Desperately seeking staff: Paris Airshow lets jobless in for free
By Allison Lampert and Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) – Jean Blondin usually attends the world’s largest air show to find new contracts. This year, he has made the journey from Canada to look for something equally precious – workers.
Labour shortages are an urgent topic at this week’s Paris Airshow, with gaps in the workforce singled out as one of the main factors hampering a swift recovery from the pandemic.
On Friday, organisers opened a campaign to lure people back to aerospace, with unemployed people allowed in free. Among those with vacancies are a dozen firms from Quebec aiming to persuade French workers to join them on temporary work permits.
“We are all competing for the same people,” said Blondin, CEO of Montreal-based parts maker Abipa International.
French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne greeted young workers at a jobs fair held under the wings of the iconic Concorde jet.
“The idea is to show that there are job opportunities without necessarily having a very elevated or specific qualification,” Transport Minister Clement Beaune told Reuters.
“We also want to stress … that there are opportunities for young women. There are still too few in this industry.”
Fewer than 25% of French aerospace employees are female, with only 16% in production plants, according to industry data.
Silya Drouaz, 24, is a maintenance apprentice at Air France Industries, one of a small proportion of women working in the giant hangars at Charles de Gaulle airport.
“It is never the same thing, there is always something new to learn; I am working on Boeing 777s,” she told Reuters.
Her message to female candidates at the fair: “You mustn’t be afraid of stereotypes; if you want to do it, go for it”.
French President Emmanuel Macron has made an initiative to reindustrialise France a key theme of his second term with a focus on energy transition, calling it the “mother of battles”.
WAR FOR TALENT
After years of declining enthusiasm for industry among the young, aerospace executives say their luminous, hospital-clean factories are a far cry from the popular image of industry.
“Look at our factories, how they are,” industrialist Patrick Daher said, pointing to digital screens and high-tech displays.
“We are trying to motivate young people; it is no longer the 19th century, far from it. We are in a very digital world.”
Recruitment signs dotted company stands, with engine maker Safran advertising “12,000 jobs available.” Overall, French aerospace firms aim to hire 25,000 people this year.
After departures, that means a net increase of 9,000, said Philippe Dujarric, social affairs director at GIFAS aerospace association. In Quebec, aerospace needs 38,000 people by 2030.
It’s a salvo in a broader war for talent as aerospace companies compete not only against each other but also against fast-growing industries such as electric vehicles.
It’s also a dramatic turnaround from 2020 when the global sector laid off or furloughed hundreds of thousands of people.
While most would usually have returned to a sector known for cyclical swings, this time many did not, executives said.
Repair shops were especially hard hit as planes were grounded. Now that part of the industry is a major bottleneck, worsened by shortfalls in the durability of some engines.
Hiring is not the end of the story.
The loss of experience as the industry halted, followed by a wave of retirements, has reset the “learning curve”, driving up costs which only come down as workers adapt to their tasks.
All this is happening as commercial aerospace faces its fastest ever production ramp-up to meet a recovery in travel demand, backed by orders worth eight years of production.
“If you don’t invest, if you don’t prepare the educational training of these people, one day you are going to face a real lack of competencies,” said Thierry Baril, Chief Human Resources Officer at Airbus, which is stepping up training programmes.
For Canada’s Abipa, travelling abroad to hire has become a necessity after postings failed to generate enough applications.
Blondin said a common language, French, and a lower cost of living in Quebec are helping attract French workers.
“We don’t have to convince them. They want to come.”
(Reporting By Allison Lampert and Tim Hepher in Paris; editing by David Evans)
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