Research Projects

Staffing Composition for Airports: What We Need to Survive and Thrive In Reserve

Many airports are facing very difficult futures, especially HUB airports, in light of COVID and other funding challenges. These airports will need to learn to "do more with less" and respond rapidly to the changes faced or risk losing their foothold. ACRP project 06-04 (Report 186) and current project ACRP 06-06 highlight the new job demands and technological changes already requiring a new business approach and skills prior to the onset of the pandemic and the job challenges and skill needs created by it. Airports would benefit greatly from being strategic and intentional about how jobs are consolidated, where training resources are dedicated, and how staffing is allocated in the face of such challenges. This research would point to best practices that guide such crucial decisions.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

In the midst of trying times for airports where airports need to be as lean and agile as possible, airports must consider the staffing composition required to ensure continuity of operations and prevent further loss. Studies like ACRP 06-04 (Web-Only Document 28 and Published Report 186) identified mission-critical jobs that are necessary to fill to achieve performance, safety, and other operational goals. Further, ACRP Report 186 also documents how airports are increasingly adopting new technologies which are likely to impact every airport job and may result in the replace of traditional jobs with new job roles. The other important side of this equation, which has yet to be fully explored, is what composition of talent (e.g., capacity and packaging of skills) will be essential to respond to these changes.

The following practical guidance will be in great need for airports as they work to diversify revenue streams, improve performance, right size their organizations, and frankly, work to survive unprecedented fiscal impacts to their business. Example areas for valuable staffing guidance include:

1. Processes for conducting workforce planning and staffing analysis based on work demands/workload that will inform essential HR decisions;

2. Means of examining traditional jobs to determine where technologies will alter the inherent skills requirements of the jobs;

3. Effective techniques for designing jobs to achieve maximum operational efficiency with limited resources;

4. Approaches to broadening the skill set of workers to allow for shared or cross-functional job roles (e.g., administrative staff become snow plow operators in the winter season); and

5. Best practices for identifying high potentials (practices that promote a diverse and inclusion workforce).

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The end product would be a practical guidebook that outlines strategies and action plans for conducting workforce planning and staffing analysis based on workload and work demands, examines the skill sets required to perform traditional jobs differently (in light of resource consolidation), effective techniques and practices to design jobs for more efficiency, steps to increase skill repertoire of workers, and strategies for identifying and developing the next generate of high potential leaders. The guidebook will also include toolkits, resources, matrices, and checklists to aid airport leaders in implementing strategies.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

The steps would include:

1.) gathering scientific research on best practices around workforce planning, cross-functional training, and job design as well as trades/industry literature and press on the changes airports are facing operationally and staffing-wise.

2.) conduct data collections with airport leaders (focus groups for broad understanding; interviews for deeper dives)

3.) provide summary analysis of key findings (in terms of industry needs and approaches to tackle these needs)

4.) outline best practices and strategies to address the critical needs

5.) develop a user-friendly guidebook and supporting materials to promote dissemination and implementation by airport leaders.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

$450,000. This estimated was determined based on numerous previous ACRP projects that reviewed workforce needs for the industry. To design helpful strategies and tools that will result in implementation by end users, resources are required to properly gather data from industry stakeholders, develop the resulting action plans and overall guidebook, engage airports leaders to support implementation of the guidebook, and create tools and communication materials to guide use of the strategies developed.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

ACRP 06-04 identified mission critical jobs; ACRP 06-06 is working to develop a playbook on talent management. While these two projects point to important research on jobs in high demand and strategies to recruit, develop and retain workers for those jobs, these studies have not addressed the planning that will be required to determine how to function with a smaller workforce in light of challenges related to significant revenue reductions (i.e., limited resources to staff jobs), reduced interest in trades professions that impact the ability for airports to fill critical jobs, and the "right sizing" decisions some airports will inevitably be making.

Idea No. 475