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Tackling our skill shortages head on

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Is it harder than ever to recruit quality hospitality employees who meet the skill requirements to fill management roles in your business?

Results of a recent survey confirm that the emphatic answer to this question is “yes”. 

The member survey conducted by the Association on recruiting managers shows that a whopping 96 per cent of employers who have recruited for a manager over the past year have had difficulty in filling the role. More than 62 per cent said they had to repeatedly advertise for the position before a suitable candidate was found. And although this current survey focused on front of house managers, we are aware that recruitment for skilled chefs is just as extreme and they continue to be one of the hardest vacancies to fill. Our growing recruitment issues are being exacerbated by the needs of our burgeoning industry which it is expected may require an additional 50,000 workers by 2020.

New Zealand’s hospitality industry has returned to a period of exponential growth. In 2015 sales across the hospitality industry grew by 10 per cent and new businesses continue to open to meet the demand of our discerning domestic dining public. International tourist visits are also at record levels, with no sign that this will abate (thank goodness). Visitors spent $8.7 billion for the year ending June 2015, and this is expected to grow by 11% from 2015-21 while visitor numbers will increase by 4%. That will equate to over 3.8 million visitors a year – each one of them needing workers to cater to their needs. As a result of this demand, however, competition for experienced staff is at its highest levels ever.

Any solutions?

In the short term the Restaurant Association has the opportunity this month to campaign again for the Café, Restaurant Manager position to be re-admitted onto Immigration New Zealand’s Immediate Skill Shortage List (ISSL) and we will be strongly advocating for this to happen.

While our case is strong, one of the hurdles we face in convincing Immigration New Zealand to add this occupation back onto the ISSL is around the qualification requirements of the industry’s employers for their Managers. The survey enforces the industry’s view that management experience, rather than qualifications are more valued. The survey indicates that a minimum of 3-5 years in a management role is the ideal experience level required for an employee joining your business at management level, however, 60 per cent of employers don’t expect any formal qualifications for a candidate. Were the role to be reinstated onto the ISSL, it is suggested that a NZ Registered Certificate (Level 5) would be the appropriate qualification requirement for someone in this position and this is where the industry and Government have an opposing view. Immigration New Zealand have indicated that when Managers were last on the ISSL, visas approved under this category were very small (only 10 per cent of the approved visas for this occupation) and this is because the visa applications did not meet the ISSL criteria.

Of the 871 visas approved for this position in the 2013/14 year, only 38 were approved using the ISSL, with the rest meeting approval through a labour market check. It is for this reason that Immigration will possibly find a lack of justification to add the role back onto the ISSL. We will be doing our best to change that view however and will keep members informed of our endeavours.

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 start thinking of the long term. As an industry we need to be extolling the benefits of a career in hospitality, which are wide and varied and 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 fulfill 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.

Providing your staff 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, and is currently “on the road” around the country to provide an opportunity for more employees to attend. A follow-up workshop, Established Managers, has also been developed to provide

a more detailed look at hospitality management techniques, styles and systems. It is perfect for those who have attended Emerging Managers, or front of house or kitchen managers looking to develop their skills further.

As you will also be aware, the Restaurant Association is 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, which provides students with the basics of hospitality through a four week programme, is set to grow in the next weeks and months as we expand the current Auckland programme into the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions as well. Graduates are motivated, keen to develop and seeking opportunities to work within our industry. We aim to supply people that will fit well within your 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.

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