Hospitality launches workforce strategy to combat 'catastrophic labour shortages'

There are huge shortages of chefs, among other staff, in the north's hospitality sector
Gary McDonald Business Editor

LABOUR shortages “are a real catastrophe” for hospitality businesses in the current climate and are curtailing the sector’s ability to recover and revitalise from the pandemic, a senior business leader says.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill made the claim as the industry body set out its "coherent vision" for how it can provide great jobs and careers and combat the worker crisis threatening to destabilise the sector.

HU has published a comprehensive workforce strategy which explores all aspects of the sector’s labour needs, with a focus on five key areas of recruitment, skills and training, staff wellbeing, image of the sector and infrastructure.

The paper, drafted in partnership with UK Hospitality, was launched at an event last night at Stormont.

It comes as hospitality faces into challenges including rising raw material costs and surging energy bills, VAT rates returning to 20 per cent, higher business rates, a tightening labour market and a dip in disposable income for customers who'd normally frequent pubs, hotels and restaurants.

Economy minister Gordon Lyons said the hospitality sector has always been a mainstay of the region's economy and it is vital it continues to flourish.

He said: “I welcome the launch of this strategy, which includes many messages that resonate with the ‘Skills for a 10x Economy’. Both strategies highlight the need to work collaboratively across government, business and education institutions to resolve skills-based issues in our labour market.”

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said: “The hospitality sector is people-centric. It is our staff who make our pubs, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops the lively exciting locations consumers choose to spend their social time in.

“The ongoing workforce crisis is a real catastrophe for business especially in the current climate and is curtailing the sector’s ability to recover and revitalise post-pandemic.

“This strategy provides tangible solutions and actions that can be brought forward to focus in on the sector’s vibrancy as an employer and provides tools that can be used to promote roles in the sector for the next generations of workforce.

“Alongside our sister organisation UK Hospitality, we are taking responsibility for both the challenges and the solutions within our power, while seeking to work with government and other key stakeholders in a coalition of the willing.”

Through five focused key areas, Hospitality Ulster has developed a range of actions that industry and other stakeholders can implement to resolve the ongoing challenges and deliver high-quality, skilled jobs that will boost not just the sector, but the wider economy.

Kate Nicholl, chief executive of UK Hospitality, speaking at the launch, said: “Hospitality simply cannot run without people. From bartenders to chefs, marketers to managers, each and every person in hospitality provides an essential service requiring skill and knowledge.

“We are in this staffing crisis due to a combination of circumstances including a tightening global labour market, the impact of Covid and perceptions some may have of the industry. This is a terrible position to be in and it is creating havoc for trade and business viability.

“The strategy we have created aims to cap this crisis and provide the structures and tools that will support the industry improve their staffing levels and develop the skills of our workforce and ensure that we are able to push forward with our recovery agenda.”

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