What Delta Air Lines is doing to address talent gaps 

What Delta Air Lines is doing to address talent gaps  was originally published on College Recruiter.

When Delta Air Lines looks into the future, they see a shortage of talent in a particular area. That is, they know many pilots will be retiring and there aren’t enough new pilots in the pipeline to replace them. Filling mechanic roles is also an area where Delta predicts a talent shortage. We spoke with John Patrick, who is Senior Manager of Academic Strategy at Delta. He told us more about how they are responding to this talent gap with unique recruiting and branding strategies.

The talent gaps present at Delta

The talent gaps present for Delta are unique to the industry. The gap for this industry is an impending crisis not an immediate one. Patrick explains that in the past ten to fifteen years, the industry has had its difficulties. “There wasn’t a lot of hiring going on,” Patrick states.

This lack of hiring led to the talent gap that is on the will eventually create a problem for the industry. While the current specialized workers (e.g. pilots, maintenance technicians, and airfield operations specialists) were aging and moving through the ranks, no one was hired to fill in those positions.

Nowadays, you do see mechanics retiring later, however, pilots have a mandatory retirement age. Patrick emphasizes that, “Right now, we have plenty of amazing talent in the market. We can look at the numbers and know that we’re good right now.”

The pressing issue in five years is that the number of retirees will be more than the amount of available talent. Then, five years later, the numbers will continue to drop, and there simply won’t be enough talent with the right qualifications to fill those positions.

Currently many students hold the idea that they have to go the university route to have a great career. They go to university regardless of whether or not they know what they want to do. “It’s just an idea that has been ingrained in the high school culture recently,” Patrick says.

Then there is also the issue of cost. With the ever-rising cost of attending a university, many have a hard time accessing higher education in general. Very few students think about getting a certification. Delta and other companies in the industry have the job of making that higher education and certification more available and desirable to students.

There seems to be a disinterest in aviation which Patrick thinks stems from the combination of unawareness and misperception. He specifies that the earning potential six years out of high school in an aviation trade is much higher than the potential two years out of a four-year degree.

People who didn’t grow up around anyone involved in aviation, most likely know very little about the benefits these jobs have. Most of the professions pay very well, have very low attrition rates, and a phenomenal career path. They also offer many high tech jobs that use extremely innovative technology.


How Delta is using employer branding to target Gen Z

Marketing teams need to do a better job at bringing about awareness of the advantages of these careers. However, it is a hard task. The idea that going to mechanical school will mean you’ll work at an oil change has been hammered home with many young adults.

Delta is focused now on expanding their employer brand in order to fill their pipeline. One way they are accomplishing this is by personally going out and working with youth, at both the middle school and high school level.

Last summer Delta visited over a hundred different programs at schools across the country. They came up with a list of around 40 schools and then prioritized them based upon Delta’s expectations of its return on investment from each school. Patrick remarks, “Some schools that didn’t make the list even came back and said to Delta, ‘Let us make some adjustments, we have to get on this list.’”

After creating this list, Delta kept relationships with those schools and assisted them in filling up the aviation classes. Using their brand, Delta was not only able to fill up the classes, but their pipeline as well. As students go to class, they’re walking under Delta banners, passing posters, and putting stickers on their laptops.

Emphasizing the travel benefits is a large branding strategy used by Delta and other airlines. The ability to see the world is something that draws many people into the industry. While interning with Delta, students receive free flight benefits. Patrick explains that when student go back to campus in the fall and say ‘I visited 15 different countries this summer,’ that right there does is a lot of their branding.

Other strategies Delta is using are video series and virtual reality. Patrick illustrates how virtual reality can impact students, “A guidance counselor in one of our schools could have a Delta cardboard virtual reality headset and, with our app, any students wondering about careers can pop it on. All of a sudden they are in the Delta hanger.”


How Delta builds beneficial authentic relationships with youth

Delta holds presentations at select schools across the nation. However, it is impossible for any company to meet with every single high school in the nation, so Delta focuses mainly on its local community. They have relationships with junior achievement and YMCA. They are able to leverage their relationships through their community engagement.

Bring-your-kid-to-work day is always a good way to show the reality of the industry to students. The goal is to get them excited about the opportunities available to them. Patrick details, “A bunch of students come in, and we are able to show them specific areas where there is a great need for fresh talent.”

Patrick recommends that employers send recruiting teams to help with internship programs. Get boots on the ground and leverage the relationships that give you that scale. Delta has historically robust co-op and internship programs. These programs allow college level students to experience the jobs of maintenance technicians or pilots, before they actually are hired for them.


How Delta ensures their talent pipeline is diverse

Diversity is very important to Delta. They have stand-alone positions within talent acquisition to focus on diversity recruiting. This diversity and inclusion team meets weekly with leadership to ensure their academic strategy and partnerships are inclusionary.

On the academic side, Delta ensures its presence at big national career fairs with some of the better-known diversity organizations. Participation in student clubs and diversity organizations on campuses is an important aspect of Delta’s inclusionary recruitment strategy. According to Patrick, airports located in large cities gives Delta a great opportunity for community engagement and mentorship.

Not only does Delta focus greatly on diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, and age – but they also make a large effort to bring in people from many different regions. Patrick emphasizes, “We don’t just bring in people from schools in our own backyard, but from ones across the nation.”

It’s a good idea for large corporations to use internal resource groups in order to find out where their talent is coming from. You can also leverage your alumni and faculty network. Give them some company merchandise for when they go back to school for homecoming.


How Delta utilizes co-ops to prepare the future workforce

Many employers are building apprentice programs. These programs differ from internships in that they tend to be longer and involve more hands-on training. Apprentices focus on building skills that a particular employer needs, as opposed to interns who supplement their education with professional experience.

“If a student has never touched an airplane engine, regardless of their GPA,” Patrick says, “they’re not going to be very productive.”

A 10- or 12-week internship doesn’t do much in this field. The multiple rotation nature of Delta’s co-op programs mimics that of an apprenticeship. The second rotation of the program is very hands-on and gets students to really crank through things. By the third or fourth rotation, they look like full-time employees. They’re doing the work on their own and they’ve built up the confidence they need to do it well.

By College Recruiter
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