Worker shortage puts pressure on hospitality staff, sees venues temporarily closing doors

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Nellie Liefhebber has always had one eye on a career in hospitality.

“It is hard but I really enjoy it and I wouldn’t change that,” she told ABC Radio Hobart.

She left school after year 10 and moved from Tasmania’s north-west coast to Launceston, where she completed her Certificate 2 in Hospitality.

The 18-year-old is now working full-time at Rupert and Hound in Launceston.

But there’s not enough like her and the industry is in the midst of a skilled-worker shortage.

“Sometimes we can’t give enough to our customers because we have too many tables — I’ve had times when I’ve had a double section, and it has been crazy,” she said.

“People can see hospitality as just a job to fill in time while you’re at university.

“I think it’s very important to have people like myself that are interested in the industry and love it and want to be here.”

Her employer, Karen Burbury, runs two restaurants in Launceston, and has just closed both for two weeks to train up new staff and give current staff a break.

“We simply need to re-group and look at how moving forward we can ensure the business is appropriately staffed,” she said.

“I never thought as an employer I would never be able to staff a shift. This is a massive problem.”

Ms Burbury said she had considered opening her restaurants only five days a week because of the shortage of available staff.

“You can’t pull someone off the road and expect them to be a good waiter, because the dining experience now has been elevated,” she said.

Housing crisis contributing to the problem

Penny Cornwall is experiencing similar issues at her restaurant, The Vault, in Wynyard on the north-west coast.

“We opened in mid-December and we’ve learnt hospitality is a very tricky game,” she said.

“We are finding there’s definitely a shortage of qualified staff in this region, and attracting people to the region has been a struggle.”

She said the statewide housing shortage was also making it harder to get people to the area.

“It’s well and good to have a job available but you need to be able to house those people as well,” she said.

Ms Burbury said she had considered buying a house to accommodate new staff members.

“We have chefs that are living in pods in Wellington Street — the last thing I want to do is employ skilled people and then they still feel homeless,” she said.

Industry wants funding for unaccredited training

Late last year, the Tasmanian Government gave the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA) and Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania $1 million to set up Tasmanian Hospitality and Tourism Training to run training courses for the industry.

THA president Steve Old said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated a problem that already existed and more support was needed urgently.

“We’re trying to ask the state government at the moment to find a pool of money that can deal with the unaccredited training which is what we are crying out for,” he said.

“Not everyone wants accredited training. There needs to be unaccredited training funded to get people into these jobs as quickly as we can.”

The hospitality industry has long had concerns about whether TasTAFE’s Drysdale campus would be able to keep up with the demand for skilled workers. 

Mr Old said non-accredited training could work alongside TasTAFE’s programs.

“One of the conversations we’ve had with the new CEO of TasTAFE is to make sure industry works closely with Drysdale, but Drysdale also needs to do the training the industry wants,” he said.

Mr Old also said the industry needed to work on selling itself as an attractive career opportunity.

“We have some of these five-star accommodation venues, and real high-class restaurants that we didn’t have five to 10 years ago,” he said.

“There are jobs and well-paid careers, we just need to do that promotion as well as work with the government and training institutions to promote that as best as possible.”

Tasmania’s Minister for State Growth Michael Ferguson said the government was aware of the worker shortage.

“With the increase and success of the hospitality industry we need more workers,” he said.

“Even through the disruption of COVID-19, we are now in a period where we need more workers in the industry, and to support that we’ve stood up a second training provider.”

By Sean Wales (Original ABC Article)