By Marisa Bidois, CEO, Restaurant Association of New Zealand

Our burgeoning industry has a significant recruitment issue. Competition for staff is fierce and finding the right person to join your team increasingly difficult. Once you find them, retaining staff is also extremely challenging. In the long term, the solution to managing our industry’s skill shortage issues is to introduce new workers into the industry, and retain them. This is an area of focus for the Restaurant Association and our entry level ProStart training programme and professional development programme are two ways we seek to address the industry’s labour challenges.

Of course, fixing our employee shortage issue is a task easier said than done. Our industry has notoriously high staff turnover and when employees leave a job, they don’t always stay within hospitality. As an industry we need to extoll the benefits of a career in hospitality, and there are many, but also tackle the negative perceptions of the industry and do what we can to focus on solutions.

One of the discouraging perception issues we are challenged with when finding staff is the view that hospitality in New Zealand is a low-paid job you do until you start your ‘real’ career. What is the solution here? As a start, the pay issue is one we’ve noticed a growing number of operators tackling. This group is working towards offering at least the living wage to their staff.

Put simply, the living wage is the hourly wage a worker needs to pay for the necessities of life and participate as an active citizen in the community. It reflects the basic expenses of workers and their families such as food, transportation, housing and childcare, and is calculated independently each year. The recommended living wage in 2018 is $20.55 per hour (up from $20.20 in 2017).

We understand not every operator is able to offer staff higher wages. From last month the minimum wage increased by 75c to $16.50 an hour as the Government’s first step to raising the minimum wage to $20 by 2021 and we know that some operators in the industry are extremely concerned about the roll-on effect this will have on other wages within the business. Most hospitality businesses run on extremely tight margins and labour is our biggest cost, making up about 33 percent of total turnover. Therefore, we understand the very real concern around rising wage rates.

On the other hand, the living wage initiative may help the industry to encourage retention and persuade new staff into the industry. While entry level workers usually start at the minimum wage, offering them a wage that they can decently live on helps to recognise employees as our most valuable asset. It can make for a healthier, more productive workplace and may help operators to retain quality staff. The industry as a whole is looking at ways to attract more people to the industry, as in the long term this will be essential to meet the industry’s employment demands. For those that are able, this is an initiative that may produce one of the solutions.