Severe Skilled Worker Shortage Not Addressed

Extending working holiday visas by six months is a welcome move but will not address the severe shortage of skilled workers that has the hospitality industry in crisis, according to Hospitality New Zealand.

“We welcome today’s announcement by the Government that it’s extending by six months Working Holiday visas and Supplementary Seasonal Employment work visas, and could extend them further, but that won’t be enough by itself,” expressed Chief Executive Julie White.

Difficulties finding staff are severely hampering the industry’s recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, and today’s announcement by the Government will not solve the problem.

“Skills shortages are the industry’s major stressor right now, and we’re finding ourselves at what can only be described as a crisis level. Businesses need their existing essential workers to stay, so this is a positive move that will help the sector get back on its feet for now, but for the longer term they need skilled workers and the only way to do that is to bring them in as the borders open.”

White noted that the industry is working hard on finding long-term solutions via specialised industry-led training programmes – such as the in-work Springboard, which was launched earlier this year, and the online platform Typsy, which was launched last week – but they will take time to have an effect.

“We need something now that’s going to give businesses the skills they need to operate now, and migrants are the answer, but we’ve been hard-pressed to convince the Government of this. Before COVID, these people filled a critical gap, but access to them has been turned off while the borders have been closed,” continued White.

“You can’t just turn off that tap and expect the industry to find skilled Kiwis to replace them, because there just aren’t any. Making it harder or more expensive to employ migrant workers, as the Government is talking about, will not create more hospitality jobs for Kiwis. The vast majority of jobs that go to migrant workers are ones Kiwis don’t want or aren’t qualified for. Without these migrant workers, hospitality is suffering significantly.

White proposed that the industry needs a transition pathway to bridge the gap until more Kiwis can be trained, and there’s a range of things the Government can do to help that. In addition to today’s move, the Government needs to pause the increase in the median wage to give businesses breathing space as they tackle these challenges.

“Then it needs to review hospitality roles on MSD’s over-supply list so we can get access to migrants we need, it needs to provide financial support for Springboard and Typsy, and it needs to look at reasonable transition times away from migrant labour. This skills shortage is not new. It’s not a post-COVID issue, though that has exacerbated it,” said White.

“For example, in roles such as chefs and line cooks, we have been facing shortages for more than five years, and the Government has been aware of that so these shortages should be no surprise. While the industry can train specific skills on the job, we need more students in training, and more focus on soft skills training – ie customer service, flexibility and positive attitudes.

“In the meantime, migrants can play a key role in plugging gaps across the sector, and we need the Government to acknowledge that and look at these short-term solutions as a matter of urgency.”