Omicron appears to be on the wane, and business aviation traffic is recovering from the dark days of the pandemic. What is endemic, however, are the challenges associated with recruiting talent to business aviation, including offering job candidates compensation packages that are competitive with those of the airlines.
“Many people are looking to reevaluate their career choices, and that means employers need to think about how they can become more attractive,” says Zoe Katsilis, Jet Aviation Staffing’s director of iRecruit Solutions.
“Candidates have more choices,” Katsilis continued, “so improving the hiring process by enhancing the interview experience, treating candidates like customers, and having a compelling brand story all play a role in positioning your company as an employer of choice.
“It’s critical that hiring managers work closely with their HR departments to educate them on the current aviation landscape.”
Zoe Katsilis Director of iRecruit Solutions, Jet Aviation Staffing
“Good talent will always be paid well, and smart employers recognize that fact,” added Katsilis, who says “it’s critical that hiring managers work closely with their HR departments to educate them on the current aviation landscape.”
Aviation salaries took a hit after the Great Recession, and some segments of the industry have been slow to acknowledge that significant pay increases may be required to retain talent, says Kali Hague, a partner at the Washington, DC-based law firm of Jetlaw, LLC. Hague’s practice includes advising operators on human resource matters.
“Tools like the NBAA Compensation Survey (the 2022 survey opened in March) are helpful for an HR department to determine what salaries and benefits will keep them competitive in the market,” she added.
One Company’s Approach
Cummins, Inc., a 60,000-employee global manufacturer, operates four jets based in Columbus, IN. Aviation Director Chris Raskob assumed leadership of the flight department in 2013. Since then, the flight department became part of Cummins’ Global Integrated Services unit – which also includes facilities, hospitality and security functions – which all are synergistic with aviation, says Raskob. “All four of those groups are about taking care of people.”
“I partner with our HR team to review compensation for my team periodically and compare it to the external market and apply necessary changes.”
Chris Raskob Aviation Director, Cummins, Inc.
Raskob believes it’s important to work closely with his company’s HR professionals when hiring aviation talent.
“I have a monthly one-on-one with my direct HR support person,” he said, in addition to working together with that person during Cummins’ annual compensation and benefits review process.
“I partner with our HR team to review compensation for my team periodically and compare it to the external market and apply necessary changes, guided by the corporate compensation philosophy and policies,” explained Raskob. “As a strong HR partner, our cross-functional work encourages a relationship of transparency and response.”
Quality of Life Important
Everyone in the business aviation community is aware that quality of life is increasingly important in today’s labor market.
“Companies must find their advantages beyond salary,” says Katsilis: “Benefits, work-life balance and inclusivity all play a role in attracting and keeping the best talent engaged. Benchmarking and regular reviews of policies relative to others in the industry are important to staying competitive.”
“There’s a push-pull,” says Jetlaw’s Hague, between salary and lifestyle considerations. “The number one complaint I hear is not about money, but not knowing what a schedule is going to be.”
“You can’t put one ahead of the other,” says Lee Blake, who manages Cummins’ Embraer ERJ-135 corporate shuttle. “I think it is fair to say we all seek ‘total rewards,’ which include having a great work environment and meaningful work, work-life balance, health and wellness, and last, but not least, compensation.”
The Cummins flight department – which now has 21 employees, with 14 pilots, including Raskob and Blake – has experienced significant changes in mission and demand throughout the pandemic. Despite these changes, the team has remained relatively stable. Over the past two years, they have had a turnover of just two people, one pilot and one technician, both of whom left the industry.
Cummins’ weekly shuttle flights and on-demand trips almost came to a standstill in the first half of 2020. Employees across Cummins in the U.S. experienced temporarily reduced hours (and temporarily reduced pay) during the early days of the pandemic; however, there were no Cummins flight department layoffs.
The company used its Embraer for on-demand flights (the larger aircraft allowed for greater distancing between passengers) and for stopgap cargo work to solve supply chain problems.
“An assembly line was going to shut down because they didn’t have enough parts to keep the line going,” Blake remembers. “We were able to rescue on several occasions.”
Now, says Raskob, “We’re almost back to where we were pre-pandemic [in terms of flying hours]. All signs are for continued engagement with Cummins customers and employees,” he says. And although the Cummins flight department isn’t hiring right now, candidate outreach continues.
Recruiting the Next Generation
Chris Raskob, the aviation director for Cummins Inc., and Lee Blake, who manages the company’s corporate shuttle, believe in the importance of reaching out to young people about business aviation’s career possibilities.
“Chris and I have been very deliberate for the past several years in trying to work with different universities, NBAA and our community to educate folks on the importance of recruiting in our industry,” said Blake. He describes the flight department’s outreach as “big-picture planning. The industry’s realized that this is much deeper than just the senior class at an aviation university.”
“Most eighth-graders or eight-year-old kids have no idea that companies own airplanes,” noted Blake. “Most college sophomores or juniors have no idea that you can go fly for a corporation. We’ve attended numerous career fairs at Purdue University (which is in West Lafayette, IN, about a two-hour drive from Columbus, IN, where Cummins is headquartered), and we’ve been guest speakers in many classrooms. The seed has to be planted.”
Kali Hague, a partner at the Washington, DC-based law firm of Jetlaw, LLC, agrees. The airlines, she says, are well organized, describing clear career paths to graduates. “That’s where business aviation can do a better job.” When she was completing her aviation degree at Kansas State University in 2010, “business aviation never visited our campus. It was a dream job, but the consensus among students was that a career in business aviation was only an option after you put in your time with the airlines.”
“It behooves the industry as a whole to try to act in unison and do things like campus visits all across the country and across the globe,” says Raskob. “If every Fortune 500 company flight department were to focus outreach efforts and education through more comprehensive channels, the impact would be huge.”
“Promoting the industry and educating students about business aviation opportunities needs to be at the forefront of our efforts,” declared Zoe Katsilis, director of iRecruit Solutions at Jet Aviation Staffing. “Organizations like NBAA and others in the industry play a vital role in promoting the many career paths in business aviation. Engaging with students and prospective aviation professionals is critical to developing and diversifying the workforce to ensure a robust pool of qualified, motivated candidates to keep the industry strong and growing.”