A Need for Generational Diversity Within the BHS Industry
by Cassandra McAllister
With workforce demographics shifting and global markets emerging, workplace diversity is more necessary than ever. Not only does it foster mutual respect, it also exposes employees to different cultures, backgrounds and work styles. In the first post of our diversity series, Cassandra McAllister—Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the North American Division of Daifuku Airport Technologies—discusses the importance of a multi-generational workforce, and the value age diversity has on our industry.
Anyone who has ever attended a trade show, industry event or association meeting within the baggage handling industry will probably have observed a common thread. It is something I noticed while attending my first company-wide meeting shortly after beginning my career. I instantly stood out. In a room of 45 industry professionals, I was the only female and one of the few attendees under the age of 40.
I was amazed by the knowledge and talent of the men who surrounded me in that meeting. Their experience was undeniably impressive. Many of them have been in the industry for decades—working in various BHS roles, running the gamut of engineering, project management, sales, and construction. I quickly learned that I had joined an incredibly dynamic field. No two individuals had taken the same path. Many began their career in one role and—through a series of lateral moves, promotions and career changes—ended up in wholly different positions within our vast and multidisciplinary industry.
Despite the value those adepts bring to the table, the baggage handling systems industry seriously lacks age diversity. This is going to be a problem in the not-so-distant future, as many of our leaders are approaching retirement.
Millennials—members of the generation born between 1981 and the mid-to-late 1990s—are particularly scarce. This should be a surprise, given that they comprise one-third of the total US population, making them our largest age class. Even though they represent the country’s most diverse and educated generation, many struggled to find a place in the labor market. This is because they started their careers during and in the aftermath of the second-worst economic downturn in history—The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.
In contrast, many BHS veterans began their careers right out of college and have remained in the industry. However, the recession took a massive toll on our industry and stunted that trend. With families struggling financially, there was no extra money to spend on leisure travel. This directly affected airports and airlines, who responded by opting out of bagging handling system upgrades and building new terminals—cutting off work for BHS companies. In turn, that led to a slowdown in recruiting college graduates, which stayed slow until the aviation industry bounded back years later.
The recession also led to other additional employment barriers for millennials. Industry veterans were forced to postpone retirement for their own financial reasons. Out of necessity, millennials had to look for employment in other industries. It’s now been long enough since The Great Recession that the barriers are back down. And while the even younger Gen-Z generation has benefitted from the rebound in recent years—filling entry-level roles—an age gap still exists between them and the veterans. The need to fill that void is now an imminent concern.
I recently attended a presentation at a conference with over 300 BHS professionals from a variety of organizations across the industry. The speaker asked audience members to stand if they were planning to retire within the next year. Many stood. The speaker then broadened the request in two-to-three-year increments, all the way up to ten years. By the end, the majority of the room was on their feet. The speaker then got everyone standing to sit, and asked for attendees under the age of 35 to stand. The difference between the two groups was drastic, but not unexpected. It is well known that the industry suffers from a dearth of young professionals. This isn’t to say that only millennials should make up the BHS industry, but it does present the simple fact that someone must take the place of our aging workforce demographics—and soon.
That speaker demonstrated how, over the next few years, the BHS industry is going to lose a significant portion of its workforce to retirement. The lesson is that a tremendous amount of working knowledge will go away with them unless we actively recruit young professionals and related-industry specialists to take the reins. This also presents a unique opportunity for the most capable, younger professionals to rise more quickly in the profession than their peers.
The aviation industry is at the forefront of innovation. With air traffic expected to double within the next ten years, we need a fresh, inventive and technologically-savvy workforce. The most robust resource pool for individuals with that outlook and skill-set is millennials. They are more connected to technology than any preceding generation—they had had it at their fingertips since grade-school. For them, constant groundbreaking advancement in personal devices and modes of communication have been a natural part of growing up. These days, technology can change the world in an instant. Millennials don’t just understand and accept that—they appreciate it. In this age of digital transformation and growth for airports and airlines—and now that most millennials have 5-15 years of professional experience—what better group could we ask for to drive advancement in the industry?
With today’s experience professionals working later in life, there is a perfect—but temporary—opportunity to share knowledge across generations. A new paradigm must be established—one that values the fresh mindsets and work styles as much as established knowledge and experience. Specifically in the BHS industry, an airport or airline representative might only have one large BHS project in their whole career, with more than two being extremely rare for most individuals. The lessons learned must be passed on to the younger generations so that they can be applied in the future. This will enable growth and advance the whole industry. At the same time, new industry professionals must create novel applications for the existing workforce’s well-earned knowledge.
Any organization seeking stability and success must focus on creating a diverse work environment. Putting different groups of people together, including gender, ethnicity, age, and the many other forms of diversity increases creativity and is integral to an optimal environment. By facilitating a greater capacity for innovation and a continuity of knowledge, we can sustain and improve the industry—for generations to come.
About the Author:
Cassandra McAllister is responsible for Marketing and Communications for the North American Division of Daifuku Airport Technologies. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in Public Relations and Advertising. Over the past few years, she has thoroughly enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the aviation industry.
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