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As a part of the research, a qualitative exploratory research design is going to be conducted. The purpose of the qualitative exploratory study is to find out, what are the necessary assets, skills, competencies and knowledge required for establishing a functioning strategic workforce planning process in an airline company. Based on the research question - as a next step – it will be illuminated what are the specific obstacles, challenges as well as success factors and conditions needed for successful implementation of a strategic workforce planning process.

3.1. Research Description

As a qualitative exploratory research - this master thesis is going to pursue a semi-structured expert interview method. This research method provides the interviewee with a set of already given interview questions and topics to be covered, which can be followed either by their order or by the interview flow and it is the interviewer's responsibility to assure all interview questions are being answered. “The use of semi-structured interviews also allows the researcher to ‘probe' for more detailed responses where the respondent is asked to clarify what they have said.” (Grey, 2009)

All interviews are recorded with a recording machine and afterwards put into a written form. The end parts of the interview that do not correlate with the interviewed subject are deleted and noted in interview transcripts accordingly. All interviews are done and transcribed by the author herself. The expert interviews transcripts are precisely and content unchanged transcribed, though do not include any observations and comments of the author. None of the interview content has been changed in the interview transcripts. In few cases, as some interviews were conducted in German language, the grammar and sentence structure have been aligned.

All transcribed interviews will be first evaluated by the author. The evaluation will be done based on what seems to be the specific obstacles, challenges as well as success factors and conditions to the author and then compared to the literature.

In the next step, all labeling results will be presented by using Philipp Mayring's Qualitative content analysis. The qualitative content analysis is a qualitative data content analysis achieved by using different types of techniques for systematic text. This analysis is capable of preserving the advantages of quantitative content analysis and to transfer and further develop this into qualitatively interpretative steps of analysis. Thus the object of the content analysis can be all kinds of recorded communication from the interview. Meaning, transcripts, personal observations, documents, but also the way the respondent toned his/her voice during the interview, body language, etc. will be examined (Mayring, 2008, p. 59).

For this thesis, the Mayring's deductive category implication will be used. Deductive category implication is prior formulated, theoretical derived aspects of an analysis, bringing the aspects into a connection with the text. The qualitative step of analysis consists of a methodologically controlled assignment of the category to a passage of text. Following, the step model of Mayring's qualitative content analysis (2008) is presented:

Figure 7: Step model of deductive category implication (Mayring, 2008, pp. 61-62)

3.2. Sample

As sample for this research, 8 experts have been chosen. The range of these experts covers all necessary fields and is ought to provide a comprehensive point of view as well as all essential knowledge and competencies needed for the purpose of this research. The experts come from the fields of HR Controlling, Recruiting, consultancy, ground technical staff and workforce planning in Lufthansa. Within such approach, it is considered that all necessary experiences and knowledge will be covered. As such, these expert fields could be diversified into four main sample groups:

Group Transcript Shortcut Function Interview Date

Human Resources DG HR-Controller (Austrian) 13.07.2016

Human Resources KG Senior Recruiter (Austrian) 21.07.2016

Lufthansa TH Manager Workforce Planning & HR Strategy (Lufthansa) 12.07.2016

Human Resources ST Talent Manager (Austrian) 15.07.2016

Technical

Strategic MR Technical Head of Maintenance & Planning (Austrian) 21.07.2016

Technical Operational MS Team-lead of one repair and maintenance group (Austrian) 28.07.2016

Technical Operational CH Personnel Scheduling Administrator (Austrian) 14.07.2016

External Consultant EA Deloitte Consultant 27.07.2016

The explanation of the four above mentioned sample groups and their reasoning will be further explained in chapter 4.5.

4 Findings

In this chapter, the business case will be once again drawn and the research analysis together with the research results from the transcribed interviews will be presented.

4.1. The business case

The author has identified a future issue within an Aircraft Maintenance & Planning department in the airline industry. The main task is to maintain and repair the aircraft, which is currently not being used or is under a maintenance interval. However, it is crucial to understand that repair and maintenance know-how is very specific for each airline company and the way it is done wins all in all a competitive advantage.

Within this department, the current prediction is that within the next 10 years a1/3 of the overall staff will retire, yet the amount of new employees does not equal out the amount retiring not the overall turnover rate.

4.2. Interview Analysis (Mayring method)

This chapter intends to analyze the data collected from the interviews. As mentioned in chapter 3.1., a Mayring qualitative data analysis was used for the interview analysis. After the interviews with all eight interviewees have been done and transcribed, the transcriptions have been re-read several times and important sections of interviews have been highlighted. During the coding part, the author has focused on any highly importantly raised topics during the interview; the intonation and importance interviewees were talking about different topics with, any often-repetitive topics as well as topics that have surprised in the outcome the interviewer herself. Out of these highlights a coding was drawn. After the coding section, the author has summarized the outcome under six major labels, which are represented as the major outcome topics later on. Subsequently, as the labeling was done the author had reviewed all codes again and out of these had summarized the main outcomes and topic to the discussion.

The coding and labeling itself has revealed six major topics. Structuring of strategic workforce planning beforehand, as a pro-active process of “making things right”; important people/functions to be involved in the workforce planning process; bottlenecks of drawing strategic workforce planning process; knowledge management; retention and succession planning. Further on, the results are presented.

4.2.1. Pre-success factors for creating the strategic workforce planning

The research has explored the one of the most important parts – while creating a strategic workforce planning process – was for all research participants to be prepared and to act pro-actively. The author found it quite an interesting topic, as while the interviewees were discussion about the ideal strategic workforce planning and what benefits it would bring to them, they also raised topics that in regards to other participants of the research they were struggling with. Thus in the outcome, it has become clear that all interviewees have clear understanding of others issues and challenges as well. Moreover, the research has shown that pro-activity and proactive behavior implicates a success factor for creation of a strategic workforce planning. Almost all interviewees have pinpointed the preparation and a revision phase, when setting a new project or any new processes within the company, before the actual project starts.

Next, it has been identified that legal regulations and restrictions do represent one of the most important topics that need to be solved upfront any planning takes place (i.e. pensioning age for women and men, salary quotes and levels, employee benefits, etc.). It is not only the case as one establishment is located in Austria and the other one in Germany, but especially to clarify any legal issues; regulations and provisions that might have been relevant to the case in order to assure that no legal case will be raised.

Whilst discussing the manner of creating a fitting strategic workforce planning, two pro-active factors that must be done promptly and beforehand have appeared. First, it has been stated by three of the interviewees that any workforce planning process must be created starting from the corporate and financial strategy, which is afterwards translated into a HR strategy. This then first becomes a base / direction of the strategic workforce plan focus. Second, a workforce structure analysis before any planning takes place must be done. Workforce structure analysis serves as a tool for discovering in a great detail, what kind and how much workforce is present in particular departments. It “blends approaches from forecasting principles, scenario planning, and traditional head count planning to create current and future workforce forecasts for specific roles under various business scenarios. A key advantage of this approach … is that it can produce a picture of future business scenarios.” (Conlon, Norman, & Sorensen, 2011, p. 442) This analysis is based on the particular corporate and HR strategy that needs to be followed, the target group (its aging structure and current workforce issues the target group is struggling with) and provides a clear and detailed overview of each departments as a whole. It is also important to point out that such analysis in not done for each year, but the lowest once in 3 years. After the analysis has been successfully finished, it will point the direction of staffing actions and planning that needs to be necessarily done.

Hence, constant and consistent measures of the data, facts and numbers and their relevance on short-term (1-2 times a year) and long-term (plan for 10 – 15 years ahead) horizon are absolutely essential in order to differentiate major topics from minor, but also topics that are not important and that have become obsolete.

Last but not least, the input of a transparent communication and qualitative revision of the side programs has come from all sides of interviews. Thus it can be claimed that communication and the way data and information are communicated is absolutely crucial while implementing a new strategic workforce planning process in a company. As the talent manager said “it is not just about receiving e-mails. If I receive 30 e-mails a day with no important content and with lot of text, the probability that I will miss the important one is much higher. Simply said, it needs to be precisely planned when and what information and data do you communicate and to what people.” Yet the research has also shown that much better way of communicating information is through indirect communication. I.e. through supporting programs within the company, such as any talent program, retention program, succession program and/or knowledge program, is needed. For instance, if there is a skilled aircraft maintenance worker in a retention program, it is much more important for the employee him/herself to receive acknowledgement of his/her work as an information to increase the willingness to work and help to train the young successors. Rather than to send an e-mail consisting an information about the latest supporting financial strategy for the marketing sector.

4.2.2. Important functions to be involved within the strategic workforce planning process

The research has defined that it is very important to involve people throughout the whole process of setting and implementing the new strategic workforce planning process, in order to assure that all planned actions are being done and to minimize the risk of the project failure.

Out of HR functions specifically, it has been found out that the HR controlling, recruiting, personnel development are crucial to create and communicate a living workforce planning system. All three functions have separate meaning and impact on the process in particular steps. Needless to say during the interviews, HR Controlling was in all cased firstly nominated function, thus it can be considered that its importance in the overall process will be significant.

As next, also other functions such as top management, team-leaders, teams, and contact person from a team as well as finance controlling have been nominated. Due to the fact that a team contact person and the whole team was mention only by one person, the result can be drawn that all corporate-wide important functions are top management, financial controlling and team-leaders. Each of the functions have as well particular meaning in some process step, yet none of them is present in all step of creating a new strategic workforce planning process.

4.2.3. Bottlenecks of drawing strategic workforce planning process

With regards to obstacles, issues and risks connected to setting up a strategic workforce planning process, many of them have been mentioned during the interviews. In general, it has been identified that all bottlenecks can be diversified in two main groups - internal and external. The internal obstacles to successfully implement a strategic workforce planning process within a company have been identified as

• Process transparency

• Communication transparency

• Internal resources (i.e. budget and people)

• Time

• Costs

• Unification of a workforce planning on a company group level

• Communication with top management

Regarding the external factors, it has been found out that:

• War of talents

• Labor market possibilities

• National as well as international legal rules and regulations

are the most important and complex issues one has to avoid and/or clarify.

4.2.4. Knowledge Management

Another, rather surprising finding that the research has shown was the strong connection of knowledge management to the strategic workforce planning. That was already upfront knowledge that knowledge management is a part of strategic workforce planning, however the research has shown much greater dependency and correlation of those two topics. Each interviewee disregarded on their position mentioned the importance of knowledge keeping and knowledge transfer.

The discussed topics were knowledge acquisition, knowledge transfer, how to keep a know-how within a company and pension planning.  Knowledge acquisition has been highlighted as one of the crucial factors, due to the fact that it takes seven to eight years to train a new skilled employee. Yet the training cannot really begin during the apprentice-ship as in course of the training also night shift works must be fulfilled. Additionally, the acquired license is only valid for one (maximum two) types of fleet. As the director of the technical maintenance department said: “ we are trying to involve the apprentices from a very early phase on through mentoring of a more skilled workers…, but it cannot be done completely and for the whole fleet (wide and narrow-body) as under the age of 18 they are not permitted to do any night shifts and this is when most of the repairs and maintenance of wide-bodies'.”

Further discussed topics were keeping of know-how and knowledge transfer when an employee retires. With regards to these topics, the research has found out that there is already some level of overcoming loss of knowledge through mentoring, but it has, so far, not been embed into any deeper structure of young apprentices. Interestingly, when talking about knowledge transfer the interviewees from technical department have always talked about knowledge transfer from a skilled pre-pension or older worker to apprentices or new employees. Yet both talent manager, Lufthansa expert and external consultant have mentioned several ways of transferring knowledge. These suggestions included:

• Mentoring – transfer of knowledge from already skilled worker to a news one

• Reverse Mentoring – as the name suggests, reverse mentoring is about younger workers teaching and showing new methods processes of repair and maintenance to the older skilled workers in order to increase their effectiveness and also their motivation from learning something new.

• Productive aging – decrease of the skilled pre-pension worker's working hours to the half (including exemption from night shifts) and setting up a working scheme of number of maintenance hours (10 – 20 working hours per week) plus lecturing activities on the side. Meaning, outside of the maintenance and repair hours the skilled employee can make lectures and workshops with a group of current and/or young employees where the knowledge of the skilled worker is being shared.

• Knowledge bypass – is a more advanced and precise tool, which allows transfer of knowledge from certain skilled workers to other workers within the same team. As displayed in the Figure 8 below, the knowledge bypass focuses on pre-pension workers and differentiates between other workers, who is ought to learn a new skill from the skilled worker and why. In addition, it also allows to analyze the current skills and knowledge of the pre-pension worker and to identify, which one are going to be transferred and which one has become obsolete – thus can leave the company with the employee and be forgotten.

Figure 8: Knowledge Bypass

Following, the arrows in the Figure 8 represent the knowledge transfer and type of line represents the amount of knowledge that is being transferred (full line – major part of additional knowledge transfer; dashed line – part of additional knowledge transfer). As such, it becomes clear to see that the pre-pension skilled worker transfers major of his current additional knowledge to an already skilled worker 2 in order to increase the level of expertise. Some particular knowledge and skills topics of the pre-pension skilled worker are going to be transferred to the new worker in order to increase the market competitiveness and the new worker can, after requiring this knowledge and skills, further transfer these to the young apprentice in training. Withal, it is important to mention that in this case also the willingness of the pre-pension skilled worker to transfer the knowledge and skills becomes crucial.  

4.2.5. Retention Management

The research has also revealed another two important topics when it comes to strategic workforce planning and knowledge transfer – retention management and succession planning. According to the research, retention management - in regards to the workforce aging issue – should be focused on divisions of daily and night shifts and workers' acknowledgement. During the interviews, the personnel scheduling administration and the workers group team-lead have both identified that due to the body constrains older workers have often issues to do night shifts and therefore it hinders their health and leads to decrease in engagement to work. In this case, the law of night shift workers allows after a medical check release from the night shifts of elderly workers. Additionally, it has been identified that that elderly workers rely on additional benefits and support provided by the employer; however these have almost no impact on increase in works' engagement of the elderly skilled workers as for instance, direct recognition and acknowledgement from the superior and/or young employees. It has been also mentioned that increased workers' motivation to work, could lead to a better influence on younger workers in terms of encouragement to stay with the same company.

4.2.6. Succession Planning

Moving onto succession planning, there it has been found out how the puzzle really comes together. In a situations where pension entries are planned, there are present data, facts and numbers available about the current workforce situation in a particular department, the necessity and advantage of planning ahead rises tremendously. Some of those factors are qualifications and competencies of current and new employees (the potentials they carry), personal development and carrier paths they can take, salary levels and their costs, talents and way of retaining talents as well as brain gain and drain, always having 2 to 3 successor possibilities for one position.

All the above-discussed findings create a complex image of success factors and obstacles whilst creating a strategic workforce planning process within an airline company. As next, the findings are going to be discussed and a new aligning strategic workforce planning process for airline industry – focusing on ground maintenance staff – is going to be drawn.

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