On an average day, over 2 million people utilize airlines for vacationing, visiting loved ones, business trips, or shipping goods. On the back end, this represents nearly 800,000 passenger and cargo airline employees who work feverishly to ensure that travelers and packages arrive at their destinations.
The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted commercial travel, particularly the aviation industry. In April 2020, passenger traffic was 96% lower than in April 2019, and remained an average of 60% below 2019 levels throughout 2020. Aviation industry stakeholders were forced to use $100 billion in federal assistance, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was compelled to provide airlines temporary relief from certain regulatory requirements.
As stay-at-home orders and widespread fears over COVID-19 curbed air travel, airlines slashed jobs in early 2020. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics revealed that the industry lost 1 out of 10 jobs from February to October 2020.
Given the uncertainty over where the pandemic might take the world next, airlines have taken a long time to replace jobs lost at the outset of the pandemic. Staffing issues have led to frustration and stress for airline employees and headaches for air travelers. This has led to worker walkouts and protests for workplace changes and new contracts. As such, recruitment and retention have become of paramount importance in the aviation industry.
The good news is that airlines have again begun hiring in earnest. In the U.S., passenger airline job growth from 2019 has been outpacing overall job growth, with airlines adding nearly 5,000 employees per month from November 2020 to September 2022. In October 2022, U.S. cargo and passenger airlines added 4,889 jobs, with industry employment sitting at 4.9% above pre-pandemic levels (bls.gov).
This article will detail strategies that airlines can implement to update their recruiting strategy to help meet hiring goals, focusing on employer branding, retention, and how to attract top talent.
Employer Branding and Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
Jobs in the aviation industry provide the opportunity to work in a high-tech, exciting environment and, in many cases, to travel the world. Airlines typically offer career track jobs that pay well and provide great benefits. In 2021, air transportation employees earned wages that were 37% higher than the average private sector employee (airlines.org).
In the current hiring climate, refining a company’s employer branding and the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is integral to attracting and hiring talent in this space.
- Employer Brand Evaluation. The employer brand is the company’s reputation as an employer. It reflects public opinion, including the public, customers, and potential job candidates. The first step to crafting any new iteration of the employer brand should be a review of the current state of the employer brand to help understand what’s working and what’s not, and where the company needs to direct its efforts moving forward.
- Employee feedback. Survey current employees to determine why they’ve stayed at the company and/or why they might consider leaving. Here, it’s a great idea to include a question about how they first heard about the company and where they applied. This will provide insight regarding the platforms that are most effectively attracting candidates – information that can be used when determining the advertising strategy (see below).
- Employee reviews. Employer review sites and “Best Places to Work” rankings can provide detailed insights into current and former employees' thoughts about the company and employer brand.
- Core values and mission statement. In recent years, job seekers have become significantly more discerning with regard to the integrity of the organizations for which they work. This was operational prior to the pandemic, but appears to have become even more important now. Create or review the company’s core values and mission statement to see if it is up-to-date and clearly communicates the aspects that are likely to be attractive to candidates.
- Track key performance indicators (KPIs). Moving on from the current state of the employer brand, metrics that the employer or recruitment marketer will be tracking should be established. These will provide insight into areas that need improvement. A few recruiting metrics that can be considered are: application rate, retention rate, source of hire, and employee satisfaction. After the metrics are selected, they can be used as a baseline to measure the results of recruiting and retention efforts in the upcoming months.
- Craft candidate personas. The candidate persona is a hypothetical character created to represent a candidate type based on a theoretical candidate's behaviors, goals, and challenges. For each industry role (e.g., pilot, flight attendant, mechanic, customer service rep), a new candidate persona should be created to help recruiters identify the right candidates when they apply.
Tip: When creating candidate personas, be sure to include demographic information (i.e., a lot of candidates seeking flight attendant roles are young singles, and an increasing number of these are male).
- Research competitor strategies. This will take a little research, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Using the candidate personas created earlier, the recruitment marketing professional can execute searches as though they are a job seeker. This will reveal the competitor content that gets good engagement. The insights derived can then be used when creating recruitment advertising.
Attraction and Benefits
What is most likely to attract candidates in the airline industry? Apart from compensation, this will vary depending upon the role, but the process of creating the candidate personas will provide insight into the specifics in this area. This helps when different candidate profiles are interested in different benefits. Hiring professionals can then cater their content to showcase the benefits and unique aspects of the company to each candidate profile.
Employing those insights, some areas to focus on should include:
- Showcase the candidate experience. The process by which companies attract candidates has undergone a revolution in recent years, as has the process by which candidates vet potential employers. As detailed previously in this space, today, employers need to pitch the benefits of working for the company to candidates in a similar fashion to a sales call. The airline space has a unique culture unto itself, so recruitment marketing professionals need to lead with the company culture – how it’s different from other airlines – to communicate a compelling value proposition.
- Craft a compelling company vision. While there are different motivators for candidates across roles (e.g., flight attendants versus pilots), it’s been well-established that today, employees are demanding a bigger buy-in regarding their purpose, direction, and feeling of belonging. They also place a much higher emphasis on corporate responsibility than in years past. Communicating the most inspiring aspects of the organization’s culture early on is key to attracting top talent.
- Refine the onboarding process. According to Harvard Business Review, onboarding can make or break a new hire’s experience at a company. This has been borne out by candidates and employees who cite poor onboarding processes as a major reason for turning down a job offer or leaving a new one. A reliable and effective onboarding process consisting of training, check-ins, employee feedback opportunities, and new hires' support is essential.
- Focus on retention early on. To successfully compete for and retain today’s talent, hiring professionals need to think more deeply about candidates’ and employees’ mindsets. Instead of waiting for exit interviews, survey employees regarding what they find attractive and unattractive relative to their roles and positions. This will allow the employer to adjust the sails based on their feedback, making it less likely that they will leave the organization.
- Keep the pipeline full. It’s essential for companies to understand their hiring goals and plan ahead, and one way to do this is by keeping the talent pipeline (or talent network) full. If the talent pool is full, it can help streamline the hiring process by having a group of qualified candidates ready, drastically reducing time-to-hire. By building and nurturing the pipeline, companies can maintain relationships with qualified candidates and can help recruiters be in a position to hire more quickly. This is helpful for the airline industry, especially during high-volume hiring seasons and adapting to seasonal hiring strategies.
Recruitment Advertising: Putting it All Together
With the above aspects addressed, it’s time to put together a dynamic recruitment advertising strategy using all of the data and insights gleaned. Recruitment advertising can help get the company’s information out to the world, which can help with attracting active and passive talent. Some areas that recruiters should be mindful of include:
- Prioritizing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) – Organizations that fail to do this often struggle to attract talent, and their retention rates are usually impacted.
- Expand the talent pool. Consider those candidates who might be considered nontraditional, who may be returning to the industry after leaving, or those currently engaging in part-time work.
- Refinement and clarity. Remember that recruitment advertising for each position is going to speak to different candidate segments, and that each segment will respond to different messaging. Always clearly communicate the skills, knowledge, and behaviors associated with different roles and levels of seniority, and ensure that each employee will be given opportunities to engage those skills.
In the short-term pandemic recovery scenario, the focus of airlines has been on putting out fires – figuratively speaking, of course. As hiring picks up however, organizations in the commercial travel and airlines space need to plan ahead, research, and invest in their strategies to attract and retain talent. With walkouts, strikes, and other issues looming, companies in this industry need to act now to secure long-term, sustainable momentum.
If you’re interested in fine-tuning your airline recruitment marketing strategy, feel free to reach out to us!