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PEOPLE matters


Outside knowledge

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the recruitment challenges facing airports and the potential benefits of bringing back older, more experienced staff.

As we embark on another year, many of us engage in the ever-optimistic pursuit of making New Year resolutions. We resolve to get fitter, lose weight, eat less, join gyms, stay positive and generally do better.

We do this even though we know that within a month or two, much of our initial enthusiasm for change will have waned or died away. As Oscar Wilde is reported to have said, it is “a triumph of hope over experience”.

While this may be so, there is a lot to be said for using the New Year as an opportunity for taking stock and coming up with plans for the future. There are many pressing issues and challenges which need addressing as we move forward into 2023, not just for individuals but for organisations and societies.

Recovery from COVID is a prime example. The COVID pandemic may be gradually coming to an end three years on, but its effects continue to play out for societies in terms of long-term sickness, pressures on health services, mental health and economic impacts. The consequences for organisations have been no less profound. Many people were laid off in the downturn to reduce costs, but now that business is growing again it can be difficult to attract them back.

Recent analyses have provided a number of explanations for these trends. Firstly, some people have experienced long-term illness and sickness including psychological and mental health issues and have dropped out of the workforce.

Secondly, others have started to reassess their lives and the trade-offs between working and not working, with some taking opportunities for early retirement and others seeking more flexible options. There is a reluctance on the part of many to return to offices and long commutes – with a preference for the flexibilities associated with homeworking.

Thirdly, many employees in lower paid jobs in health, retail, and production have seen their pay fail to keep pace with inflation and are less engaged and motivated than before.

Many airports have found it difficult to keep up with the demand for travel. The 32nd ACI World Annual General Assembly in Marrakech on October 25, 2022, passed a resolution emphasising the importance of creating a strong and diverse workforce to ensure the long term resilience and sustainability of the aviation system.

And a recent ‘ACI White Paper – The Evolution of the Airport Workforce: Turning Challenges into Opportunities (2022)’ has focused attention on this issue and provides some practical ideas for action.

Bringing workers (back) to the airport is one way of starting to address the workforce challenge. Large segments of the population have left the workforce entirely, especially those in the 50+ age group, leaving many workplaces bereft of older workers, resulting in large gaps in expertise, experience, institutional memory, and wisdom.

Can this trend be reversed? Ageist attitudes will need to shift to create a welcoming environment for older employees to feel valued.

Efforts are being made by governments and some employers to entice recent workforce leavers back into work. These include retraining, ‘clinics’ in financial planning and money awareness and tax incentives to encourage ‘work’ rather than ‘retirement’. Scaling down and flexible working hours may encourage older workers to come back on a part time basis thus capturing some of the lost experience and wisdom.

Mentoring programmes whereby older workers pass on their skills and knowledge to newer recruits are also ways to capture and redress the potential drain of experience. Some years ago we were impressed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s policy of bringing back older employees and retirees to act as airport wayfinders and guides for anxious passengers. Their reassuring friendly presence was a welcome addition to the airport journey.

Deciding to embrace age as part of the diverse and inclusive workplace of the future may bring realism into the frame, turning Wilde’s statement on its head and providing an opportunity for “experience over hope”.

Arrivals and Departures

Heathrow Airport CEO, John Holland-Kaye, has informed the Board of his intention to stand down during 2023 after nine years in the hot-seat. Praising his “exceptional leadership”, the Board notes that he built a strong management team, helped develop a consumer-focused culture, improved cost efficiency and put “Heathrow at the forefront of global aviation’s decarbonisation”.

Kristina Ferenius will replace Mats Påhlson as Swedavia’s new CFO. Ferenius, who is currently the CFO of Sveaskog, will take up her new role on August 1. Påhlson is leaving Swedavia after eight years to pursue a freer role
as a consultant.

A belated welcome to Atif Saeed who was appointed CEO of Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) on December 1, 2022. “Saeed’s leadership will be critical in helping enhance Philadelphia International Airport’s position as a major economic driver for the city and region, helping to support thousands of jobs,” said mayor, Jim Kenney.

Harold Samms III has joined Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) as the deputy executive director of the Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) Performance.

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