Australian hospitality venues are facing a staffing crisis as they prepare to reopen after COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. The industry lost 200,000 foreign students, backpackers and skilled visa holders last year and is struggling to fill positions without them.
“During the first lockdown many workers had to go home, if they could get out of the country, and those that stayed couldn’t pay their rent,” said the CEO of Skills Connect International, Roy McCullagh. “A lot of these people had no family here to support them and many of them have left the industry.”
Once the initial lockdowns ended, those who had gone home found they couldn’t return to Australia due to the international border closure. Meanwhile, those remaining in Australia were reluctant to take employment in other states due to snap domestic border closures.
McCullagh is currently working to help bridge the staffing gap. Skills Connect International launched eight weeks ago and is partnering with several off-shore student providers that are planning to get qualified staff into Australia when the borders reopen. McCullagh has been doing Zoom interviews with candidates in South East Asia and has 200 or 300 workers lined up ready to go.
“The continued uncertainty in regards to the reopening of the domestic borders, let alone the International borders, and the quarantine requirements attached to that, is impacting on the ability to even sponsor international candidates,” he said.
Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert (above) told The Australian this week that some hospitality owners might be forced to shut down for certain meal periods or days of the week this summer due to the shortfall in workers.
“The hospitality industry in regional NSW is welcoming the return of Greater Sydney tourism coming back to the regions but one of their biggest worries is the severe staff shortage,” he said.
“The industry in early 2021 already reported between 30 and 40% staff shortage, with some venues as high as 50% shortage. As we emerge from lockdown, it continues to be a critical and dramatic problem that can only be addressed over time as both the state and international borders reopen.”
Australian Venue Co launched the Summer of Fun campaign last week to try and fill vacancies at its 170 venues around Australia for positions including bartenders, chefs and managers.
To try and entice overseas applicants, the company is giving successful applicants two weeks of rental accommodation and a $1000 drinking and dining voucher too. Paid training will start online while workers are in hotel quarantine, so they’re ready to start work as soon as they’re released.
What’s needed to address the crisis
McCullagh said the looming staff shortages faced by the hospitality industry have created an unenviable situation for operators. The bargaining and negotiating power is now largely in the hands of the candidates, who have a greater choice of roles and are competing in a smaller applicant pool.
While the State and Federal Governments have various recovery initiatives in place, he would like to see:
- Interest-free loans to venues to provide working capital for the industry to restart
- Accelerated GST refunds, with a commitment to a 10-day turnaround
- Free legal advice and support to enable operators to liaise with landlords in regards to rent freezes or reductions
- A summer of free travel from December to March to encouraging everyone to go out and spend and for staff to travel further for work
McCullagh (above) also offers these tips for ways venues can address the staff shortages:
- Change your mindset about who your ideal candidate is
- Look beyond their resume and at their potential
- Travel costs for staff are often a concern – provide a $100 Opal card to every new employee after one month of service
McCullagh is also hoping to help venues that have lost their revenue and don’t have $500 to pay a recruitment agency to find them staff such as chefs.
“Currently there is no charge for us to find them their first candidate,” he said.