Airlines may be approaching a perfect storm for disruption of their workforces. As low fuel costs have enabled a trend of profitability, companies finally have the funds to invest in customer-facing and infrastructure technologies that equip them to keep pace with rising customer demand for personalized services. However, adopting these new technologies has an impact on the roles and responsibilities, skill requirements and work practices of airline employees. Is today’s workforce—and leadership—ready for it?
Making the right bets
When airlines take pragmatic steps to invest in digital ways of working, it can drive productivity, capability and agility for profitable long-term growth. Accenture research estimates that companies fully committing to AI and investing in human-machine collaboration could boost business revenue by 38 percent in the next five years.1 Additionally, when digital automates tasks, it frees workers to focus on delivering value in ways that can differentiate an airline.
Top leaders understand the win-win that technology affords. Employees benefit from more value-focused work and travelers benefit from better customer service practices. Yet many airline employees below the senior leaders resist that change. Mid-level and functional managers—such as department heads and business unit managers—are invested in the past. They haven’t fully embraced the idea that digital can drive profitability and efficiency. People who are stuck in “business as usual” don’t want to spend the money on technology; they’d rather save it for the next possible downturn for the industry.
To keep pace in a highly competitive environment, leaders at all levels of an airline must think about how technology can empower the future workforce to improve efficiency, productivity and the employee and customer experience. Until now, technology improvements in the airline industry have been focused on augmenting how employees do their work. For instance, giving iPads to flight attendants to process transactions or to gate agents to provide information to customers. Truly transformative technology will not just augment how people do work; it will change what employees do.
Consider the power of analytics. When technology can process data and deliver real-time updates about a flight delay, airline personnel can spend more time helping customers to quickly rebook a flight or change their itinerary. Recently, Transavia worked with Accenture to build a platform that connects data, customers, employees and business partners. Now, employees can rely on digital and cloud technologies to help increase the value of every customer interaction.
Shaping the future work and workforce
As technology does more, people can do more—potentially taking on tasks that may require new skillsets. For example, airlines may find they need more people to focus on innovation, data scientists to run analytics or skilled IT workers who can help design new infrastructure and systems. Airlines will need to consider how, when or if they can reskill those already on the team. Or do they need to reach outside the four walls of the business to access a deeper pool of talent?
This is an industry that has extensive collective bargaining agreements in place. Any changes to the scope of work activities for employees covered by these agreements will be accomplished through a management and labor partnership.
All systems goThe airline C-suite is increasingly recognizing their workforce as a competitive advantage that digital technologies can further enhance. But they cannot transform their organizations alone. In partnership with HR and leaders across the organization, they can identify the talent they need for the airline of the future and the structures and processes critical to making that transformation happen.
1 Accenture, “Reworking the Revolution,” https://www.accenture.com/us-en/company-reworking-the-revolution-future-workforce