IATA expecting significant growth in aviation jobs, but the challenges lie in talent acquisition, training and retention


The aviation industry continues to evolve rapidly on multiple fronts. As it does, the demand for talent within the industry will also evolve. But what does the future demand for talent look like, and how well prepared is the industry to conquer upcoming challenges?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published the results of a global survey of human resources professionals in the aviation industry, highlighting key challenges in talent acquisition, training and retention.


  • IATA has surveyed 100 HR professionals in the aviation industry.
  • ‘Significant growth’ is forecast, with the majority consisting of ground operations, customer service and cabin crew.
  • Recruitment and retention are bigger issues than retirement.
  • Customer service roles will become arguably more important as technology continues to contribute.

Based on a survey of over 100 leading industry HR professionals at airlines, airports and ground service providers, IATA’s report lists five key points for consideration:

Aviation jobs globally are expected to grow ‘significantly’

 Staff numbers in the industry are set to soar both in the short and the long term, driven by a strong increase in passenger numbers. While job growth and demand is dependent upon a wide myriad of interlinked factors, which can differ depending on the exact job role in question, the growing number of passengers is the one consistent driver of progression across all job areas.

Three positions have emerged as having the highest anticipated growth in demand: ground operations, customer service and cabin crew.

Over the next 20 years, IATA has forecast a near doubling of the number of passengers flying today, i.e., an additional 3.8 billion, as explored in earlier Blue Swan reports.

Finding new talent is a much bigger challenge than dealing with retirements

From the opinions of HR professionals in the industry, 48% say that recruitment is the biggest challenge they face, compared to just 5% saying retirement. Specifically, the biggest recruitment challenges are: the availability of applicants with the right skill levels and qualifications, and the salary demands of new applicants.

With recruitment already a major challenge, strong retention of talent (quoted as the biggest challenge by 25%) will be vital to prevent this from becoming further heightened.

Current training initiatives are not effective enough

In addition to their salary, job applicants prioritize training and career development opportunities as most important. However, HR professionals do not think the aviation industry is sufficiently meeting this demand.

In particular, the quality of training programmes is not considered to be good enough: only 28% of HR professionals say that current training is very effective. Many organisations report that they will be looking for increased help from external partners to improve the effectiveness of training.

Providing training in safety and customer service skills has higher priority than IT and digital skills

As basic digital skills become commonplace in the market, twice as many HR professionals say that safety and customer service skills are priorities for training and development compared to IT and digital skills.

Technology is changing, not replacing, the customer service role

With self-service options on the rise, the traditional customer service roles of check-in and gate agents will evolve and remain an integral part of the industry as organisations seek to deliver a smooth, hassle-free and enjoyable experience throughout the entire passenger journey.

Again based on the views of HR professionals in the survey, 68% expect the greater use of customer self-service options on passenger mobile phones to reduce demand for customer service workforces. In that group, 59% say the same for in-airport self-service options.

Given this rise of automation and self-service, how is it that customer service roles overall are set to increase in number? The answer is that the rise of self-service and automation isn’t eliminating customer service roles, rather it is changing the job description – arguably making it more important than it has been historically, according to IATA.

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