Imagine you are finding it difficult to get around. After careful thought you decide the best solution is to buy a new car.
You spend weeks researching various options before choosing the model, find out the best way of financing the deal, investigate the cheapest suppliers, and after tough negotiation, agree a delivery date.
The great day arrives, and you look proudly at the shining vehicle in the driveway. Now for driving lessons! It’s only then you discover there are very few instructors available and there is a very long waiting to take a driving test. You have invested in new capacity, but it can’t be used.
A relevant example? Well, the theme of this edition of Airport World is the ‘Capacity Crunch’. This refers to pressure on space and operations and consequently the potential inability to meet the demand for travel. It typically means lack of physical infrastructure: terminals, runways, slots, planes. Long lead times for planning and construction compound the problem.
Yet, there is another ‘crunch’ that is sometimes overlooked: having the people in place to manage and run the airport. Even if brand new infrastructure is designed and built, the parallel process of ensuring the right people, capabilities and talent are in place can often stall the operation, thus limiting its usefulness and the return on investment.
In the fast-growing airport sector there is massive competition with other sectors for the best and brightest talent. Leadership succession is also a major challenge. There are increasing demands on the skills needed to run the complex, regulated, commercial and technical organisations that airports have become.
Shortages in expert skill sets in technology and engineering run alongside gluts in areas where needs are declining, such as manual operations and administration.
Even with the best intentions, it is not always possible to upskill or retrain existing staff – and it can be difficult to find people in the external market with the specialised knowledge and experience needed. What can be done about it?
- Better workforce planning is part of the answer, even though this is not an exact science. Developments in technology, the economic environment, societal expectations and competition can make ‘supply and demand’ hard to predict.
- Retaining and engaging people through creating ‘great places to work’, where contributions are recognised and valued, helps to ensure a viable talent pool. High attrition rates erode the capacity of the operation and place further pressures on the organisation to meet demand.
- Succession planning and talent management, particularly for leadership positions and those roles critical for the operational performance of an airport, are essential. This means identifying key positions and then building a talent pipeline though individual development and training plans which provide opportunities for mobility, skills development, and increasing responsibility.
Avoid the ‘People Crunch’ by investing time and resources in talent management alongside putting into place the future infrastructure. Or you may have to invest in a driverless car!