Think big to address skills shortage

By Rebecca Jeffrey

TIACA ACF panel

You wouldn’t know that staff shortages are one of the biggest challenges facing the air cargo industry by listening to Westjet executive vice-president, cargo, Kirsten de Bruijn.

The executive vice-president, cargo for Westjet said that the company hasn’t experienced any recruiting or hiring issues in its cargo business.

“Air cargo is quite dope, it’s cool,” she enthused at an ‘Air Cargo – From Spotlight to Highlight’ panel session at the TIACA Air Cargo Forum.

De Bruijn said that her experience working for airlines for 15 years means she has a network of contacts within the industry that means she can apply a targeted approach to recruitment and knows “how to steal people”. The Canadian airline has also been able to recruit internationally.

She added: “I think passenger (aviation) struggles more than cargo. Cargo doesn’t talk back.”

Be open minded and innovative about solutions to address the air cargo industry staff and skills shortages, other participants at the session said.

Diana Schoeneich, chief executive of Georgi Handling, said that the company is looking at recruiting from the construction sector to help fill the gap.

She stressed that “investment in skills development and training is key” when looking at starting people in the sector from scratch.

Sourcing people from a wider geographical area than normal is also an option, although this often means relocating people to where the work is, added Schoeneich.

Timo Stroh, head of global airfreight and life science & healthcare at Dachser, said that part of making the industry more attractive is competitive salaries.

Stroh commented that as well as catering for younger people with different interests and concerns than older generations, airfreight usually requires people to be physically present for at least a proportion of the job and compared to other sought out remote jobs that have emerged since the start of the pandemic.

“Do we have sufficient young people willing to do what is needed,” he asked.

De Bruijn pointed out that just because a company has employees working face to face, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer flexible working.

Meanwhile, Stroh said TIACA and IATA could put more resources into talent attraction but Guillaume Crozier, senior vice president of cargo for dnata said that the members of these organisations also need to take the initiative.

One area that is a concern for Westjet is attracting and retaining technology specialists because of the salaries they command.

However, Stroh responded that more advancements in automation and digitalisation will help companies develop the technology that they need.

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