Chelsee Whitehead has been working in the hotel industry since graduating from high school four years ago. Prior to COVID-19, she always thought her industry was safe.
I chose hospitality because I always thought it was a booming industry. “I thought it was an unshakable field,” he said. Then, the corona crisis erupted and turned around. It destabilized the work and completely changed the environment.
Whitehead, who currently works full-time at the hotel from reception, concierge, house of house and customer service, says she’s still lucky to have a job. She said lockdowns, job losses and exhaustion of international customers and workers have left many hospitality workers who were once sociable and passionate about their work completely abandoned in the field.
Australia’s hospitality industry is experiencing widespread staff shortages, in part due to international border closures and the expulsion of thousands of international students and working holiday visa holders, who make up a significant portion of the workforce.
There are growing concerns about staffing shortages as many jurisdictions are now expected to reopen hospitality over the next few months.
Anticipating a significant shortage of hospitality workers as Australia reopens, Australian Venue Co, which operates more than 170 hospitality facilities across the country, has embarked on an ambitious recruitment effort to attract 500 hospitality workers in the UK.
The group is trying to lure its employees by promising $1,000 worth of food and beverage vouchers and will pay for a flight to Australia, hotel quarantine and two weeks of accommodation. Paid hospitality training begins during hotel quarantine.
AVCs CEO Paul Waterson said about 20% of Australia’s hospitality workforce before the pandemic were working holiday visa holders.
It has 4,200 employees, he says. Of those, 900 were working holiday visa holders who returned home when the pandemic began.
AVC is offering to pay the cost of moving to Australia for British chefs and overseas Australians who want to return home.
Hospitality workers in Australia were stranded abroad when the pandemic began. It is difficult to access the plane and quarantine on the way home.
Drive will potentially arrange charter flights. Waterson said the AVC is in talks with the state to allow the workers to return to Australia in quarantine.
Whitehead said many hospitality workers, including international workers, fear the coronavirus and the uncertainty it has brought to the industry. Even if the borders open, people abroad will think again about the dangers of reaching Australia at an uncertain time.
We work really hard in hospitality, says Whitehead. And we don’t earn that much. So I think that uncertainty causes people to lose their taste and no longer see the point.
However, the UK faces its own hospitality shortage and reports that 50% of workers are unwilling to return to hospitality jobs after closure. But young people in Britain still think Australia is a really fun and optimistic country, says Whitehead. Similar cultures across the UK and Australia make it easier for them to adapt to each other’s hospitality industries, she says. And frankly, they sometimes come here because of the weather.
If this recruitment makes Australia welcome again, it could spur young people from abroad to work here.
While she is excited to see the AVC recruitment push, Whitehead doesn’t think the staffing gap will be completely filled again.
The Australian Hotels Association’s national chief executive Stephen Ferguson told Guardian Australia that young Australians and working holiday makers coincide with Australia’s wet and dry seasons in hospitality.
A lot of labor is required in the northern regions in winter. Likewise, in summer, the opposite is true, Ferguson says. They are a mobile workforce willing to move from Broome to snowy and Sydney beaches.
Ferguson also doubts the recruitment push will fill their entire void. But he said it shows just how high the demand is in this area. He also says there is no shortage of jobs available for hospitality workers in Australia.
We are struggling for workers, but the hospitality industry is resilient, he says. And we are social animals. When the doors reopen, people will return to local pubs, clubs and cafes. The hospitality and tourism industry will continue to develop and will require hospitality staff from Australia and abroad.
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