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Jenny Walsh chairs panel on industry stability and sustainability in the search for new talent

Our Head of Client Relations oversaw an enlightening discussion featuring four senior aviation leaders, during this year's edition of the World Aviation Festival.

As markets attempt to recover from the effects of the pandemic – not to mention the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions, and the cost of living crisis – recruitment struggles continue across industry sectors, including aviation. From reports of congested, understaffed airports last summer, to Heathrow potentially reintroducing their passenger cap before Christmas to combat personnel shortages – not to mention the poaching of senior talent from other industries – questions abound concerning recruitment and retention in aerospace.

In a talent market that is more competitive than ever, how can the industry tackle negative perceptions around stability and sustainability to attract young and diverse talent? We were delighted to see Jenny Walsh, Head of Client Relations here at Venari Partners, consider this dilemma head-on at the recent World Aviation Festival.

After an introduction from Sumati Sharma of Oliver Wyman, Jenny chaired a fascinating panel discussion with input from four senior aviation leaders:

· Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer, Virgin Atlantic Airways

· Ewa Danecka-Latka, Head of Crew Resources, Wizz Air

· Chris Denton, Lead of Executive Recruitment, WestJet Airlines

· Ian Chambers, Digital Director, easyJet Holidays

The delegates discussed some of the challenges around recruitment that the industry faces, and the steps their companies are taking to mitigate these.

Many firms are not yet back to full strength since the easing of COVID restrictions, but, as Ewa Danecka-Latka puts it, when careers in aviation are no longer seen as ‘sexy’ by younger workers, airlines must think up new ways of enticing staff. She cites Wizz Air’s new fast-track training schemes – as well as an initiative specifically aimed at female pilots – although developing such pull factors is just one part of the overall picture. Retention, Chris Denton says, looks likely to be ‘the big challenge that we all face here for the next 18 to 24 months.’

Furthermore, Ian Chambers notes that the pandemic served as ‘a real wake-up call’ for easyJet to fully recognise the value of their digital teams; these workers’ transferable skills give them a particularly wide range of employment options. Still, easyJet have also found ways to incentivise staff from across the company to stay. For instance, their employees can now make the most of hybrid setups by working up to 30 days remotely from somewhere in the airline’s network.

The pace of change in staff expectations and working patterns may be rapid, but there is plenty of potential therein. When it comes to employer value proposition in aviation, there is an opportunity, as Denton puts it, ‘to really effectively tell that story’ to new recruits, and to reconsider ways of doing things that were taken for granted pre-pandemic. He cites WestJet’s corporate recruitment to this end: most roles ask for candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, ‘immediately limiting the top end of that funnel. The sooner we can open that up, the better.’

The panel also discussed the importance of internal moves; trusting staff to take on leadership roles, and offering clear paths for progression, is a key element of one word that came up several times during the event: ‘purpose’. Sharma defines it as ‘the reason for which something is done or created, or for which something exists’.

Indeed, purpose is an important way for companies to appeal to potential new recruits, and to keep current staff motivated and engaged. In aviation, sustainability is an increasingly important aspect of this; for example, Virgin Atlantic have reduced carbon emissions by 20% since 2007, pledging to reduce these by a further 30% by 2027. ‘Any decision that a company makes has to reflect the values of that company’, Hollingsworth notes; she defines this concept as ‘principles as opposed to policy’.

Purpose goes beyond the individual responsibilities and room to grow that job roles offer – it encompasses the vision that companies present to their workers, as well as to the world.


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