Philadelphia International Airport wants to hire a few good men and women — at least 143.
At a recent City Council budget hearing, council members noted that the city's Division of Aviation's upcoming budget called for 900 jobs, and yet only 757 positions were filled.
"Is there a reason for such a gap?" asked Councilman Bobby Henon.
Well, it's complicated. The city-owned airport urgently needs custodians, and skilled trades workers, such as HVAC mechanics, electricians, and stationary engineers who work on boilers and large operating equipment.
But finding qualified people, and getting them through the application process, the civil service exam, the criminal background check and drug screening — and a willingness to work odd hours including weekends — is tough, said Philadelphia airport CEO Chellie Cameron.
To fill about 300 immediate openings in airport businesses, at airlines, government agencies, and the Philadelphia police and fire departments, the airport is hosting a job fair Tuesday, May 16, at the Temple University Liacouras Center, 1776 N. Broad St., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Applicants are urged to bring copies of their resume and wear business attire. More than 40 businesses are expected to participate.
"We have almost 400 custodial positions. We have great difficulty filling those," Cameron told City Council. "We struggle right now to staff the midnight shift, and that's where they do the very deep cleaning of the terminals, and the bathrooms where they get into every nook and cranny and buff the floors."
"We have had to cut back on that deep cleaning schedule, and it's something that we feel is starting to show."
In November, Rosalie Hornbuckle was hired as the airport's chief human resources officer to work with her counterparts in the city to "figure out a way to loosen up that pipeline and get those positions filled," Cameron said.
Hornbuckle told City Council recently: "We have a number of different HVAC systems over the 3 million square feet of terminal space, and finding folks who are able to navigate those systems has been challenging. Electricians is another critical need for us." Custodial staffing is down by 30 to 40 workers, she said.
Unique to airports is that employees hired to work inside secure areas must pass a background check required by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). They cannot have a felony conviction during the past 10 years.
However, 36 percent of applicants for city airport jobs have a felony on their record, and 16 percent fail the drug screening, Cameron said.
Another sticky issue is the airport's location — not everyone wants to go there, often requiring a bus, subway, or El, and then the airport train. Badged airport workers receive a SEPTA subsidy, paid by the division of aviation, to help defray the cost of commuting.
Irene Snyder, president of Local 1510 of District Council 33, said it's difficult to attract skilled trades to city and airport jobs because they "can make more money if they go outside. The trades in the city of Philadelphia are very underpaid compared to the outside market."
Starting pay is $29,800 for city and PHL custodians.
At the job fair, public employers will include Philadelphia police and fire, Customs and Border Protection, airlines, and airport vendors. Private employers have openings for customer service representatives, sales associates, bartenders, servers, bookkeepers, baristas, managers, cashiers and more.
While a few might be hired on the spot, most will be told how to apply online. For city jobs, applicants must apply on the city of Philadelphia website (www.phila.gov). Under "resident services," click on "jobs," and then "job class specifications" and "job opportunities."
Applicants for airport jobs, such as custodian, must live in the city. (City residency is not required for jobs with airlines, airport concessions, rental car companies, or federal agencies such as TSA.)
If offered a job within the city division of aviation, the applicant will have a background check and drug screening. City employees cannot owe the city money for taxes or parking tickets.
For help with the online application, computers are available in the 3-1-1 walk-in center located in Room 167 in City Hall, weekdays 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., or at local branches of the Philadelphia Free Library.