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Staffing is proving to be a persistent challenge for companies in the aviation sector. According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the industry provides 87.7 million (direct and indirect) jobs worldwide. Yet even this high number appears insufficient to meet current demand – last year America’s Regional Airline Association (RAA) reported cuts in services due to staff shortages.

Furthermore, demand for specialists will intensify in the future. Boeing, in its latest Pilot and Technician Outlook report, estimates more than 2 million new aviation personnel will be needed over the coming 2 decades, including 600,000 technicians. Meanwhile, last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the US forecast that 31% of all pilots currently working will retire in the coming 8 years.

Going Global to address staffing challenges

For many aviation companies, global recruiting is the solution, says Jainita Hogervorst, Director of Dubai-based Aerviva Aviation Consultancy, a company specializing in aviation recruitment and document management. In this article, she shares her insights on 3 key aspects of your global recruitment that you need to get right.

“Airlines and other aviation companies need to be well positioned to recruit globally in the coming years,” she argues. McKinsey agrees, stating in a 2023 analysis that airlines will need to broaden their horizons in terms of race, gender and socioeconomic diversity in their recruitment. This also aligns with Boeing’s forecasts. It predicts just under 1 million new aviation specialists will come from Europe and North America in the next 20 years. Naturally, the remainder will come from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania, with Asia accounting for over 1.07 million.

“Of course, there are many strategies airlines need to follow to tap into this global talent,” continues Jainita. “However, I believe there are three keys to unlocking global recruitment. First, your technology setup. Second, your brand and outreach. And third, your approach to choosing the right candidates.”

The right tech setup for global recruitment

“New technologies mean aviation companies can offer a more personalized recruitment process to candidates anywhere on the planet,” says Jainita. “And personalization creates a better candidate experience.”

Predictive analytics is the first step in creating a personalized candidate journey, says Jainita. “It can analyze a candidate’s profile and predict how suitable they will be for your organization – you can proactively find candidates in new regions rather than waiting for them to find you.”

AI-powered chatbots are also a smart addition to a company’s setup, Jainita argues. “Global candidates will have lots of questions, including practical ones about relocation such as visas, working conditions and travel. An AI chatbot can handle these questions with detailed, relevant answers.” For example, international candidates can ask detailed questions to Airbus’ chatbot, Bessie – it handles over 12,000 interactions monthly. And since deploying Bessie, applications to Airbus from American, Chinese and Indian candidates are all up.

“Chatbots free up your HR team to deliver personalized input where it matters most – interviews, job offers, contract negotiations,” says Jainita. And technology can play a part in these stages as well. “Airlines are experimenting with one-way video interviewing. Candidates record videos of their answers to interview questions, which is a great solution when you are dealing with multiple time zones. You can also explore Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) during the recruitment process – they open up new opportunities for practical tasks during the interview process.”

Build your brand and engage locally

“When you start recruiting in new locations, your brand and reputation are super important,” explains Jainita. Boeing, in its latest Pilot and Technician Outlook report, highlighted the need to engage with future aviators and provide early career development programs. These are certainly sensible steps, says Jainita. “When your brand is less well known, engage at schools and universities to get young people aware of what you do. Especially in technical roles, you may be competing for STEM candidates with other engineering professions, so building awareness is key.”

It is also a sensible idea to research typical educational paths in the region you are interested in. “Be aware that there may be different expectations or stigmas attached to certain routes in new regions. What has worked for you in one country may not work in another,” cautions Jainita.

Think flexibly and prioritize skills

“In our industry, we can sometimes be quite rigid in what we look for,” explains Jainita. “But in new markets, flexibility is key. Look for candidates who have the right attitude and skills, rather than focusing too much on specific degrees or hard skills.”

Airlines like JetBlue have set up successful programs to reskill staff into their MRO teams. These programs have enabled cabin crew and other staff to gain mechanics qualifications.

“A smart approach is to have a range of roles on offer,” advises Jainita. “If you find a candidate with the right attitude, you can find a position to fit their experience and skill level. Then later you can look at your training programs to upskill some team members for the roles you need.”