Skills shortage holds Melbourne businesses back in reopening plans

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Ladro Tap in Prahran. Source: supplied.

Changes to Melbourne’s reopening roadmap mean Melbourne hospitality venues will be able to reopen to more people earlier than planned. But a talent shortage in the sector means some venues won’t be able to fully take advantage of the eased restrictions.

Without enough staff to keep customer experience on point, the owner of Ladro Italian restaurant in Fitzroy and Ladro Tap in Prahran has decided to only open for five days a week, until he can get more hands on deck. But that’s proving more difficult than ever.

Over the weekend, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the state is set to hit the 80% double-vaccination milestone on Friday, October 29, almost a week earlier than forecast.

That means restaurants and bars, as well as businesses such as gyms and hairdressers, will be able to open to fully vaccinated customers, with no capacity limits indoors. Venues will only be subject to the density requirements of one person per four square metres.

Retail businesses will also be able to reopen for indoor trading.

The changes will come into effect from 6pm on Friday.

The announcement sounded like unequivocal good news for Melbourne’s beleaguered hospitality industry. But reopening to more customers requires more staff, and those workers are hard to come by.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Ladro owner Sean Kierce says he’s got ads out on Seek and other hiring sites, as well as Gumtree and even Instagram. In total, he’s seeing about 25% the number of applications as he usually would.

He’s also had applicants fail to show up to trial shifts. In the 18 years since he launched the Fitzroy restaurant, “I’ve never seen it like this,” he says.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Without enough staff to run at full capacity, he’s taken the decision to close for dine-in service for this Monday and Tuesday. It will likely be the same the following week. After that, it’s a case of seeing how things go.

“It is very frustrating,” Kierce says.

Both businesses have been open seven days a week for more than 10 years, he explains.

On the one hand there’s a certain expectation from customers that the restaurants will be there. On the other Kierce doesn’t want to put any undue pressure on his team members, or stretch them so thin they can’t provide a good experience for guests.

“It’s better to be able to offer a better product five days a week than perhaps not a 100% product … seven days.”

The lifting of lockdowns have only shone a light on the talent gap in the hospitality sector. In Sydney, businesses are reportedly offering bonuses of $1000 or more to new starters.

According to a report in The Australian, the number of vacancies in hospitality has increased from about 45,000 pre-pandemic to 85,000 today. That’s expected to increase more as trading ramps up ahead of the Christmas period.

For Kierce, the biggest challenge is in finding skilled kitchen staff, including qualified pizza chefs, he explains.

Now he’s considering hiring from overseas, sponsoring chefs and covering their airfares and relocation costs.

“We need to think outside the box.”

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