
“We are the industry that links the factories on one side of the world and shops on the other. We have wonderful stories to tell,” said Oliver Evans, chief cargo officer for Swiss International Air Lines.
Evans said airfreight was an “endless source of challenge” to its employees. Airlines and forwarders needed a tough, alert, versatile workforce that could deal with anything from Icelandic eruptions and Japanese tsunamis to political upheavals, economic crises and environmental concerns. “We are impacted by every damn thing that happens all over the world. That’s why I’m so passionate about it,” he said.
“I haven’t had any difficulty attracting talent into our organization. When people complete internships with us, they want to stay. We can’t offer them all jobs,” Evans added. “Talent is everywhere: 50 percent of the talent in the world is women. Do we employ 50 percent women? No, but it’s coming.”
Steve Gunning, MD of IAG Cargo and chairman of the IATA Cargo Committee, echoed Evans’s sentiments. “People are keen to come into a self-contained business where they can make a real difference. You get an excellent education because you get to see it all. Our graduate intake go through a series of processes such as learning revenue management. The challenge is to hold on to them. People flow in from our passenger business, but sometimes also want to go back there.”
Lise-Marie Turpin, VP cargo at Air Canada, was not convinced that youngsters have any awareness of airfreight. “There’s an industry-wide problem of getting people to understand that cargo exists. They have no thought of career opportunities. We need to start there, and find a way of connecting with career talent in that way.
“The younger generation are more global, well travelled and may have studied or worked abroad. It’s in their DNA,” Turpin said. “One of our attractions is that we’re global and offer the opportunity to work in different languages and cultures. But we need to be more connected with universities and other institutions that can provide us with the talent we need.”
Des Vertannes, IATA’s global head of cargo, said there were good examples of academies and individual companies promoting logistics and airfreight. But he accepted, “We’re not telling the rest. We need to make sure the world knows about them.”
All too common is the experience of Elizabeth Shaver, director of cargo services at Airlines for America, who confessed, “I found air cargo accidentally. But once I was in it, I thought, why would anyone want to work anywhere else?”
The extent of the sector’s communication issues came home to Shaver when she studied 900 airline videos following a Google search. “We have some slick products in our industry, but only 15 of the videos touched on cargo, and they were mostly technical. Only three would have had general appeal.”
Airfreight requires creative indiduals and problem solvers who could deal commercial, security and regulatory pressures. “It’s a glamorous industry, and we need to market it more,” Shaver concluded.
Logistics recruitment specialist Darryl Judd said demand for talent exceeded the inflow of talent across the industry and across the world. Companies often complained to him of high staff turnover and employees being poached as they were offered better packages elsewhere.
Excuses Judd said he was tired of hearing were, “Generation Y don’t want to work for us. They’re different. We’re not a sexy enough industry. It’s difficult to recruit into such an unstable industry. We have no time for internships or career development.”
Judd added, “We’re not great at shouting outside of our industry.” On the specific issue of attracting more women into airfreight, he said companies may have to look closer at adjusting shift patterns and working around domestic constraints in order to attract the missing 50 percent.
He said employers needed to be smarter at promoting the potential for advancement. Knowledge empowered the workforce, but rewards for performance or achievement did not have to be in financial form.
Wissam Hachem, head of corporate development at Etihad Airways, had earlier described the challenge of developing future senior executives. Part of the carrier’s strategy had been to show line managers, who were rightly focused on immediate delivery, that mentoring was part of their day-to-day responsibility.
Hachem said there was a fear of transparency among these middle managers and a reluctance to be completely open about the nature of their job. Their concern is: Will this person take my place?
Judd had words of reassurance, pointing out that the transport and logistics industries needed to hire 17 million more people over the next 20 years. “You’re not going to lose your job,” he said.