Globally, the hospitality industry is feeling the pinch, with a recognised shortage of skilled staff in both kitchen and front of house roles around the world. In New Zealand feedback is that the hospitality industry has acute recruiting issues. It is harder than ever to find quality hospitality employees who meet a business’ skill requirements. The Restaurant Association is working hard to develop solutions to these problems in the long term and in the short term we are strongly advocating on the industry’s behalf, most recently making a submission on proposed immigration visa fee increases and nominating restaurant and café managers to be put on Immigration New Zealand’s Immediate Skill Shortage List (ISSL).

Later this year, the government is proposing to increase fees for some classes of work visas by up to 54 percent. A member survey was conducted by the Association in July to seek the industry’s feedback on this proposal and unsurprisingly, the majority of the respondents did not support it, with most believing this will intensify and increase pressure on an already challenging recruitment market. Most of our members believe fee increases will act as a deterrent for prospective migrant workers coming to New Zealand, with 49 percent saying this would have an extremely negative impact on the industry.

In support of our campaign for the Café, Restaurant Manager position to be re-admitted onto Immigration New Zealand’s Immediate Skill Shortage List (ISSL), the survey also showed that 90 percent of employers who have recruited for a manager over the past year have had difficulty in filling the role. More than 55 percent said they had to repeatedly advertise for the position before a suitable candidate was found.

Although this current survey focused on front of house managers, we are aware that recruitment for skilled chefs is as extreme and they continue to be one of the hardest vacancies to fill. MBIE’s monthly Jobs Online report indicates that overall annual growth in advertised job vacancies in the hospitality and tourism industry was 10.4 percent (March 2018 quarter report).

Last year was a busy year for tourism and hospitality businesses and our growing recruitment issues are being exacerbated by the needs of our flourishing industry. Overseas visitor arrivals to New Zealand in 2017 increased 8.9 percent. Of note, the Queenstown/Lakes district had an increase in international visitor spend of 20 percent in June 2018 (over the year previous). Tourism expenditure for food and beverage services in 2017 was $4.37 billion, an increase of 6.0 percent over the year prior (following a 16.5 percent increase in 2016 and 17.3 percent increase in 2015).

In the long term, one of the solutions to managing our industry’s skill shortage issues is to retain those already in the industry and train them up to fill those skilled positions. Our industry has notoriously high staff turnover and when employees leave a job, they don’t always stay within hospitality. To address this, we need to continue to think of the long term. As an industry we need to be extolling the benefits of a career in hospitality, which are wide and varied. The Restaurant Association sees this as one of our key responsibilities. Employees with management potential should be identified and nurtured, and given the skills they need to become great managers, rather than getting thrown into a role they are not yet ready for because of a vacancy shortfall within the business. While it may fulfil your short-term requirements, an employee who becomes disillusioned due to a lack of knowledge and support will potentially leave the industry completely and this is a flow we need to stem.

Keeping your staff provided with opportunities to continue learning is a good strategy to ensure they stay with you. The Restaurant Association’s Emerging Managers workshop is a great professional development opportunity for your rising managers to help them develop and fine-tune their leadership skills. It is run by one of the industry’s most respected restaurateurs, Krishna Botica. A follow-up workshop, Established Managers, has also been developed to provide a more detailed look at hospitality management techniques, styles and systems.

The Restaurant Association is also committed to working on initiatives to introduce more workers into the industry, as in the long term this will be essential to meet the industry’s employment demands. Our ProStart programme provides employees with the basics of hospitality through a four-week programme. Graduates of this programme are keen to develop and seek opportunities to work within our vibrant industry. We aim to supply people that will fit well within respective businesses and once placed we continue the relationship with both employer and employee to ensure everything is working well.

There is no denying that the recruitment challenges are there, but with our support and the industry’s willingness to embrace practical solutions to assist we see that there is an opportunity to build on some real solutions to our sector’s current skilled staff shortages.