International recruitment drive needed to ‘save the summer’ for tourism industry

Committee to be told of estimated 40,000 job vacancies amid ‘unprecedented’ shortages

An international recruitment drive to fill vacant jobs in the hospitality sector is needed to “save the summer season”, politicians will be told.

The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), Adrian Cummins, will use an appearance at the Oireachtas Tourism Committee to call Government-backed international recruitment fairs in the European Union and elsewhere.

Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly meanwhile, will outline how there are an estimated 40,000 vacancies across the industry in what he will describe as an "unprecedented" staffing and skills shortage.

The committee is meeting on Wednesday to examine the working conditions and skills shortage in the sector.

The tourism industry – which employed more than 260,000 people at its post-economic crash peak – was badly hit by the travel restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) will tell the committee that 65,000 people were employed in hotels and guesthouses before the pandemic with numbers falling to 26,900 by April 2021.

Current hotel employment has recovered to 54,500 which the IHF says is “a very positive result given the enormously difficult trading environment and the devastating impact [of Covid]”. The IHF estimates that 19,000 people currently require training and upskilling.

Mr Cummins of the RAI will tell the committee that his organisation has been flagging a shortage of skilled staff, particularly chefs, since 2012.

He will welcome recent legislation aimed at addressing work conditions including the outlawing of zero-hours contracts, plans for statutory sick pay and proposals to ban the use of tips making up contractual wages.

‘Glaring’ need

On the skills shortage Mr Cummins will say there is a “glaring and immediate need” for oversight of training and development in the restaurants and pubs sector, a responsibility he says should be given to Fáilte Ireland.

He also says that the Committee previously recommended that a representative of restaurants and pubs should be appointed to the board of Fáilte Ireland but this has not yet happened.

Mr Cummins will call for the Government and Fáilte Ireland to engage with the industry on an international recruitment drive.

He will also say that there should be a review of a backlog of PPS number applications amid a nine-week wait for the numbers to be issued.

Mr Cummins says work permits for non-EU citizens are taking 21 weeks to process, in contrast to six weeks for work permits in the United Kingdom.

Mr Kelly will brief TDs and Senators on Fáilte Ireland research from a survey of 1,000 businesses and 5,000 workers.

The agency estimates that there are 40,000 vacancies across the industry and that 30 per cent of the businesses surveyed face closure if recruitment challenges are not resolved.

Mr Kelly says many have had to reduce their opening hours or limit the services they provide. He says this means revenue opportunities are reduced which will slow down overall recovery of the sector.

He will outline several ways that Fáilte Ireland is supporting the industry to fill vacancies including directly supporting them to access potential staff that are readily available.

Fáilte Ireland is also helping the sector to build relationships with further and higher education providers to reach students and recent graduates who are available to work at peak times and could become part of the seasonal workforce.

Mr Kelly says his agency is also working with the Department of Social Protection to promote the Pathways to Work strategy and improve opportunities for tourism and hospitality businesses to recruit from the live register.

On working conditions he will say that more that 70 per cent of staff surveyed see the industry as a long-term career but feedback on job security, pay and unsociable hours was “mixed”.