A recent column in the UK’s Daily Mail opens with this chilling image: “Just imagine a world in which, almost overnight, the transport system breaks down. Flights across the world are canceled, leaving thousands of travelers stranded far from home. Airports are crowded with mobs of angry, frightened people … For businesses across the Western world — hotels and restaurants, cafes and newsagents, garages and tour operators — this would be nothing short of a disaster. It would leave us poorer, more isolated, more introverted and more ignorant … It sounds like the stuff of some dystopian fantasy. In reality, it’s the story of what’s been happening over the past few weeks.”
For those fortunate enough to have enjoyed an era of reasonably cheap, widely-accessible travel over long distances, the prospect of enforced immobility feels deeply unsettling. What is modern life if we work so hard but aren’t able to visit family across the country or schedule a much-needed winter break in the tropics?
The disruption described in the Daily Mail has been particularly acute in Europe. Still, it’s ramping up in the US as we stare down the barrel of a summer of “revenge travel” following the pandemic. Like any market breakdown, it’s driven by multiple factors, but one phenomenon seems to be the chief culprit: During the pandemic, airlines and the government bodies that oversee their transportation infrastructure laid off staff due to anticipated drops in demand. Now that demand has roared back in the wake of vaccination and household bank accounts buoyed by stimulus money, airlines and airports haven’t been able to hire quickly enough to prevent staff shortages.
A tight labor market is part of the problem. A recent article in Reuters pointed out that aviation lost 2.3 million jobs globally during the pandemic, and many of those workers have been lured away from the industry by other, better-paying opportunities. One baggage handler mentioned in the piece that recruiting young people for airport roles was especially difficult, as they could just as easily work as cashiers for similar pay with less stress and responsibility.
It’s also worth noting that it can take up to five months to fill sensitive travel-industry jobs (not including pilots and their specialized training). Plainly, one obstacle standing in the way of smooth travel operations is the difficulty of hiring qualified candidates and the inefficiency of prolonged background checks.
In truth, staffing shortages will likely be an unavoidable challenge in certain industries for the foreseeable future. There currently aren’t enough teachers, nurses, restaurant workers or rideshare drivers to keep those businesses functioning as they should, and the inflation currently wreaking havoc around the world is one of the outcomes.
Businesses need to think creatively about hiring in this difficult environment. Some smart strategies:
Find creative ways to source talent. Beyond traditional ways of sourcing talent, there are now numerous online communities and new talent marketplace platforms where desired hires can be found. Also, previous candidates represent a rich source of potential talent — the timing simply wasn’t right at the time.
Make it easy for applicants to get through the processes. Due to the labor shortage, candidates often have more than one job opportunity available to them. They are not only looking for competitive compensation and benefits; they are also moving forward with employers who offer a more convenient onboarding experience. Ensure a smooth and friendly candidate experience to reduce drop-offs and make them more excited for their first day of work.
Support flexible shifts and hours. These days, workers are interested in more flexibility to meet the balance between work, family and personal demands. Consider offering flexible shift and location policies wherever possible, and highlight these as benefits in job descriptions and during the application and interviewing processes. An employer that caters to workers’ interests is going to win more often than those who don’t.
The labor market will eventually reach a new equilibrium, which should mollify some of the current inflation problems and snarled travel. Streamlining hiring practices so those essential roles can be filled more quickly should be an important part of the solution.