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Dubai Airport handled 66 million passengers last year, and is projecting 83.6 million passengers to travel through the world's busiest hub this year. Image Credit: Dubai Airport

Dubai: There’s no better time for a career in the aviation industry, especially for new graduates. And since airlines, airports, and allied organisations have been on a growth streak over the past year, the sector has become a magnet for young talent eager to kick-start their careers in the sector.

And Dubai Airports is no exception. With 1,700 employees, the world’s busiest airport has revised its recruitment strategy by prioritising the quality of employees over volume, notably among fresh graduates.

“We do not have a target to increase our employee numbers from a volume perspective. We are focused on quality. Out of the 1,700 employees, we have hit 34 per cent Emiratisation and 16 per cent of our employees are youth (those in the age group of 20-35),” said Meshari Al Bannai, the Executive Vice President of Human Resources Development at Dubai Airports.

Opting for the right experience yields better outcomes than a mere fixation on numbers and quantity, said Al Bannai. “This approach could lead to numerical success but lacks quality. Our objective is quality - an experience-focused framework for our youth, graduate trainees, and interns. This path ensures a promising outcome,” he added.

At an executive level, Dubai Airports has hit Emiratisation levels of 70 per cent versus earlier targets of 50 per cent, said Al Bannai. “Dubai Airports have been rapidly expanding and recovering in the past year, and we’ve had astonishing numbers (expected to surpass 2019 visitor numbers), which has motivated us to change our pace for better results,” said Al Bannai.

Training and retaining youth

According to Airports Council International (ACI), Middle Eastern Airports are expected to handle 1.1 billion passengers by 2040 – a significant increase of nearly 300 per cent of the combined traffic they handled in 2019 (405mn).

Dubai Airport handled 66 million passengers last year, and is projecting 83.6 million passengers this year. The airport is scheduled to announce its half-yearly passenger numbers this week.

Meshari Al Bannai, EVP, Human_Resources_Development_at_Dubai_Airports
Al Bannai believes that robust youth training is the way to handle such volumes of traffic in the future. Image Credit: Dubai Airport

Al Bannai emphasised that the 18-month graduate training program is designed to avoid high attrition rates by providing comprehensive training to young individuals joining Dubai Airports. The training spans all departments, from HR to finance, to support functions. “Once they complete the training, they are placed in departments based on their core competencies. But in this way, the graduates will know our key stakeholders,” explained Al Bannai.

“The new generation wants to run experiments, they want to innovate – and if you don’t put such innovative plans for young people, they will move out. Dubai Airport, and the sector, is the right place for them today,” he said.

The airport also invites youth to work on certain assignments. “Here, they work on projects from cyber security to engineering and finance,” he added. This high level of engagement also ensures employee retention. The airport also organises internship programmes for students in partnership with several UAE universities and is working closely with its private sector partners to boost youth employee numbers, Al Bannai said.


Demand high among youth

According to the Emirates Aviation Industry (EAU), the shortage of professionals in aviation has led to an increase in the number of students signing up for aviation courses. This year, the EAU received almost 3000 registrations—nearly double the number of applications it had for the 2019–2020 academic year—for its various undergraduate programs.

Ali Kassir, Airline Systems IT Specialist at AviaPro Consulting, said, “In addition, the UAE’s continuous investments in aviation infrastructure, including expanding airports and launching new airlines, indicate ongoing growth and expansion in the sector. This growth often translates to increased job opportunities.”

Kassir said that the aviation industry used to mainly hire experienced workers due to its complexity and safety focus. “However, things are changing. The industry now wants more young professionals due to shifting preferences, technology advancements, and industry changes. While experienced workers are still valued, young talent brings benefits like innovation and diversity,” he explained. The industry must also plan for the future as older employees retire and value new technologies and a diverse workforce. Young workers fit well with the industry’s innovative and collaborative needs.

Average base salaries of employees at UAE’s airports
Trolley operative – Dh7,000
Airport operations – Dh16,000
Analyst- Dh20,000
Air traffic controller – Dh36,000
Assistant technician- Dh4,000
Ticketing manager – Dh8,000

Source: Glassdoor