Australia’s unemployment rate may have fallen below 3.5 per cent this month, but the Australian hospitality industry continues to face crippling skills shortages, with some firms offering sign-on bonuses of up to $10,000.

The crisis has been driven in part by casual workers on international visas leaving Australia because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and local hospitality workers moving to less impacted industries during lockdowns.

Signature Hospitality Group, which owns and manages over 30 hospitality facilities across Australia, notably in New South Wales and Victoria, is short-staffed by over 150 people. Despite the slow return to normalcy across Australia, its managing director, James Sinclair, is still desperate for staff.

“Before COVID-19, we had around 400 international visa holders out of a total staff of 1,250,” said Sinclair.

“Our present personnel is under pressure to meet demand because of the skills deficit. As a result, we increased our training and recruitment spending significantly. Labour costs are spiralling out of control as the industry is forced to acquire talent from a smaller and more limited pool. This includes sign-on bonuses of up to $10,000.”

According to Sinclair, “more than half of these visa holders, primarily student visa holders,” have departed Australia.

Fewer Australians are available to fill industrial labour needs across the country as the unemployment rate falls below 3.5 per cent, the lowest since 1976, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A number significantly lower than the Australian Reserve Bank’s prediction of a fall as low as 3.75 per cent by December this year.

In my opinion, companies facing a skills shortage should evaluate their culture.

According to the Gratton Institute, Australia is missing around 500,000 migrant workers, with the number of temporary skilled workers down by roughly 20 per cent.

The hospitality industry generally relies on backpackers and international travellers to complete these needed casual labour hours, but due to previous Australian border closures, the number of international students and workers in Australia has decreased substantially, resulting in a labour shortage in the hospitality industry, among others.

Kick On Group’s chief executive Duncan Thomson is more optimistic about the shortage, even believing it may present an upside for those who seek it.

Owner of multiple pubs in Queensland and Victoria, Thomson said his company deliberately does not hire overseas students and instead focuses on training and development.

“Our biggest priority is our people; we don’t focus on skills deficits. Instead, we emphasise character and a positive attitude when we recruit. As a result, support and training will eliminate a skills deficit,” he said.

“I take the view that it’s the employer’s responsibility to train and upskill their staff appropriately to fulfill the requirement of their role, so I would argue the real issue is a lack of training as opposed to a skills shortage.

“In my opinion, companies facing a skills shortage should evaluate their culture.”

Main photo supplied.