Staffing Challenges Remain Front and Center for Safe Operations – What’s Your Plan B?
While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic ripple through the aviation community and the global supply chain, one requirement remains critical to our full recovery—maintaining appropriate staffing levels of qualified employees. There’s no need, at this time, to attempt to hash out why we’ve lost qualified, competent employees. The reasons will become apparent when history writes the global response to a worldwide pandemic. For now, we are focused on providing pre-COVID service levels in the face of a tidal wave of demand.
You can’t miss it as it’s everywhere. From your local restaurant with reduced hours and long waits for tables, to empty store shelves as the supply chain attempts to catch up only to be snarled by a lack of truckers, to the recent global snag of airlines canceling flights due to a myriad of reasons, but primarily staffing shortages—pilots, cabin crew, ground workers, airport staff, etc.
The aviation community’s fixed-base operator (FBO) segment has been equally hard hit as CEOs, HR professionals and managers scramble to fill slots vacated by workers displaced or laid off at the height of the pandemic. Those displaced found opportunities elsewhere, possibly with more flexible hours and other/better employment perks. The path forward has been challenging for FBOs attempting to fill those vacant slots and return to adequate service levels.
One of the looming impediments to successfully regaining pre-pandemic service levels is the dichotomy between budgeted and qualified staff. Just putting bodies in slots to fill budgeted staffing buckets does little to promote excellence and integrity in the fulfillment of operations. Finding qualified, competent staff for those positions that affect the safety and security of an operation, and who are willing to work—yes, willing to work—has been the industry’s most noticeable challenge.
Pairing a new trainer with a room full of equally new employees that have little or no aviation experience, and having the learners click through CBTs with little or no fundamental understanding of what this all means, is a recipe for disaster. Can it happen? Of course, it can. Is it happening? Absolutely!
Management of Change
For organizations that voluntarily adopted the Safety Management System (SMS) approach to managing safety, within the structure of the Safety Risk Management and Safety Assurance elements is the need to recognize potential hazards and their impact on the organization. Likewise, any significant change and how it may impact the organization’s safety performance is equally subject to heightened scrutiny. Enter the Risk Assessment and Management of Change. “Management of Change” is designed to identify both internal and external changes that may introduce hazards into our operations or affect current safety risk mitigation processes.
Departmental and senior managers responsible for safety-critical processes should be monitoring them for any change to the processes or external factors that may affect them. In the event of a change, a review should be performed and documented as to whether a risk assessment is necessary. It is always desirable to identify potential hazards, threats or changes that may impact the organization as quickly as possible. This desired result comes with experience and a defined methodology, usually and most concisely scripted within the organization’s SMS.
Seasoned FBO executives understand as rule No 1 that cross-utilization of labor is fundamental to the success of an FBO particularly one hoping to meet its financial targets. Savvy leaders already have built succession plans into their operations, encouraged growth from within, provided advanced learning beyond the stare and click of CBT training and paid employees a fair wage. By doing these things, those leaders were able to retain their most seasoned, experienced and qualified managers, supervisors, leads and front-line workers. And when faced with vacancies, they took a multi-faceted approach consisting of training, focused OJT and testing to develop new talent.
Equally important is the need to revisit SOPs with a risk-based approach to staffing levels and staff utilization. This goes hand-in-hand with a training needs assessment focused on those core elements required to ensure competency for a safe, secure and consistent operation. Gone are the etched-in-stone, prescriptive rules such as where a wing-walker must be located and how many must be assigned to every aircraft movement.
Gone, too, are the days of regurgitating lengthy SOP steps without understanding the risk impact of each step and its significance to the overall integrity of the operation. Is it because, well, it’s always been that way?
While based on good intentions, “We’ve always done it this way” remains a killer phrase and is subject to immediate scrutiny. The aviation business has changed. Today, we are equipped with more advanced equipment, enhanced training and greater awareness of the operational environment. We lack the ability to properly pair the employee to the available tools and dynamic work environment.
You may be asking, “Why?” The answer is that leaders, managers and supervisors have to do their respective jobs and actively manage the resources entrusted to them by designing a work environment that matches the business’s dynamic nature.
Like revisiting SOPs, how you onboard and “step” train employees to successfully evolve within your organization is a sign of an engaged leader.
AvMaSSI provides safety, security and operational integrity evaluations, consulting and auditing to airlines, airports, charter and corporate operators, OEMs, marine operators, seaports, governments, international agencies and financial institutions the world over. AvMaSSI provides IS-BAO and IS-BAH preparation and audit services and supports Global Aerospace and its SM4 and Vista Elite Programs with focused safety/SMS, security, regulatory compliance and IS-BAO auditing services. AvMaSSI is a proud member of the Global Aerospace SM4 partnership program.
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We are often asked, “What are the greatest factors in an aviation operation that influence attraction, retention and operational safety?” Without a doubt, the most frequent response we get when talking one-on-one with hundreds of aviation professionals is quality of life. Then, company leadership commonly asks us, “What has the greatest impact on quality of life for those in an aviation organization?”
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