With airline and hospitality industries set for a strong recovery in 2022, the smartest companies are positioning themselves to attract a pool of global talent in an ever more competitive environment, embracing the opportunities and challenges that come along with it.
Although the full impact of the Omicron variant on the travel industry is not yet known, with borders reopening across the world and recovery settling in, airlines and hospitality brands are again looking ahead with an expansive lens. Crisis always brings with it opportunity — and despite the incredible challenges the sectors faced during the past 20 months, a range of new opportunities are emerging.
For one, travel demand is again surging, requiring airlines and hospitality companies to rapidly hire and retain workers who are eager to utilize their skills in an accelerating global industry. The travel industry’s embrace of digital technologies and innovation is driving an increasing need for expertise in these fields. Additionally, the benefits that the global airline and hospitality industries offer — and have been innovating to become more competitive — will help attract and retain talent. Businesses that understand how to appeal to this emerging labor base through new working models and the right culture and values will find themselves well ahead of the game for 2022 and beyond.
Yet amidst these opportunities, these same organizations also must contend with growing competition for qualified talent, along with challenges related to shortages of qualified workers. How will they cope?
SkiftX chatted with Boston Consulting Group’s Tom McCaleb and Adam Gordon, both managing directors and partners, about the emerging opportunities for talent recruitment, training, and retention across hospitality and airlines. The conversation provides key insights to travel companies as they navigate recent staffing challenges and position themselves for the future.
SkiftX: Given the shortages and increased competition for talent facing the industry, what do you see as the key opportunities for the airline and hospitality industries in approaching new talent?
Tom McCaleb: There are an incredible number of hospitality job openings at this time that offer higher wages and more flexibility than pre-pandemic times. Industry leaders are trying to make this industry more attractive to employees by fishing in new labor pools, adding flexibility, and offering new benefits. It’s about changing the entire employee value proposition, not only increasing wages.
Adam Gordon: Airlines are ready to hire again. Because airlines are mostly unionized, the work rules and pay rates for the frontline workforce are largely set through bargaining units. But airlines offer a few things that top talent would find attractive at any stage in their career.
First, the industry is undergoing a digital and data revolution, which is appealing to top talent. Second, airlines offer great travel benefits — something that’s extra appealing coming out of a pandemic. Third, disruption to the industry is creating real opportunities, whether those are strategic landscape shifts or the ability for players to capture share, launch new business models, or gain financially. These are powerful for people — especially those coming into the corporate side who are looking for new challenges.
Additionally, for a strategic work group like pilots, legacy air carriers offer eventual progression into international networks with hubs in attractive cities, while low-cost carriers offer fast career growth, fresh cultures, and the ability to live in lower cost areas.
SkiftX: Why does a “business as usual” approach to talent attraction and retention no longer apply to the airline and hospitality industries?
McCaleb: The hospitality industry’s frontline workforce is really stretched right now. A root cause of this is that the talent sourcing pipeline is too narrow. There needs to be a wider net cast to stimulate demand at the front end of the pipeline for entry-level workers, raising awareness of the industry as early as high school. Then the pipeline needs to be widened with more educational pathways to help frontline workers move into managerial positions.
Gordon: Airlines have a few areas of very highly skilled, highly trained groups of workers, such as pilots and maintenance technicians, but there’s a long lead time for hiring and a high bar of qualifications, which makes stimulating supply challenging. Many airlines have launched programs to expand the supply pipeline and attract pilots early in their careers.
McCaleb: I think the airlines offer a great example for the hotel industry in this area. You can find both large airlines and regional airlines with robust in-house academies for maintenance technicians and other jobs that require specialized skills. Similar educational programs do exist for hospitality, but the whole pipeline needs to be much bigger.
SkiftX: What skills and experience might benefit the types of emerging roles within the airline and hospitality industries that companies may not be seeking?
Gordon: Sustainability will be a big one for airlines. Some carriers have already made strategic moves here, and others are trying to get their heads around it. It’s only a matter of time before chief sustainability officers join the executive ranks.
Digital analytics will be big as well. This is probably true in most industries, but airlines are really keen to build that capability out and have the data to do it. Airlines also recognize that they need a powerful, modern recruiting engine. Attracting top talent in this space will require a rethink of traditional recruiting methods and a compelling employee value proposition.
McCaleb: Being able to adeptly use technology to anticipate guest needs while actively engaging with the guest is going to be extremely important for frontline hotel workers. You always had to be a warm, caring person to shine at hotel guest service. Now, you need to be a warm person who also knows how to use technology.
Knowing how to analyze and apply data will be a key skill for employees on the commercial side of hotels too. For example, revenue managers will need to be able to use the next generation of tech systems for more sophisticated decisions on pricing and room availability versus relying on spreadsheets.
You can think about two categories of workers: digital natives, who know how to use technology intuitively, and others who may be seasoned in the industry and engaging with guests, but aren’t as fluent with technology. Helping these workers re-skill is just as important as sourcing the next generation of workers who have those skills.
SkiftX: How are digital transformation trends impacting the types of jobs that are available within the airline and hospitality industries?
McCaleb: More access to better data means fewer mundane tasks. There are always going to be housekeepers and engineers, but a lot of the hotel operations jobs will be about using data versus performing repetitive functions.
Gordon: At corporate headquarters, data and advanced analytics will become even more integrated into daily tasks and some critical tasks — like network planning, crew scheduling and operations control — will become increasingly automated. Workers will need the skills and flexibility to work in this environment. Frontline staff will see digital transformation reduce the burden of mundane work and allow them to focus on improved customer service, better problem solving, and greater ability to think beyond the task at hand.
SkiftX: In light of the “Great Resignation” and wider trends in the labor force, what are some meaningful, flexible, or remote ways of working that can be adopted in the airline and hospitality industries to attract and retain employees?
McCaleb: Our research found that 40 percent of workers who left hospitality jobs in the last year are now in flexible roles outside of hospitality, such as gig economy jobs.
The industry is beginning to experiment with flexible work shifts to attract and retain workers. I also think we’ll increasingly see technology solutions that will enable hotel brands to share labor across different properties — even if they’re run by different owners. Beyond providing flexibility to workers, this could help properties match worker supply and demand.
Gordon: Many frontline workers left airlines for other industries, and many pilots and maintenance technicians sought out early retirement or left for more flexible jobs or their own small businesses. It’s challenging to make this work for the more technical jobs with high training requirements, but airlines are exploring seasonality, more flexible hours, and job sharing to attract gate agents, flight attendants, and those working on the ramp. These models can make good sense for airlines, given predictable peaks and troughs in labor demand.
SkiftX: Is there anything else either of you would like to add before we wrap up?
McCaleb: The issue of diversity is a big one for hospitality, like the rest of the U.S. economy. It’s an extremely diverse industry on the front line, but some groups are still under-represented in more senior roles. The industry is aware of this, and many companies have initiatives to address it, but we’re a long way from where we need to be. A renewed push for leadership diversity in the industry will help unlock new labor pools and new potential.