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6 2. Research Idea Identification and Prioritization This section describes the overall process used to identify research ideas and ultimately prioritize them for inclusion in the Airport Administration and HR Research Roadmap, including relevant findings from each step of the process. The process included a literature review, interviews and focus groups with airport leaders, and a research needs prioritization survey. Literature Review To gain an initial understanding of existing airport needs regarding administration and HR issues, our team conducted a review of relevant literature related to airport administrative or HR topics. This task also included a review of existing research roadmaps to help better understand how research needs could be organized and presented. Relevant literature identified included existing airport industry research roadmaps and reports, along with any other helpful industry sources. Findings When reviewing articles and documents as part of the literature review, we identified information related to various topics, including: recruitment and staffing, workforce development, external influences or pressures, technology, potential research ideas, and the connection of the topics covered to the ACRP Strategic priorities. Overall, literature review findings helped to identify research needs for airport administration and HR, as well as future trends that could impact these research needs. Key findings from the literature review included: ï§ External Influences or Pressures: Airports face significant pressure from external entities, such as political or government institutions, financial pressures, commercialization, and regulatory requirements. ï§ Recruitment and Staffing: There are recruitment challenges in airports due to factors including a lack of public awareness of airport careers, the increasing retirement of Baby Boomers which leave significant staffing gaps, the difficulties in attracting top talent at all levels, and the competition with the private sector. ï§ Technology: Increased use of technology in airports has a significant impact on workflow and production processes, in that it can change the day-to-day activities of employees, the core functions for which they are responsible, and the time necessary to complete tasks. The focus on technology and its usage also puts more pressure on introducing sound cybersecurity practices for protecting sensitive and confidential data. ï§ Workforce Development: Due to the anticipated retirement of Baby Boomers in the workforce, workforce development has been a top concern as a means of succession planning for airport administration and HR. This connects back to the development, or lack thereof, of training and development programs, especially those targeting developing leadership skills. Additionally, there is a great concern about the ability to conduct knowledge management and transfer the acquired institutional knowledge from the most tenured employees.
7 Airport Executive Interviews We engaged airport executives from across the industry in interviews to gain an understanding of their priorities for their respective airports. These leaders include individuals with jobs such as Senior HR Manager, Airport Manager, Chief Administrative Officer, and Director of Airport Administration. These airport executive leaders provided information about current practices, policies, and issues in airport administration and HR, discussed the impact of administration and HR on airport operations, and described strategic priorities and anticipated impacts. Findings Across the interview participants, five key topics related to the current priorities of airport executives were identified. These topics are presented in Exhibit 1. Exhibit 1: Current Top Priorities for Airport Executives Current Top Priorities Address Retiring Staff Throughout the airport industry, staff positions ranging from executives to skill trade occupations are experiencing rapid turnover due to retirements within the Baby Boomer generation. Managing this turnover rate has been a challenge for the last few years and is anticipated to remain so over the next five or six years. This has resulted in positions being vacant for an extended period, sometimes over one year, or individuals near retirement in positions that have no pipeline. Some executives indicated that 40% of staff could presently retire, one stating, âThatâs terrifying, keeps me up at night.â The threat of retiring senior staff also causes challenges in maintaining institutional knowledge. This delay in filling vacant positions and reinstating institutional knowledge results in a negative effect on airport operations. Efforts geared toward succession planning are therefore being given attention. Of note, the constant focus on filling these current and anticipated vacancies takes HR and administrative effort away from more innovative initiatives to improve airport operations. Attract Top/Relevant Talent Airport HR is struggling to recruit applicants particularly in skill trade positions such as electricians, HVAC mechanics, carpenters, and plumbers. This results in airports contracting these services out to external agencies, which is very costly. Airports must compete with other city departments and private sector locations that can often pay higher salaries. Additionally, potential recruits with these skills do not always have awareness of all available occupations, careers, or opportunities at airports. These factors contribute to many airports making recruitment efforts to attract talent a top priority. Effort is being invested in recruitment strategies, building career ladders, and modernizing the application process to the extent possible.
8 Current Top Priorities Increase Diversity A number of executives indicated efforts to increase diversity in hiring to be more reflective of the surrounding population as a priority. This is in reference to ethnic background, age, gender, etc. One example of addressing this priority involves âanti-bias hiringâ in which the name, address, and school graduated from are not revealed until the in-person interview. The goal of this approach is to make the candidates that advance through the application process as diverse as possible to better reflect the population the airport serves. Build Training & Development Multiple topics of training and development were discussed as current priorities. A major focus is leadership development or professional development for managers and supervisors, as many state the need for improvement in this area. As a more preemptive approach, some are working to train on leadership qualities at lower levels of employment so that employees are prepared to take over leadership roles. Executives aim to ensure that individuals are getting the right type and amount of training and mentoring. Build Forward- Thinking Culture The aviation industry is shifting to become more customer service- oriented, which is a change from typical state service practices. HR and administration are attempting to instill this mentality in current workers and recruit for it in new employees. Similarly, adjusting the workforce culture to be more innovative and collaborative to adapt to the changing industry is another priority. Developing this type of culture and value system is also aimed at attracting and retaining inventive employees. Next, airport executives described the challenges that they see for airport administration and HR that must be addressed as airports move into the future. These challenges are presented in Exhibit 2. As can be expected, these challenges are somewhat similar to the research priorities described by airport leaders as the priorities that arise are often related to issues airports are currently experiencing. Exhibit 2: Current Challenges for Airport Administration and HR Current Challenges External Forces Navigating Municipality/Government Structure: There are constraints and regulations that come with having the structure of a municipal airport. For example, having a residency requirement makes it difficult for potential employees to work at the airport due to increased cost of living inside a city and having a city job. Also, it is difficult to make certain staffing changes, such as terminations and rewarding model employees. All airports of similar structure face similar challenges. Unions: Certain positions (e.g. skilled trades) are unionized positions, which come with certain constraints. Unions can have significant influence in HR and Administration and can affect processes such as hiring, promotions, and compensation. Airports do not have much autonomy for various circumstances in which positions are unionized, and have to follow the regulations provided by the unions. For example, unions may be opposed to external new hires being placed in higher-
9 Current Challenges level/higher-paying jobs than those who have been employed at the airport for a longer period. Large Retirement Eligible Population Much of the current workforce is eligible for retirement, especially the more senior positions, which leads to upcoming vacancies in those areas. There is a very tenured workforce, making it challenging to replace the knowledge these individuals have developed. Not only are the Baby Boomers retiring, but the economy is also doing well. This prompts a number of outcomes: (1) employees are retiring at higher rates than before, and (2) it is harder to attract individuals from the already limited labor pool (due to low unemployment). Furthermore, it is a challenge to recruit talented individuals who are interested in airport careers, and the looming retirement of Baby Boomers creates an even larger void to fill. An airport executive noted there is a âmass exodus of people with years of experience.â Furthermore, many in those senior positions have years of institutional knowledge, so ensuring that knowledge is transferred to the individuals taking their roles is also important. Compensation Challenges Limit Recruitment Abilities It is difficult to offer competitive salaries to qualified talent for airport positions, which hinders recruitment abilities. In many cases, salaries are set by external agencies (e.g., Civil Service Commission, Labor Union). These salaries need to follow regulations and guidelines, and tend to be noncompetitive levels of pay. Consequently, they place a restraint on attracting potential candidates. There are other compensation nuances that are a challenge to navigate. For example, some regulations require airport employees to live within the city limits (i.e., residency requirement), although living within the city limits costs more than living outside. Thus, airports may have to reduce hiring standards to find individuals that fit the criteria. Also, views on valued compensation are changing; for example, younger generations do not value pensions as much as other generations (i.e. they want something they can take with them). Absence of Qualified Talent: Visibility of Airport Careers Visibility of Airport Careers: There is a lack of visibility related to airport jobs or careers; thus, there is a need to raise the profile of working within airports. In general, there is a lack of programs designed to promote awareness and generate popular interest in airport careers. An airport executive noted âAirports have essentially every type of occupation within an airport, but most people donât look here.â This is an industry-wide challenge. Low Unemployment Rate: Because applicants have more job options than before (as evidenced by low unemployment), most people are looking for jobs elsewhere in more visible locations with better compensation. This is both an industry trend and a nationwide trend. The available labor pool for airports is already limited due to at least a couple of reasons: (1) the limited number of qualified individuals with specific, required skillsets (e.g., skill trade positions require more specific knowledge to address the various systems within aging airports/maintenance), and (2) the populationâs general interest in airport careers is low. Consequently, the low unemployment rate further reduces available talent. Thus, it is a significant challenge to fill current vacancies.
10 Current Challenges An airport executive remarked âI have vacancies that are over a year old.â By the same token, some airports recruit/poach other airportsâ employees due to the reduced labor pool of qualified candidates. Another executive noted âThe biggest challenge we face is the absence of qualified talent for hire.â Technology There is a challenge in airports to always being up to date in technology. There is also a resistance from older generations in using certain technologies on the job. Furthermore, technology is continuously changing, which requires additional changes to operations and training efforts. While more training is required for new technology, airports do not tend to have the extra time to dedicate to this new required training. In general, many positions are changing to include more interactions with various forms of technology (e.g., social media, tablets). For example, communication between employees at airports involves use of the social media world and electronic devices. Changes in technology and its use also impact competencies relevant for hiring since many jobs will require using technology on the job. Finally, HR is using technology more for certain functions (e.g., posting jobs on social media and LinkedIn). Digital strategies are crucial for delivering the right type of customer experience to the travelers passing through. Moving from thinking about the current state of airport administration and HR, airport executives were also asked to talk about the future. Specifically, they provided input about their expectations for future challenges or trends that could impact the work of administration and HR departments. These anticipated challenges and trends are presented in Exhibit 3. Exhibit 3: Anticipated Challenges and Trends for Airport Administration and HR Upcoming Changes & Trends Technology Changes As there are pressures to automate and improve workforce efficiency through the use of technology, there is a subsequent impact on the nature of Administration and HR departments. These technology changes both directly impact the jobs within Administration and HR for the types of technology that are incorporated, but also indirectly on how these departments interact with other occupations. For example, an indirect impact may be the greater introduction of biometrics technology. This may require Admin and HR personnel to be trained on the topic for general awareness or for assistance in providing various administrative or human resources functions. Skill Trends In line with the increased use of technology, the skill trends that airport executives predict include greater need for written and oral communication, technology skills, strategic planning, and data analytics. These are skills that airport executives are actively seeing an increased need for and impact in their departments. Additionally, these are skills in which they expect to be necessary to some degree at all levels.
11 Upcoming Changes & Trends Demographic Changes There is significant anticipation over demographic changes in the workforce and that impact on airports. Specifically, there is concern regarding the retirement rate and the subsequent loss of institutional knowledge and skillset. With the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, there will be increased pressure to ensure there is enough hiring taking place within the younger generations to ensure sustainability. Work Environment Changes With the demographic changes, there is the expectation that this will impact the work environment generally within airports. The younger generations have different expectations of technology, its usage, how it works, and how it is integrated within the work environment. There are also increased pressures from the younger generations for greater work-life balance and different expectations for flexible scheduling. New Laws/Regulations Administration and HR departments must continue to stay informed of and act in accordance any new laws, regulations, or legislation. For example, in California there was a recent law change that affected family leave and sick time. Customer Experience Focus Airports are facing increased pressure to be more focused on the customer experience. This is not just reflected in those occupations that are working directing with customers, but also those that serve in supporting roles. Airport Administration and HR Leader Focus Groups Focus groups were also conducted with airport administration and HR leaders from airports and airport authorities across the country to further understand airport administration and HR priorities and issues from the perspective of these leaders. These groups included a focus on topics that airport executives shared about, and served to confirm previous findings and provide additional context to the research gaps and needs for airport Administration and HR. Findings Based on the data gathered through the interviews with airport administration and HR leaders, seven key themes related to future research needs for airport administration and HR were identified. These themes align with previous findings from the literature review and executive interviews and are described in Exhibit 4. Exhibit 4: Key Findings from Leader Focus Groups Focus Group Themes Preparing for a Retiring Population Many Baby Boomers who have been working for decades in airports nationwide are currently eligible for retirement or will be eligible within the next several years. At some airports, this includes up to 30-40% of the current employees. Throughout their tenure, these employees have accumulated a wealth of valuable institutional knowledge and it is crucial that this knowledge be captured and transferred to remaining employees prior to their departure from the organization. Knowledge transfer was a
12 Focus Group Themes high priority among many administration and HR leaders across focus groups. In addition to the threat of losing institutional knowledge as a result of the large number of retiring staff, airports also face the challenge of finding new job candidates with the critical skills needed to fill vacated positions. Therefore, staffing job openings caused by retiring employees is a top priority. It is also important that the skills and competencies required for the positions are thoroughly documented to assist with the recruiting process. Working Within Respective Job Markets Although many airports have similar priorities and face comparable challenges, the contextual factors experienced by airports can be largely influenced by their respective job market or location. The characteristics of airports (e.g. geography, size, resource constraints) influence the priorities and challenges they face. Location can influence airport priorities and challenges through a variety of following contextual factors such as different demands from local customers, local business competition (e.g. other local organizations hire qualified talent), or the commute and local physical environment (e.g. inaccessibility of work location, distant parking options). Challenges with Recruitment Most of the focus group participants indicated challenges in recruiting for airport positions, either in general or for specific positions. Recruitment challenges focus on attracting top talent or those with appropriate qualifications, as well as meeting diversity initiatives. Several factors contribute to these challenges across airports, including limitations on compensation, location of airports, civil service recruitment limitations, and the airport work environment. Though many airports note that aviation is changing and the essential skills they are looking for in new hires to accommodate these changes include adaptability, flexibility, and critical thinking, the current airport environment is not attractive to individuals with these types of skills and conflicts with more experienced airport employee expectations. Additionally, due to the influx of technology in airports, the importance of retaining skills and traits such as communication, emotional intelligence, and an overall interest in the aviation industry are becoming more sought after in applicants. Difficulty with Retention Difficulty with retention, alongside recruitment obstacles, was often noted as being airport administration and HRâs top priority to address. Retention of current employees within airports has become problematic for a variety of reasons. Firstly, many employees, particularly in upper management, are approaching or currently are at retirement-eligible age. This wave of retirement causes a great loss of institutional knowledge and amplifies the need for retention of other employees to reduce hiring burden. Due to municipality rules, it can be challenging for a replacement employee to shadow and be trained by the retiring employee. This complicates succession planning efforts. Secondly, some factors influencing challenges with recruitment also contribute to challenges experienced in retaining current employees. Competitive private sector pay provides incentives for those that complete training or talent development initiatives in the airport industry to leave for other industries, airports, or city departments soon thereafter. Additionally, airports with a more traditional government structure often fail to match younger
13 Focus Group Themes employeesâ expectations and are perceived as an undesirable work environment in that they provide less flexibility in scheduling and are more demanding. New employees also may not be promoted as quickly as they expect and may therefore leave within the first two to three years. Expanded Training and Development Programs Training and development are both a challenge and a priority for airport administrative and HR leadership. Given the large portion of the workforce that is retiring or expected to retire soon, airports are working to hire a significant number of new employees. These employees require airport-specific on-the-job training, mentoring, job shadowing, and other learning opportunities that facilitate knowledge transfer to be prepared to replace individuals that are retiring. Training and development will continue to be important over the next five years, not only for new employees, but also to increase the IT and airport-specific knowledge of current employees. Airports need training and development programs to better appeal to younger generations that desire jobs with increased developmental opportunities. While airports recognize the current and continued importance of training and development programs, they also face a variety of challenges. Given that airports are a 24/7 operation, it is often difficult to accommodate the schedules of all employees, especially for in-person training events. In addition to finding ways to increase training and development opportunities for employees, some airports also face the challenge of developing employees, only to have them leave for other job opportunities with higher pay or better benefits after they have completed their training. Increased Use of Technology Focus group participants were very cognizant of the important role technology plays in todayâs airports, including how technology impacts administration and HR departments as well as airports as a whole. There are high expectations that technological innovations and the use of technology in airports will continue to increase over the coming years, and airport administration and HR leaders are focused on ways to plan for, and utilize, new technology to help improve how things are done within airports. New technology is actively changing the systems by which airports operate and is helping to make processes more efficient, such as hiring and onboarding and airport maintenance. The increased use of technology also has an impact on airport staff in a variety of departments, including HR, maintenance, and safety and security, who must have the appropriate knowledge and skills to work with these new systems and technology. In addition to ensuring staff are appropriately trained to work with new technology, airports located in competitive job markets may have difficulty competing with the private sector for skilled IT professionals. Greater Concern for Cybersecurity As more functions and features of administration and HR processes move to an electronic format and storage, cybersecurity becomes more crucial. Airports invest a large amount of resources into IT infrastructure, and this requires a similar emphasis on its security. New technology and
14 Focus Group Themes IT advancements bring value to the airport industry. Consequently, continued and increasing use of technology requires increasing levels of security, so that content contained within various IT systems (e.g., employee data) remains secure. Research Needs Assessment Using the information gathered through the literature review, interviews, and focus groups research ideas were developed to capture the gaps in current knowledge within airport Administration and HR. These research ideas were then incorporated into a short, online survey to screen identified research needs and identify those that are most applicable to the needs of various airports and can be implemented to assist with administration and HR issues. This survey asked a sample of airport management, human capital, training, and information management stakeholders to: ï§ Rate the importance of each topic to airport HR and Administration research (e.g., how important is it for research to be conducted on this topic in the context of airport HR and Administration?) ï§ Determine the relevant timeframe regarding when the research results will be most useful (e.g., is the research question more relevant now or at some point in the future) ï§ Identify additional innovative or important research topics that may be needed for airport Administration and HR within the next 5 years. Findings Using information gathered from the survey, the list of research ideas was prioritized and placed on a timeline. This prioritization also helped to help identify the research ideas that will fill important gaps in knowledge or practice and would provide the most benefit to the industry in the short-term (i.e., those that ACRP may want to focus on first). New and innovative research ideas were also incorporated into the overall research roadmap to ensure that it includes ideas that will help to move airport Administration and HR into the future.