Hospitality New Zealand president and Schnappa Rock Restaurant & Bar owner Nick Keene casts a light on staff shortages in Northland. Photo / Supplied
Eighty-seven per cent of Northland businesses say they are understaffed ahead of a bumper summer flushed with the return of tourists.
The dire labour shortage, revealed in a recent survey, has some businesses slashing their
opening hours in a bid to cope.
Signs calling for staff can be seen in the windows of businesses throughout central Whangārei but the problem is felt across the country.
Trade Me figures showed a 40 per cent climb in the demand for hospitality and tourism workers nationwide year-on-year in the July to September quarter.
In the Northland, there was a 51 per cent year-on-year jump in hospitality and tourism roles listed on Trade Me.
At edition time, 66 hospitality and tourism jobs were being advertised in the region on Trade Me for the upcoming busy season – many seeking chefs.
Even though summer tourism wasn’t predicted to bounce back to pre-pandemic peaks for another year, high visitor numbers were still expected for the upcoming season, Hospitality New Zealand president Nick Keene said.
Places such as the Department of Conservation campsite at Urupukapuka are already sold out for the Christmas period and others are close to following suit.
Marring the “generally positive” mood was the gruelling task of sourcing staff to meet the impending demand.
“[It’s] very difficult across the country to get staff, [and] no different up in the north,” Keene, owner of Schnappa Rock Restaurant & Bar in Tutukākā, said.
The pool of hospitality staff, mostly made up of full-time workers but topped up with an even match of students working a summer job and overseas travellers, was more shallow.
“Difficulty arises when we are short of full-time crew and there are not many visitors from elsewhere to fill the gaps. Businesses have to shut or people get burnt out and leave.”
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said a recent survey of its Northland members indicated 87 per cent are understaffed.
“Seventy-two per cent have recruited for a mid-senior position over the past two months and of these, 98 per cent indicated they have found it difficult, or extremely difficult to recruit.”
Bidois said on average they received five or fewer applications for roles advertised.
On top of staffing woes, there were the pressures of the rising costs of doing business as the price of goods increased.
“Some businesses have indicated they have reduced operating hours due to shortages and many are reviewing menu prices or have already implemented price increases due to rising costs,” Bidois said.
Keene spoke of the fervour among Northland businesses to offer the “manaakitanga the north is famous for” but that staff wellbeing was “paramount”.
“That is why you will see businesses closing on days when you know they would be and should be jamming.
“Closing when you could be busy – it’s a tough call to make as a person in business, trying to bounce back from a couple of very tough years.”
And Keene would know as he has had to close one of his two restaurants at certain times through the week to ensure the other could run properly.
Speciality skills needed for some tourism jobs, such as maritime work at Northland’s coastal hotspots, also added recruitment speed bumps.
Six months passed before the R. Tucker Thompson – Tall Ship Experience in the Bay of Islands was able to find a skipper.
“Our work is unique so can be quite difficult [to recruit staff],” chief executive Jo Lynch said.
But Lynch was optimistic as its tall ship, youth work, and base in the country’s northernmost region made finding good staff “tricky but not impossible”.
“With regard to staffing, we secured amazing people, some moving to the north to take up new roles.
“We are thrilled with the reinvigorated feeling of summer,” Lynch said. “We have steady bookings flowing in and positive enquiries.”
To help ease the burden for other operators in the area the company designed and now deliver a course to train deck crew to bolster the supply of deckhands for the summer.
When it comes to hospitality, Keene and Bidois pointed to immigration as a hurdle.
“Immigration settings have relaxed marginally but the reality is it’s late in the year,” Keene said.
He also believed the “outdated notion” hospitality paid poorly detoured people away from entering the industry.
“Data from our remuneration surveys show that across our membership we are paying, on average, above living wage and increases in pay in the sector have outstripped inflation.”
According to this year’s survey, the average hourly rate has risen by 8.9 per cent and the average salary by 10.5 per cent compared with 2021. That’s $2 more, meaning hospitality workers pocket on average $24.43 an hour – above the new living wage rate of $23.65.
The average salary is up by $6904 to $72,558.
Hospitality New Zealand said the increases reflect the fierce competition for staff, as operators offer more to attract talent.
The Restaurant Association and Hospitality New Zealand are both pursuing improved immigration paths to help businesses access or attract overseas talent when Kiwis aren’t available or interested.
Bidois said the association was working on a long-term strategy to encourage more people to consider hospitality as a career and recognise the opportunities it afforded.
While Hospitality New Zealand remained committed to training and retaining Kiwis eager to enter the industry.
“Every business is keen to hire New Zealanders but the reality is we need time to bring new people in and through the industry, the skills we gain here from offshore workers can’t be understated,” Keene said.