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Expat hiring in APAC - what are the latest trends?

There has been a shift in hiring patterns over the past few years

This year, Aviation Festival Asia took place from 28 February-1 March at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre, Singapore. As this is Asia’s most prominent aviation conference, we thought that now would be a good time to discuss expat hiring trends among aviation executives in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. We can define recruitment patterns in these areas over the past few years as being definitively pre- and post-COVID. Demand for travel is now almost back to pre-pandemic levels, and there’s certainly been an increase in aviation recruitment in APAC – though this manifests differently from place to place.

Contrast between APAC and the Middle East

Asia was the last region to open up and return to the recruitment market after COVID. By contrast, Middle Eastern countries had already opened their borders; a number of airlines in this region are going through rebuilds and/or restructures, with hiring volume high for local and expat candidates alike. The situation in the Middle East – along with Europe and North America already being open for business post-pandemic – created a ripple effect on attracting talent in APAC countries.

Whether because of political instability in certain territories or because of tempting offers from further afield, we’ve seen many strong aviation candidates go from APAC to other parts of the world in recent years, creating a dearth of senior talent that Asian airlines have typically had difficulty sourcing locally. While there is a widely established culture of hiring expats in the Middle East, a number of airlines in APAC – for instance, AirAsia and Cathay Pacific – have always benefited from recruiting some foreign talent. Furthermore, many carriers in the region, such as Thai Airways, are going through restructures, which will presumably require experienced aviation talent that might not be available on the ground in Thailand.

What can we expect going forward – and what’s the picture like in India?

Hiring expatriate talent – predominantly in operational and commercial roles – should slowly re-emerge throughout 2023 in APAC. Carriers in APAC and the Middle East looking for foreign hires now will likely find the picture more competitive in six months to a year’s time; we imagine that fewer companies will be recruiting there now than in the near future.

And what of India? The country’s aviation industry has never hired expat talent in great numbers, though most Indian carriers have usually had a few non-Indian nationals on their executive teams. We don’t necessarily see this changing soon, with the exception of Indigo who have hired talent from all over the world recently. As is the case in growing markets like India, international hires will take precedence where local talent isn’t available. If Indian airlines suffer attrition, as has happened in the rest of the world, it is difficult to see where they would source candidates from –departing senior executives would probably be replaced by expats. By contrast, the aviation sector in India is due to grow in the long term. If carriers there go through a boom, will we see similar numbers of expat talent in India as in the Middle East? Watch this space...

New search for expat talent down under

In Australia, meanwhile, airlines are very much open for business and recruiting heavily. The emergence of new carriers such as Bonza, which only began operations in January this year, has also stoked the need for new hires in Australian aviation. Furthermore, companies like Boeing and Bombardier have recently invested in growing their Australian presence, particularly in engineering, meaning that airlines are having to compete against other related sectors who are hiring afresh. Where previously Australian carriers had largely promoted internally, domestic talent departing in numbers for other industries during the pandemic has caused a surge in airlines hiring expat candidates – the most there’s been for quite some time.

Visa applications

Interestingly, although Australian airlines are increasingly looking for new hires from abroad, visa applications there seem to be taking longer than ever – even up to a year, we have heard. Before COVID, this wasn’t such an issue; aviation workers had always been seen as holding a very specific skillset amid Australia’s strict employment conditions for successful visa applications. Now, however, the process has slowed down and it’s causing problems for the industry: airlines can’t access expat talent as quickly as they would like.

Should the visa slowdown continue, it will be interesting to see if Australian carriers will look to tempt the domestic talent that left the industry back to aviation. It’s worth noting, however, that airlines like Virgin Australia and Qantas have recently hired fantastic expat talent to boost their leadership. Former Chief Revenue Officer of Air New Zealand, Cam Wallace, has just been announced as Qantas’ new international CEO, where previously the Australian carrier might have looked internally to fill this role. Janos Pal, previously Head of Pricing & Revenue Management at easyJet, moved to Virgin Australia last year. We’re delighted to see expat talent come to the fore down under – and long may it continue!

Venari Partners are delighted to help airlines and candidates alike with their executive search needs. Whether you’re an aviation professional looking for a move to the Middle East or APAC – or if you want the best expat talent for your airline in these regions – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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