South Australia is dangling a £10 return ticket under the noses of Brits in a bid to lure workers back into the country, while one of Australia’s most respected restaurateurs has this morning invited politicians to visit him at his restaurant to discuss plans to fill empty positions.
Australia’s skills shortage is continuing to hurt small businesses around the country, despite international borders reopening more than two months ago.
Sydney restauranteur Luke Mangan, who called on the government leaders to attend an in-person meeting with himself and industry in a piece published today, tells SmartCompany he’s sick of hospitality sector concerns falling on deaf ears.
“The government needs to act now and do things for our industry,” Mangan tells SmartCompany.
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“A lot of the businesses in this country … are only at 50 to 70% trading capacity, because they can’t get the staff,” Mangan says.
While the nation officially reopened its borders to fully vaccinated visa holders, including tourists, business travellers, and other visitors, on February 21, two long years of minimal immigration have been tough to reverse.
Although the federal budget revealed the government expects a net 41,000 people to migrate to Australia in the coming financial year, with an allocation of $63 million over three years from 2021-22 for “targeted marketing initiatives”, workers have been slow to return.
Immigration fell 71% to 145,800 from 506,900 arrivals in the 2021 financial year.
Finding staff now “the biggest small business challenge”
Mangan raised his voice amid the chorus of hospitality businesses and SMEs around the country calling for more government action to help fill staff shortages.
“Despite having a new restaurant, and most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, I am unable to open Luke’s Kitchen to full capacity because I don’t have the staff to service it,” Mangan said.
In an opinion piece published on Friday morning in The Australian titled ‘Finding staff now the biggest small business challenge’, Mangan said he was disappointed about the “complete absence” of a conversation about staff shortages by leaders during the federal election campaign.
Job vacancies across the nation are at record highs with the ABS recording 423,500 unfilled positions, a 6.9% increase since November last year, Mangan said.
Additional figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found close to one in five businesses, or 18%, did not have sufficient staff in April.
“For the past two years I’ve been calling on all levels of government to work together to address this growing crisis, but it appears my pleas have gone unanswered,” Mangan wrote.
“Why won’t the government or opposition sit down with small business owners, the ones at the coalface every day, the ones keeping the Australian economy running, and provide solutions to the problems we are facing?”
Mangan tells SmartCompany he hasn’t received calls from leaders yet.
But he believes the sector needs to push to ensure the next federal government offers long-term solutions to bring more skilled migrants and local talent into the industry.
“You…knock on the door, and no one seems to listen,” Mangan says.
“I think now’s the time with this election coming up. Neither of these big parties are actually acknowledging the skill shortage or doing anything about it.”
Co-founder and chief executive of rostering and timesheet platform Deputy, Ashik Ahmed, says the company’s internal data showed “many businesses continue to face unprecedented challenges when it comes to filling shifts.”
A growing number of rostered shifts not being worked due to lack of staff, the platform’s reporting shows.
Industry Australia chief executive Innes Willox has called for a boost in skilled migration along with an urgent upskilling of the workforce to protect Australian businesses from the economic downturn he predicts will come in the next 12 to 18 months.
“We have to open ourselves up further to skilled migration,” Willox said.
£10 flights to bring working holidaymakers to SA
Earlier this week the South Australian government announced its own take on initiatives to return skilled workers with the return of the retro ‘ten-pound-Pom scheme’.
Originally a post-World War 2 scheme, it first arose to entice hundreds of thousands of Britons to Australia on a £10 ticket to supply post-war industries with workers.
The revamped package will let British or Irish citizens apply for a £10 return ticket to Adelaide, in a bid to boost the backpacker market that was a significant source of hospitality, tourism and primary industry sector workers.
Under the scheme, launched by the SA tourism commission, 200 young people will be able to apply, but must have acquired an $495 working holiday visa first.
Minister for Tourism Zoe Bettison said it was important for the state to actively encourage young workers to travel to help solve its skills shortage.
“Our state is welcoming the return of working holiday makers — it’s a real win-win for young people eager to travel and work abroad, and for our local tourism industry.”
Australian Hotels Association general manager Ian Horne said it was a clever way to draw attention to South Australia, and another big step in our reopening to the important backpacker market.
“We know when they come, they not only work here, they additionally stay and spend as tourists.”