Whilst we see the light at the end of the runway in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still many barriers and challenges to overcome to fulfil the pent-up demand of travel. With many domestic markets showing strong signs of recovery, certain international markets are now dropping testing requirements making for stronger demand as we head into the busy summer season. ACI World forecasts a return to 2019 traffic levels in 2024 which highlights that we need to get to work now in order to handle the growth from today.
Airports are currently undergoing many challenges during the recovery phases of the pandemic. Across many of the world’s airports, queues are starting to become the norm at check-in, security, and immigration processes due to a lack of staff, or new staff undergoing essential onboarding and lengthy training programmes. As airports cut down staff during the first wave of the pandemic in line with depleted traffic levels, many front-line workers who left the sector are not returning at pace due to the uncertainty of the industry moving forward and opportunities in other sectors. These operational challenges are beginning to hamper smooth, efficient passenger journeys.
ACI’s World Airport IT Standing Committee recently discussed the topic of staffing and diversity on their quarterly IT initiatives meeting. Airports are experiencing the ‘great resignation” and are not being able to offer as competitive opportunities as some of the larger technology players in the market. With airports under an era of digital transformation, this is particularly problematic as airports digitize processes and have an overwhelming reliance on different technologies. The challenge is market wide and begs the question of how we bring more IT talent to the buzzing environments that are airports and airport technology providers.
Whilst airports are seen traditionally as infrastructure companies, technology is at the heart of everything we do. Some examples of technology use cases include:
- Flight planning
- Air traffic control management
- Turnaround coordination
- Security wait time monitoring
- Concessions and developing non-aeronautical revenues
Therefore, lots of IT roles are encompassed in these technologies from software developers, IT technicians, maintenance engineers, data scientists, project managers and cyber specialists to ensure there is sufficient capacity, user friendliness and security across all airport technology. With it being the 21st century, there are many tech companies attracting talent away from aviation. Airports should be thinking of the future generation and leaders of IT at their airport and within the supply chain. Ideas to attract future talent include:
- Software development courses
- Partnering with local schools and universities
- Offering recognised qualification courses for new recruits
Whilst attracting IT talent is key moving forward to grow and develop the workforce of the future, diversity, inclusion, and equity need to be at the forefront of every airport. Diversity includes attracting talent from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds as-well as of different genders or sexual orientation. Being diverse doesn’t mean that you are inclusive. Inclusivity should provide equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Similarly, this doesn’t necessarily lead to being equitable. Airports should deal fairly and equally with all employees. The three pillars need to go hand in hand when airports think about their company culture of the future. ACI World and the IT committee are continually focusing on attracting diverse talent as the future CIOs of the aviation industry. Airports should think about their culture and workforce, providing a dynamic, challenging role where opportunities can be discovered to progress. A sense of belonging and engagement is critical in this era versus traditional motivation objectives.
As airports struggle with staffing levels, now is the time to act and make changes to reap results in the years to come. ACI World has launched its first cross committee collaboration, to produce a workforce of the future whitepaper due to be published at the end of the year. This area will become a much-needed focus for the industry to continue its recovery in years to come.
By Billy Shallow