Sam Sprules has over 14 years’ experience in aviation recruitment and is currently a director of AeroProfessional Limited.
In 2012, Sam decided to join two former colleagues who in 2004 set out to establish AeroProfessional. His initial mandate as business manager at AeroProfessional was to build a team that could deliver to existing strategies and manage daily operations.
His entrepreneurial spirit drove him to draw up a new list of objectives to establish additional competencies and service offerings to complement existing capabilities. As a result, in 2013, Sam was promoted to the board of directors.
Sam is now responsible for devising and implementing business strategy and coaching the growing AeroProfessional team to deliver key milestones and targets, focusing on catering to the demands of the industry and adding value, whether it be for internal or external purposes.
In the future, Sam wants to see AeroProfessional become the partner of choice for airlines and aviation organisations, and provide guidance with their people strategies.
What attracted you to the aviation recruitment industry?
A number of things – the dynamic nature of the industry and its ever-changing and -shifting landscape, the challenges it brings, and ultimately, the way it craves entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.
Which other executives in the industry do you admire and why?
There are the more obvious figures I find inspirational, such as Richard Branson and Warren Buffett. They encompass that same passion, drive and entrepreneurial flair that is so essential to be successful. Their own successes are also a testament to what can be achieved when you have the confidence and belief in what you are doing. However, I would also turn my gaze slightly closer to home and mention AeroPro’s own MD, Nick Trollope.
Over the years I have often seen his calmness in the face of adversity combine with his rational and creative approach to turn the greatest problem into a golden opportunity, a trait I greatly admire and try to instil in our entire team.
What does a typical day involve in your role?
It can vary quite dramatically. I may be supporting one of our skilled consultants with a particular client need, discussing live or future support projects with key stakeholders of an airline, or planning and building the route and logistical plan for a ferry flight.
My wider role as a director puts my focus firmly on devising and implementing short- and long-term business strategy, however, my daily goal is to ensure our team of consultants are well supported.
Their training and progression are paramount to both their individual development and the success of the business. We also strongly believe in an open-door policy to improve the working environment. Everybody is always busy, but it is paramount that there is good communication 24/7.
Airlines are aware of the current pilot skills shortage. How is this impacting the airline industry in general?
The increasing pilot shortage manifests itself in a number of ways, from grounding aircraft and flight cancellations – we saw this recently with Ryanair’s operation suffering greatly due to pilot numbers – to putting strain and restriction on growth.
The competition to recruit and retain qualified pilots is becoming more aggressive, often leaving the smaller airlines and operators subject to extensive ‘poaching’. Every year airlines plough thousands of pounds into recruiting, only to then see high attrition levels at the start of peak season by those airlines offering more lucrative contracts.
We are also beginning to see changes to recruitment strategy, with the widely accepted ‘self-sponsorship’ method giving way to airline-subsidised training programmes and cadet schemes. Where airlines have previously had their pick of qualified and experienced candidates, the labour market has turned. The task ahead is mountainous, with Boeing predicting that international aviation will require over 600,000 new pilots within 20 years.
Do you find there are specific recruitment processes or strategies that are specific to low cost carriers?
LCCs are always driven by efficiency, so we often see a lot of automation in place with their recruitment process. For example, the use of smart software to manage the process flow from point of application all the way through to employment.
Planning is often very meticulous, with manpower headcount identified well in advance, allowing recruitment campaigns to commence earlier each year so that they can stay ahead of the competition.
AeroProfessional attended the ERA General Assembly in Athens. What is your perception of the regional airline market in Europe in terms of recruitment?
At the General Assembly, we delivered a presentation about the pilot shortage and we are working with the ERA to produce a report specifically focused on how it is likely to affect the regional market and how it can be combated.
The report is in its embryonic stage and hopes to identify how regional carriers are perceived in the recruitment market, the factors affecting their positioning and what future strategies they could adopt. We hope to deliver this in 2018 but are still looking for additional input from operators in the regional market.
Historically in aviation recruitment, there has been a pecking order, which worked abundantly well for national flag carriers, but significantly less so for the regional carrier. National carriers were the airline of choice for passengers and pilots alike, however, carriers such as Norwegian and Ryanair have opened up a whole new market, making air travel much more accessible and affordable, which in turn has altered the attitude of the labour market.
Even though economic factors such as Brexit are making for a turbulent and unpredictable environment, the labour market currently has high bargaining power when it comes to job opportunities, and this doesn’t look like it’s set to slow.
As the industry continues to expand airlines will see booming demand, which will inevitably require an increase in qualified commercial pilots, as well as other key skill sets, such as engineers.
How can airlines prepare for the skills shortage and what is the biggest challenge in staffing airlines?
From a broader perspective, we need to harness the power of technology to maximise the levels of candidate reach and attraction in today’s globalised society. Reaching out to new demographics will be vital to plug the skills gaps.
Airlines are now finding that it is not enough to rely on brand identity to both attract and retain candidates. The next generation is looking beyond brand and salary to find more thrifty benefits, such as a progression and a work-life balance.
It is imperative that airlines adjust their strategies looking at the bigger picture to engage with the millennial generation as they will make up a significant percentage of the workforce.
Adjusting the packages on offer to accommodate deliverables such as development will be paramount, given that 65 per cent of millennials accepted their last job based upon this factor.
Equally, airlines need to adapt their attraction strategy to find these people, including a social media presence, website functionality, application process and so on.
What should prospective new pilots and crew be considered before attempting a career with the airlines?
Cost, timeline and career path. While the trend for training cost appears to be shifting back to the airlines, current cadet opportunities are still few and far between, so be prepared to invest in your own future is still reasonably essential in the current market.
Knowing how long it can take to reach every pilot’s ultimate goal of the left-hand seat or perhaps get onto bigger aircraft is also important. Have realistic expectations about the time it takes to build experience and seniority within an airline to achieve progression.
Plan your career, look at where the opportunities exist and whether they suit your own personal circumstances. There are fantastic openings available for people prepared to spend extended time overseas, particularly in Asia and the Far East, but it isn’t for everyone.
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