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Staffing Situation Dire for Some New Zealand Hospitality Businesses

With skills shortages an ongoing challenge across many New Zealand industries, recent changes in visa and skilled worker programmes are proving to be an obstacle for some companies in hospitality. A few businesses are already planning to close their doors in the wake of the changes, and with even more change in the pipeline, hospitality business owners are worried.

Skilled Immigrants Are Vital to Certain Industries

One of the reasons the Government has given for changes to the skilled worker and visa programmes is that it wants to protect Kiwi jobs. If it’s too easy for immigrants to take advantage of these programmes — or if skilled workers on such permits can be paid inequitable wages — it drives down the market for everyone. While there may be some merit in the argument, the truth is that New Zealanders are not lining up to take these jobs. They are, however, lining up for tea and sandwiches or fish and chips, and without available immigrant labour, businesses aren’t going to be able to keep up.

The proof of this truth can be found in job numbers. The Ministry of Business reported in June that vacancies in job positions in the tourism and hospitality industries were up 1.6 per cent. That might not seem like much, but that’s an increase in vacancies at a time when tourism is typically down in the area, which means seasonal jobs wouldn’t be a factor.

It’s not a trend relegated to a single season, either. Over the past year, online job postings in the sector have increased 15.8 per cent. Part of the increase might be tied to increasing tourism numbers, but much of it is due to businesses being unable to find suitable staff.

How Can Hospitality Businesses Answer the Challenge?

It doesn’t seem like the staffing shortage will ease up soon, if at all, and the Government seems intent on continuing its current line with immigrant worker programs. Hospitality organisations can’t wait for things to get better; business owners should start planning today and developing processes and changes that make them viable in a future without easy access to a large workforce.

One solution many are considering is technology. Restaurants and other companies may be able to create processes that leverage technology to complete tasks that are typically done by a person now. One example of this is eateries that install a digital kiosk alongside human cashiers. Customers who choose to may key in their own orders and pay at the kiosk; increased use of such technology reduces business reliance on labour.

Paying more to attract skilled staff is also an option, and one that Auckland University of Technology hospitality department head David Williamson says is a solution many business owners will have to consider. He said low wages have contributed to a lack of willing employees in New Zealand, and that increasing pay and making it more respectable to work in certain areas of the industry might ease the staffing shortage.

However businesses decide to attract employees, they need to start now. By slowly building a local, reliable and loyal labour pool, hospitality companies can avoid future instability associated with skills shortages.


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