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Aviation recruitment update: what we are seeing and what we might expect

In this blog we look at the trends we are seeing in the senior aviation recruitment market. A lot has changed since our last blog on this subject. We will pass comment on what we are observing from our clients and make a few predictions on market changes we expect to see. There is one very evident change to note immediately and that is the improvement in the market. The volume of aviation jobs in the market has increased significantly since the beginning of the year. Our team is very close to operating on the number of retained search assignments as we were pre-COVID.

While stipulating that the market has picked up significantly, it is also prudent to comment that this observation is quite location-specific. Not all parts of the world are experiencing the same volume of opportunities coming to market. Where COVID restrictions continue to prevent the freedom of movement across borders, we cannot expect to see the same amount of international recruitment as we did pre-COVID. Put simply, people cannot easily relocate or even travel to interview. For example, South America and parts of ASIAPAC are very quiet with little international recruitment to note. Presumably, there is some local hiring, but most airlines look internationally when seeking senior airline talent. As the effects of Covid on these regions relent - hopefully quickly - we expect to see their airlines start recruiting and the market get more competitive for talent.

One of the most encouraging trends we are observing is the desire to utilise recruitment as a method to improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). We are engaged in more searches focused on attracting DE&I talent than ever before. We believe search firms have an important role to play in helping their clients address this important topic. We hope this trend is one set to continue and we are committed to encouraging our clients to be better.

For certain, the US market is the busiest. There are a lot of vacant roles across the US aviation sector. This is likely the result of a variety of factors, including a strong domestic airline market, airlines losing talent to other sectors, an increased number of retirements, a need for talent restructuring to build the right team for the recovery and the effects of CARES Act on compensation and retention.

We believe a positive indication of the market improving, and a market that is likely to continue improving is the number of roles coming to market that emanate from the Middle East. These carriers have often hired a lot of international talent which creates a concertina effect across the industry.

Attracting talent will be a challenge for many companies in the aviation ecosystem. Other sectors are paying handsomely by comparison, particularly on the variable aspects of compensation. However, we are seeing some aviation companies implementing retention ‘golden handcuffs’ bonuses to prevent attrition. This observation is typically applicable at the ‘Head of’/Director levels and above. Furthermore, we are witnessing base salaries increasing to compensate, at least in part, the lack of bonus and stock payments expected. Unfortunately, for many of the airlines that accepted some form of government funding, the implications are that they are unable to compensate their talent as they once might have. These airlines can expect to be ‘sitting ducks’ as the demand for talent increases.

Whilst airlines are clearly working hard to attract and retain staff, we’ve yet to see many counteroffers when people inform their employer of their intention to leave. This is surprising but perhaps explained by the motivation of those leaving. Their decision to move is not driven by earning potential but by other factors such as leaving the sector, a desire to relocate, a new career challenge or a promotion. Offering more money to entice them to stay will not change these career motivations.

There will always be functional disciplines that are more in demand than others. For example, many companies are struggling to hire enough data scientists, and airlines are no different. Throughout COVID there was a clear demand for maintenance management professionals. This has abated a bit, but we are witnessing an increasing demand for professionals with the following expertise: Revenue Management and Pricing, Procurement, Digital and Marketing (including ancillary), Fleet Strategy, Corporate Strategy, Cargo (Various) and Customer Experience.

Late last year we predicted there would likely be some large airline restructurings involving changes in senior management. This prediction has come to fruition. We are currently involved in a couple of significant airline turnaround projects involving rebuilding the senior management teams. We expect to see more of these projects come to market as countries reopen their borders meaning their airlines can operate more freely.

The demand for cargo talent has really grown throughout the COVID pandemic. Not only has the improved financial performance of the air freight industry allowed companies to invest in their talent but there is also a clear desire to hire talent who can help the cargo operators adopt more innovative and technology savvy strategies. For example, utilising more data rigorous revenue management methodology or developing their e-commerce platform to improve distribution.

The market is likely to continue changing through 2021 and we expect to see the demand for hiring to increase steadily to levels that exceed what we saw pre-COVID. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.


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