Educating air cargo’s future leaders
Dave Brooks. Ram Menen. Both leaders were mainstays in the air cargo arena — Brooks, former head of American Airlines’ cargo operations, and Menen, the long-time cargo boss at Emirates Air Line who shepherded the cargo program from its infancy. Brooks retired in 2012, and Menen followed shortly thereafter, settling into retirement in Luxembourg last year.
Since Brooks left American, the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier has seen two more cargo heads surface among its ranks. Emirates, on the other hand, has been more steady; after a search among internal and external candidates, the carrier picked Nabil Sultan, who worked at Dubai-based Emirates for two decades, as Menen’s replacement.
These high-profile industry retirements were front-page news, but many more air cargo executives, who have enjoyed lengthy tenures in their positions, are approaching the finish line of their careers. This coming deluge of retirements, coupled with a projected air cargo growth in the developing world and apparent lack of next-generation executives to take up the cause, has led to a leadership crisis in the industry.
It’s with this reality that the International Air Cargo Association took a microscope to the issue of future cargo leadership. TIACA has been assisted by representatives from the International Air Transport Association, International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations and International Civil Aviation Organization in a new effort to make next-generation air cargo education an industry-wide focus.
These organizations point to the development of executive education courses that highlight the non-technical aspects of air cargo leadership as a solution to a growing problem. Specifically, these classes will emphasize market analysis and forecasting, management based on big data, advanced team leadership, proper presentation technique, business ethics, and successful hiring practices, the groups said. To regulate the classes, the industry will create certificates that enforce executive educational standards, as well as represent globally accepted proof of completion in accredited programs.
Formed in May 2011, the Air Cargo Industry Education and Training Task Force, which started collecting data on employees recently hired in the industry, noting the age, experience, amount of in-house training given to the employee, and retention rates across airlines, ground handlers, freight forwarders and other industry players. After the task force finished the study, it created a base-level of competencies for each air cargo executive position.
The goal? Identify what these new employees require from training to become the industry’s leaders of tomorrow. The groups involved in this leadership training pledged to create a “two-part matrix that identifies minimum required competencies with job positions within the worldwide air cargo logistics industry and the identification of existing sources of educational and training resources,” according to the report.
“The task force intends that the two-part matrix will become a source document for interested parties to develop educational and training programs that will fill un-met needs for the members and their staff of the worldwide air cargo logistics industry,” the report added.
No doubt this issue has festered in the background of the industry for years. For the air cargo business, executives “increasingly recognize that the industry may face a shortfall of managers who can continue the growth and development of this vital sector of the worldwide logistics industry,” the task force’s report said.
The leaders of tomorrow must have air cargo knowledge and skills, as well as proper management capabilities. While the task force’s research found there are a number of programs aimed at the operational side of the business, it admitted air cargo education courses are far and few between.
“The overwhelming majority of programs for the air cargo industry can be labeled as ‘training,’” the report said. “The focus of these programs is on instruction in specific aspects of air cargo operations such as accepting cargo, preparing documents, and handling dangerous goods. With few exceptions, the ‘soft skills’ required by rising managers are unavailable within an exclusively or focused air cargo and related logistics operating environment.”
The report emphasized on-the-job technical training is not enough to sustain future air cargo leaders and more focus needs to be on executive-level skills.
“Without access to such programs, the air cargo industry faces the possibility of finding it difficult to attract the required talent to guide the industry through the challenges of the future,” the report said. It added that a lack of air cargo-specific programs could lead to the potential of the industry’s executives moving to other logistics fields due to the lack of available training.
Industry officials believe that executive leadership training can’t come soon enough, especially with the worldwide air cargo industry seemingly re-entering expansion mode. Boeing in its 2012-2013 forecast predicted air cargo activity will double over the next two decades. According to IATA’s most recent figures, demand in the air cargo industry inched up 1.4 percent in 2013 when compared to 2012. That increase is nothing to trumpet, but the fact that air cargo activity accelerated during the last half of the year to make up for the poor start to 2013 is worth noting. Speaking with industry insiders recently about their impressions for the coming year, the consensus seems to be that air cargo improvement is near.
ICAO and the other three organizations said they have vested interest in the task force’s report and will provide their thorough feedback in the months ahead.
“A series of next steps will be considered including the creation of focused courses as part of a comprehensive program addressing the needs of the next-generation of worldwide air cargo industry managers and leaders,” according to a joint statement.