Hospitality skills in short supply

Stuart St Brew Bar owner Richard Newcombe (foreground) with his general manager Duncan Robertson....
Stuart St Brew Bar owner Richard Newcombe (foreground) with his general manager Duncan Robertson. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Removing some hospitality industry jobs from New Zealand's Essential Skills in Demand list has caused some angst. Business editor Dene Mackenzie reports on some of the concerns.

Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive office Marisa Bidois is in no doubt that removing some managerial categories from New Zealand's Essential Skills in Demand list will provide unnecessary problems for her members.

Evidence she provided to a government hearing determining whether or not the categories should be removed from the list showed the hospitality industry continued to suffer severe shortages in skilled staff available to fill those roles.

The situation had got worse in the past two years.

''While the business owners are committed to developing, training and promoting from within their businesses and to incentivising staff to stay by providing additional benefits, they are still finding an insufficient number of candidates available for these roles,'' she said.

There was also evidence a large number of key employees were moving overseas or leaving the industry permanently.

As part of her submission, Ms Bidois had to provide proof that full-time earnings in the occupation she sought to retain exceeded $45,000 a year.

A 2012 survey of 582 businesses, covering 8265 workers, indicated the following average salaries: bar manager, $50,632; cafe manager, $47,762; restaurant manager, $48,273.

Statistics in 2011 indicated there were 7059 cafe and restaurant businesses in New Zealand, and an additional 1639 bars, pubs and taverns, to give a total of 8698.

On average, each of those businesses required at least one senior manager, even with the owner/operator working in the business. Larger businesses would have two or more management roles.

The association surveyed its members in October and 240 provided feedback on their efforts to recruit, train and retain cafe, restaurant and bar managers. Two-thirds of the respondents had recruited for a cafe, restaurant or bar management role in the past year, Ms Bidois said.

Dunedin hospitality operator Richard Newcombe knows all about the problems recruiting skilled staff for top positions and is also worried about the removal of any skills from the skills in demand list.

In the past two weeks, he has advertised for a head chef at his Stuart St Brew Bar, with limited success.

Of the 12 applicants, only four or five were being considered for an interview. Mr Newcombe was surprised by the lack of interest, given media reports of continuing high unemployment. While he was probably not prepared to fly in someone from overseas for an interview, he would consider flying someone to Dunedin from elsewhere in New Zealand to interview for a head chef's role.

Bar owners like himself were all competing for staff within a limited pool of talent. And while no-one in Dunedin deliberately set out to poach staff from other operators, there was a feeling a skill shortage in key hospitality roles was building, he said.

For Mr Newcombe, finding chefs was always problematical.

''I am not a chef, so I depend on having good people in that area. In a push, I can run the front of house and pour a beer but in the kitchen, it is essential you have good people there.''

Chefs were often expected to manage both staff, menus and budgets, he said. Getting level-four cooking at a polytechnic did not mean someone could run a restaurant kitchen, he said.

Some owners had an ace up their sleeves by being qualified as a chef. But they were few and far between, Mr Newcombe said.

Mr Newcombe's general manager is Duncan Robertson, who would be difficult to replace, he said.

''There is no-one around here like him. It is very rare to have the level of skills and experience Duncan provides. When I employed Duncan, it was good timing and I can't think of anyone in town with his level of skills,'' Mr Newcombe said.

Wellington restaurateur Conrad Banks, of Dockside, said in a letter of support for Ms Bidois that the removal of ''restaurant manager'' from the essential skills list was ''preposterous''.

''I have three managers that have been running the restaurant and bar for three years. We need four. I have been looking for people who can run the restaurant effectively, constantly for over two years as our establishment is very challenging.''

Mr Banks used the skills system to allow a Canadian manager to keep working for Dockside. When the manager moved back to Canada, the hunt started again, he said.

Michael Turner, the Canterbury branch president of the Restaurant Association and the manager-director of Cafe Valentino, said the restaurant was one of Christchurch's busiest until the February 2011 earthquake, at which time the restaurant was destroyed.

Before the earthquake, he had 32 staff. Within two weeks of the quake all but five had left the city. None had returned.

By October, he had been advertising for staff for six weeks.

''To put it mildly, it is almost impossible to find good key staff; in fact, almost any staff with any experience at all.''

Before the earthquake, a staff member with less experience could be taken on and ''nursed'' by surrounding them with experienced staff, Mr Turner said.

''That can no longer happen, as there are no experienced staff available.''

Christchurch had lost a generation of hospitality workers and they were not going to be easy to replace. The effects of that would be wide-ranging, he said.


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