The hospitality industry is experiencing rising worker shortages, with job vacancies at their highest levels since records began and recent figures estimating that one in 10 workers left the sector during the coronavirus pandemic.
Having struggled to survive through lockdowns, many hospitality businesses in the Causeway Coast and Glens area are facing yet another crisis, as they deal with staff shortages in a variety of roles.
With a considerable number of these businesses operating with a relatively young workforce, many of whom are unvaccinated, hospitality businesses are also having to manage Covid19 staff isolation shortages and outbreaks and juggle the subsequent staffing shortages this creates.
Although venue owners say they are expecting huge demand from customers, social media is full of recruitment drives and urgent appeals for short notice help on busy weekends from a multitude of businesses.
One north coast restaurant owner spoke of her concerns.
“Business owners are worried about the impact the shortages are having on standards across what is becoming an area renowned for its quality food, drink and hospitality experiences,” she said.
“With almost every business experiencing shortages, the only solution for some is to adjust opening hours and cut back on capacity.
“For many, the future is uncertain. It is very frustrating and commercially detrimental, particularly as hospitality is one of the industries that was hit hardest during the pandemic with restrictions since March 2020, some of which still remain in place.”
September will bring the hospitality industry on the north coast and across the Province another set of challenges as students return to school and university only serving to exacerbate the crisis.
The upcoming high street voucher system was welcomed as a positive initiative to drive business during a somewhat quieter time on the north coast. However, many business owners are now worried that they will not benefit from the scheme fully if they are operating at a reduced capacity.
Prior to the pandemic the hospitality industry was estimated to generate £1.1bn for the Northern Ireland economy and employ around 60,000 people, however, as it faces an ongoing battle with staff shortages the Causeway Coast restaurateur gave her thoughts on why it is now facing such a struggle.
“The reasons for the shortage are numerous,” she commented. “The furlough scheme gave many hospitality businesses the comfort that their teams would be protected until reopening only to find that staff had found work elsewhere, often jobs with less anti-social hours with more job security.
“There have been some new start-ups in the Causeway Coast and Glens area where furloughed staff have embraced the opportunity to launch a product or service themselves.
“The timing of the reopening of hospitality was almost too late for businesses to recruit and train staff and the demand for indoor hospitality has been high making intensive training almost impossible, resulting in skills shortages during high season.
“Brexit is also cited as another reason for the severe shortages across the UK with many EU nationals deciding to go elsewhere or return home rather than applying for work visas, so looking outside of the UK for labour is also proving problematic.”
What is the solution to the crises the industry is facing? The frustrated north coast businesswoman believes ‘recovery strategies need to be industry-wide supported by the Government.’
She added: “We need investment in hospitality training in partnership with the industry, including opening up recruitment from outside the UK.
“Pay and conditions also need radical review, but this cannot be currently absorbed by businesses that have struggled to survive since the outbreak of the pandemic. However, a long term commitment to reduce businesses taxes and a commitment from the general public to value great food and service supporting local producers will work towards rebuilding an industry that is a respected, skilled and creative profession with development opportunities here and abroad.”