The jury is out on this one: the hospitality sector is becoming less and less valued as a career pathway for many people in Australia.
A combination of long hours of repetitive work, stressful working environments and low wages has made a career in hospitality less than desirable of late, and the recent 457 visa changes and penalty rate cuts aren’t helping either.
A problem that’s desperately calling for change
Currently, the tourism and hospitality sectors are facing a whopping 38,000 unfilled vacancies. The depressing cherry on top? Data from the Australian Tourism Labour Force report predicts a 123,000 worker-shortfall by 2020.
This ongoing problem is already heavily affecting hospitality businesses in Australia. As it is, restaurants operate on extremely low margins and the industry is one that’s known to have high exit rates.
With stiff competition to contend with on top of everything else, restaurants, cafés and bars have too much to deal with to just survive, much less worry constantly about how to hire and retain employees.
“The industry has expanded quicker than it has the ability to recruit and process people,” said hospitality consultant Tony Eldred in an interview with Good Food.
“The 457 visa issue has helped compound it all. It’s really reached crisis level,” he said.
From finding the right people to do the job to asking the right questions during interviews and training, hospitality businesses often cite staffing as their biggest issue.
Whether you’re starting your first hospitality venture or opening your next, it’s essential to adapt your hiring practices to the change that’s facing the industry today.
1 . Get the word out online through specialised sites
Many of our customers look online to get the word out as much as they can and then narrow down their choices from there.
If that’s your plan as well, it’s a good idea to use a variety of sources that are specialised in recruiting for the Australian hospitality industry, so you know that you’re reaching people who are genuinely interested in working for a venue like yours.
- CoffeeJobs.com (part of Melbourne-based coffee sourcing company Beanhunter), lets you post jobs for roles that are specific to the coffee and hospitality industries. Aside from the focus it offers, your posts are also included in their weekly newsletters and in tweets to their Twitter followers (which we think is pretty great).
- Sidekicker (partners of Seek) is a platform you can use to find temporary staff for shift work, short term catering jobs and the like. It promises access to personally interviewed and skill-tested workers in under four hours.
- Scout (by online city guide Broadsheet) is an employment website that leverages the existing relationships, networks and knowledge Broadsheet has in hospitality and other industries to connect Australian businesses with job hunters.
- Skilld is a Sydney-based recruitment platform focussed on helping local hospitality business connect with local job hunters. You’ll be able to view candidate profiles and shortlist them immediately, and subscribe ($50/month) only when you’d like to contact them.
Besides advertising in the local paper and using word-of-mouth (41 per cent of recruiters in catering or hospitality find word-of-mouth to be the most effective according to a survey by Nisbets), recruitment firms are also one way to go.
According to the Department of Employment’s 2016-17 Annual Report, recruitment agencies are becoming a more popular choice with businesses, filling 15 per cent of vacancies.
If cost is an issue for your business, government recruitment agencies like Jobactive offer their services to employers for free.
2 . Be clear about what you’re looking and what you’re hiring for
If you’re hiring, chances are you don’t have time to lose in getting someone on board. Having a well thought out job description means you’ll be likelier to attract applicants that are suitable for the role and better sieve out the ones that aren’t, wasting less of your time and theirs.
Some things are best determined during the interview process, but you need to be crystal clear on things like what type of role you’re hiring for because misunderstandings can turn ugly – like in the case of the Hall v City Country Hotel lawsuit, where an employee sued after being hired as a casual worker and was then paid part-time wages.
The belief ‘experience and skills can be taught and learned, but a great attitude is hard to come by’ doesn’t stand in the hospitality industry for nothing. Many of our customers share that when you’re figuring out what you need in a role, it’s important to note traits that tend to be inherent (work ethic, attention to detail, strong people skills) versus those that can be taught.
“Friendly staff make a huge difference to a customer’s experience. I employ friendly staff and then train them on our brand and product,” says Sanna Bedford, co-founder and store manager of Sydney-based Cousin Jacks, who finds staffing one of the bigger challenges in the Cornish pastry retail business she runs with husband Mark.
Mike Patrick, co-founder of Melbourne-based Fancy Hanks also attests to this approach.
“The type of food we sell doesn’t require that much expertise, we can teach our new joiners the technical skills they need on the job. So we look for people that want to learn and want to be here. For us, eagerness and willingness/ability to learn trumps skills every time,” he said.
3 . Avoid taking too long to decide
In analysing its database of over 170,000 listings in Australia, online recruitment site Indeed found that hospitality positions top the list of the most in-demand (and hardest to fill) jobs in Australia, with 70 per cent of the roles listed for ‘crew members’ and ‘shift managers’ remaining unfilled after 60 days.
It’s essential to carefully consider if a candidate is right for a specific role, but taking too long to make a decision can severely hinder the hiring process.
Research by Robert Half found that 57 per cent of Australian HR managers missed out on a qualified candidate because of a lengthy hiring process. In larger organisations, this figure rises to 67 per cent.
“Companies need to make a distinction between must-have and nice-to-have skills which can be further developed through professional development and training programs,” says David Jones, senior managing director Robert Half Asia Pacific.
“In a market where top candidates generally know their market value and often get multiple job offers, companies that act quickly once they found a match have a definite advantage over competing employers,” said Jones.
4 . Consider what’s important to the candidates and communicate that
Many a time, hiring managers approach interviews with candidates as a one-sided thing. But really, it goes both ways and the top candidates are judging you as much as you are judging them.
The high turnover in the hospitality industry also has much to do with workers viewing the sector as a ‘stepping stone’ to another career. Dr Lindsay McMillan, lead researcher from global HR think-tank Reventure says “something that the sector is not doing well is demonstrating that employees have purpose and are valued. As a result, employees feel expendable and find another job as soon as they feel unhappy.”
To improve recruitment and retention, Dr McMillan says that employers should communicate their roles as a job landscape – a list of end goals that are intertwined with the goals of other employees – and not simply a job description.
“Employers can improve their retention rates by demonstrating how a role prepares an employee for the future – whether they want a career in the industry or want to gain transferable skills,” she said.
5 . Allow for some flexibility to take the pressure off
It’s no secret that professional kitchens are high-pressure environments, and inflexible hours are often cited as one of the top reasons people don’t like working in hospitality.
Of late, leaders in the industry have noted that some change has to be made to improve the working conditions in restaurants. Melbourne’s Attica and Sydney-based Rocker café for example, have implemented a four-days-on, three-days off work week for all their staff.
Granted, this sort of model may not be applicable for all hospitality businesses, especially at the start. Unless you put in additional effort to increase your customer numbers, hiring more people so all your staff can work less means you’re effectively increasing your outlay without increasing your revenue. For many SMBs, it’s just not a realistic possibility.
What can be done however, is to allow for some flexibility in areas such as scheduling, so that employees don’t feel so restricted and forced to choose between work and personal commitments.
“We’ve found that besides pursuing a job in a different industry or going overseas, leaving to go to another hospitality venue means they don’t like working for you, so we do as much as we can to ensure our staff genuinely enjoy coming to work – we have a great culture and are as flexible as possible with shifts,” Bedford says.
“I also allocate staff jobs according to their personalities – some people prefer working out the back and some enjoy interacting with customers. We also pay competitively. I’m happy to say that other than the backpackers that have to leave after six months or so because of their visas, we have a relatively low staff turnover for the industry we are in,” she said.
In offering your staff more flexibility, don’t look past technology. Hospitality-focussed staff management platforms like Deputy and Tanda take the headaches out of tasks like rostering, timesheet reviews and approvals, and offers you and your managers more visibility over clock-ins and outs.
Pro-tip: Deputy and Tanda both allow employees to clock-in from their smartphones, and geolocation capture will confirm their location, so you don’t have to be onsite all the time to know that your staff are exactly where they should be.
If you’re using Kounta, enable the Deputy or Tanda add-ons in your point of sale and you can also seamlessly integrate attendance data with your payroll provider.
Australian F&B businesses are facing a very real and serious challenge from staffing issues, a situation that will probably continue for a while.
In a fast-growing industrial climate where job hunters’ interests are waning and government regulations are preventing businesses from finding the workers they need, it’s a fact that F&B owners and operators have their work cut out for them when it comes to sourcing and keeping manpower.
Focussing your search, being clear about your expectations, and addressing issues around employee dissatisfaction are very sensible ways to reduce the likelihood of hiring the wrong staff, or having them leave after a short time.
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