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27 May, 2021

Skill shortage hits restaurant

CAIRNS has a well-documented skill shortage in the hospitality industry. One of our largest sources for workers is unfortunately unavailable, our foreign students and backpackers.

By Peter McCullagh

Craig Squire from Ochre

Iconic Cairns restaurant, Ochre Restaurant and Catering, located on the waterfront has felt the effects related to the COVID-skill shortage in the past year.

It was a downturn in available, experienced staff that forced Craig Squire, owner of Ochre Restaurant and Catering to reduce the trading hours for his restaurant.

“We did not reduce our hours due to a lack of customers, it’s quality staff or rather a lack of experienced staff that forced us to close on Sundays,” he said.

Last week the Queensland government launched their ‘Jobs in Paradise’ program designed to attract hospitality and tourism workers to Cairns to bolster the industry sector as part of their COVID recovery program.

“The ‘Jobs in Paradise’ scheme will not really assist us here at Ochre. We need skilled, experienced staff and whilst the program may encourage unskilled to enter the market or workers with basic skills to relocate, we need highly-skilled and experienced workers.”

“It’s an employee’s market at the moment, creating wage pressures within the industry for a lot of owners.

“Some desperate employers are paying way above normal market rate, for chefs particularly.

“It’s not unusual for some employees to be paid extra to retain their services or attract suitable candidates to a job.

“Nationally 15 – 20% of hospitality workers come from overseas. In Cairns this figure is potentially higher, with backpackers and students.

“When COVID come, we lost our international staff, and we were reduced to 14 local staff. We got by, but we had to reduce our opening times due to a lack of available staffing.

“We have been able to keep the staff, but we do need more to trade 7 days and with our catering business,” Squire said.

“We could employ another 5 – 6 workers if we could find the right candidates, and that’s permanent or full-time jobs.

Ochre Restaurant and Catering have been seeking additional staff for many months. Advertising in all major recruitment channels, Seek, Jora and Gumtree, perhaps the best platform they currently use at the moment is Facebook.

“We need waiters that can do the job, chefs with skills as well as experience, and bar staff that can smash out 50 cocktails in 2 hours.”

The current closure of international borders potentially not reopening for international travel until mid-2022, will continue to have a lasting impact upon staffing within the tourism and hospitality industries.

Earlier this month New South Wales announced they would be bringing international students back, commencing as early as semester two of this year. The students would undergo mandatory quarantine, using a purpose built 600-bed quarantine site.

Squire believes the Queensland government must start to consider this for our training and education industries, but also to ensure we have the available workers in the hospitality industry.

“The Queensland government need to do the same, they need to bring international students back to Cairns. The federal government has also uncapped the number of hours a student can work, so there will be more workers available in the industry.”

“We have to get the country moving again, we cannot continue to keep the door locked. If quarantining is done right, we can get people back into the country and start to ease some of these critical skill shortages, as well as boosting the economy.”

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