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Australia’s hospitality skills shortage, and how to keep good staff.

There is a major threat to the Australian hospitality industry at the moment, and it’s a problem from within: skills shortages. From young apprentices to experienced senior talent, the food and beverage industry is seeing its lowest numbers in years. Compare this with our growing population, higher dining numbers than ever before and it’s been predicted that the hospitality industry will need an extra 123,000 workers by the year 2020 just to survive. It has, therefore, never been more important to source and hang onto great hospitality staff.

But how did we get to this place? And how can we stop it happening again? Having been a part of the industry firsthand, there are many troubles we are currently facing. I feel that the ‘hard work’ image and culture of the industry is to blame for dwindling numbers. It’s hard work and not enough people think that the physical effort and dedication required is worth the pay they get at the end of the week. It means that the reality of the 50 to 55 hour week (including weekends and night work) is just not attracting the same percentage of a demographic that perhaps it once did.

With the younger generations better versed on working conditions than ever before, even the ‘high end’ hospitality sectors like hotels and restaurants are failing to attract staff. It has been noted that even in the last five years there has been a dramatic drop in numbers, with hoteliers using recruitment services for the first time. With the recent TAFE cuts in the skills shortage. With the deregulation of the industry, he explains, there will be a boom in private hospitality colleges, with no regulation of quality or skills.   When you deregulate any sector you see usually see a change in focus. From a focus on correct skills, quality and education, to a stronger focus on maximum commercial viability – this often end with the reduced quality we see in the workforce.

Another image problem within the hospitality industry is that staff are given poor knowledge of financial responsibilities such as pay rates, tax, superannuation and annual leave etc. Given that payments have at times been with cash, this is a turn-off for new starters who require ‘on the books’ payments for everything from rental applications to direct debits. There has been a long string of restaurants getting busted, publicly named and shamed, and having to pay very large back pay amounts.

I think of course there are some that exploit the industry and employees, but the cash economy has been a part of the restaurant industry since the beginning. I’m sure a lot of old School operators just see this as being how you run a restaurant and think without it they would no doubt go bust. How does the hospitality industry need to change over the coming years, as a result of the skills shortage? We are already seeing many restaurants and hospitality groups tailoring their operations to fit into the needs and wants of the labor market. This in my experience was once unheard of.

Some examples of current noticeable changes:

  • High profile businesses closing certain days and capping hours so that their employees will work – because they know that if they don’t they will just leave and go somewhere else.
  • Increased global marketplace – overseas staff.
  • Increased reliance on a casual market in a more permanent capacity, and in areas of the industry that hadn’t previously.
  • Increase in hospitality groups offering perhaps slightly simpler offerings with centralised production.
  • More menu items bought and less made in-house due to less staff.


So, in modern-day hospitality, what makes a great work environment? It’s all in the small things. Consider incorporating some of the following ‘extras’ as part of the job description. After all, with less staff on the market, you will need to be competitive.

  • Parking and location
  • Close to transport
  • Day work, Mon-Fri or on rotation with other staff members
  • Good pay, or award wages and job security
  • Modern kitchen, bar, equipment
  • Uniform and training provided
  • Flexible hours
  • Plenty of work, immediate start
  • Staff meals + discounts
  • Annual leave/ holiday leave
  • Happy team


And above all, the key to retaining your great staff, is getting rid of the bad ones. Concentrating on problem staff and the dramas they create, will mean your attention is taken a

way from the good staff who need nurturing.   Don’t be afraid to ‘move on’ from under-performing or negative staff. If the owner or managers are afraid to move on the slow and the shifty, they can expect to lose many of their good people.   Be the boss you would expect if you were a staff member; keep your promise on wage rises, hour changes, or training opportunities. Although, as the boss, it’s easy to overlook or forget these discussions, they are often milestones that keep your staff engaged and satisfied.

Feeling the staff shortage in your venue? Looking for solutions? Contact us today for a free consultation on how we can help

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