Major labour shortage in store for shops and hospitality outlets

Many skilled staff have quit hospitality, while some shops are struggling to fill positions for reopening

Immediately prior to the pandemic the hospitality sector was already in the throes of a debilitating staff shortage that threatened to contain the industry’s growth aspirations. Photograph: iStock

Immediately prior to the pandemic the hospitality sector was already in the throes of a debilitating staff shortage that threatened to contain the industry’s growth aspirations. Photograph: iStock

 

As if the pandemic and the impact of restrictions weren’t enough, an additional difficulty for retailers and hospitality outlets lies in the fact that there is likely to soon be a huge staff shortage in both sectors.

With the latest State figures showing 556,273 people on the Live Register or in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), it seems incongruous that parts of the economy could still end up scrapping around for key workers. But it seems inevitable, according to major employers.

Immediately prior to the pandemic, the hospitality sector was already in the throes of a debilitating staff shortage that threatened to contain the industry’s growth aspirations. In particular, a major shortage of chefs had prompted employers to lobby the Government to loosen the rules around hiring skilled staff from outside the European Union.

When the pandemic hit, many chefs and other skilled hospitality workers either went on the PUP, or went home to their native lands if they were from abroad. The depth and duration of the Irish restrictions, which kept many outlets shut for more than half of the last year, discouraged them from coming back. Many Irish staff, meanwhile, switched to work in other sectors as the restrictions dragged.

The full reopening of hotels on June 2nd ahead of restaurants and gastropubs has given those establishments a headstart in hiring chefs. If and when all indoors dining resumes in July, the final cohort of establishments to reopen will face a horrific hiring market.

The future of much of traditional retailing, meanwhile, looks extremely uncertain due to the impact of online shopping. But staff shortages in shops still prevail, with some former workers in the sector apparently comfortable on the €350 per week PUP rate. The operators of Dundrum Town Centre, for example, recently disclosed that many shops there may not be able to staff their outlets for a full reopening.

A Government labour plan is urgently required for both sector to prevent long-term damage to SMEs.

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