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When it comes to staff shortages, don’t forget the cabin crew

The industry’s pilot shortage is receiving much attention, but airlines must also address the risk of failing to secure top talent further back in the aircraft as the job-market advantage swings towards candidates, writes Sam Sprules, director at AeroProfessional

As a specialist aviation human resources and recruitment consultancy, AeroProfessional is well versed in the pilot skills shortage issue. In fact, many outside the industry are privy to the deficit, as it has been discussed at length in the mainstream media.

But I’d like to highlight a seldom discussed piece of the aviation jigsaw. You could say they’re the unsung heroes of our industry: cabin crew.

If the recruitment for this intrinsic part of the on-air team is left to the last minute, it could have almost as damaging consequences as the pilot skills shortage.

There just don’t seem to be enough cabin crew to go around the aviation industry today. According to aviationpros.com, 85% of airlines intended to hire additional staff during 2016, most of which were cabin crew. Lufthansa was reportedly looking for an extra 2,800 cabin crew compared with 2015, and British Airways was said to need another 1,600.

With the big players setting out their stalls, the smaller airlines may find all the best cabin crew have already accepted contracts elsewhere.

Despite this stark warning, it would seem that some airlines still leave it too late when it comes to recruitment. AeroProfessional often sees that not all roles are given the same importance, which can lead to problems.

Finding and placing pilots often takes priority over the high-volume recruitment of cabin crew. In part, this is due to the aforementioned pilot skills shortage. Pilots also require very specific qualifications and varied experience from years of flying and training.

On the other hand, recruiting cabin crew can be easier and quicker, as it is possible to draft in inexperienced applicants and train them. However, it takes twice as long to train inexperienced, versus experienced, cabin crew.

As for securing experienced cabin crew, they are now in huge demand, and often get plucked by the bigger airlines.

Of course, without the benefit of an aerial industry view, many airlines aren’t aware of this issue until it’s too late. This is because it has been an employers’ market in aviation for many years.

Following the financial crash in late 2007, airlines had their pick from an abundant supply of qualified people. With the aviation industry now fully recovered, the job market has swung back to being candidate-led, which inevitably makes it difficult to attract and retain the best people.

Many airlines still feel that the market is in their favour, and that the old glamour of aviation is still enough of a pull to get top cabin crew vying for their roles.

But it’s high time for the industry to wake up, as the consequences of leaving cabin crew recruitment too late are costly and have a knock-on effect for the entire airline.

If airlines start marketing their vacancies too late, all the high-calibre cabin crew candidates will already have been scooped up by their competitors.

We’ve found that late-to-the-party airlines have to extend their recruitment plans further into the year. This inevitably leads to extra days of work which hadn’t been accounted for.

There is also an additional cost for advertising, and if the best candidates have already been snapped up, airlines who missed the boat may find their promotional efforts don’t yield the cabin crew talent they had hoped for.

But the costs don’t end there. Cabin crew recruitment is often high volume, with many candidates going through screening. This means more resources to manage recruitment and on-boarding.

This inevitably puts a strain on the existing team, as they are often working more hours month-to-month while the extra capacity is created.

Even if an airline manages to find enough cabin crew candidates to fill its roster, it will be cutting it fine when it comes to the onboarding process.

Failing to get documents in order means that your new crew’s operational abilities will be affected by a condensed onboarding process.

There’s also the morale factor. Working your staff to the limit sends a bad message. And as other airlines will be recruiting, there could be a temptation for overworked staff to go elsewhere.

This isn’t intended to be a tale of doom and woe. It is a true picture of what AeroProfessional has seen all too often when cabin crew recruitment is left late. The good news is there is time to get this in order before peak season, if airlines act now.

Pilots: have you registered yet for our virtual jobs fair?

This free event for pilots is taking place online on 18-20 April 2017. Register today to secure your place.

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