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Labour shortages: who is in demand and what needs to change?

With concerns already raised by food experts and industry giants of a return to partly empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas due to labour shortages, including lorry drivers and a hospitality sector in need of staff, Ulster Business looks closer at the labour shortages facing many of our sectors here, the need for 100,000 drivers across the UK and why some industries have to evolve to attract workers


Hospitality is in need of new staff

Hospitality is in need of new staff

Getty Images

Nichola Daly

Nichola Daly

HR cover

HR cover

Getty Images


Hospitality is in need of new staff

News that a desperate government call for EU lorry drivers garnered little over 100 responses highlights at least one of the major stumbling blocks firms here.

According to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, there are now around 100,000 vacancies for drivers across the UK. That’s followed by almost 80,000 nurses, 69,000 software developers, almost 50,000 care workers, 30,500 primary teachers, and, demand for around 30,000 chefs.

Areas across logistics, hospitality and nursing are in the midst of a recruitment storm – a result of the difficulties of the last 18 months, the wash of Brexit and, in general, a rethinking of mindsets.

“The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently reported that 200,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2020 which has contributed to a significant number leaving the labour market,” Neil McLeese, managing director, BeyondHR, told Ulster Business.

“With retail and hospitality sectors relying heavily on EU workers and with the economy having been on a go-slow with Covid perhaps that is the reason we are only starting to feel the effects of this now.

“We saw something similar around 2010 in the midst of the global economic crash with the uncertainty in the market making people reluctant to move between employers.

“The thinking from some candidates at the time was that the risk of moving roles was too high because they could have found themselves out of work (due to failed probation or business failure) within a short period. Other were reluctant to jeopardise a potential redundancy package with their current employer so stayed with what they know to see how things played out.

“Sadly, I think that is only part of the picture this time around.”

Turning to hospitality, according to Nichola Daly, director of Daly Recruitment, “there are a mix of factors that have contributed to the shortage of entry level hospitality workers, front of house, waiting staff and bar workers including people not fully ready to come back to work due to the Covid19 pandemic, as well as workers being better informed of their employment rights and demanding better pay”.

“To overcome these immediate challenges, there is responsibility on employers to improve working conditions and the overall hospitality culture. The days of excessive night and weekend hours without equal compensation are well in our past, with many more hospitality workers seeking a better work/life balance and variety of shifts.

“It’s a changing dynamic for many in the sector. With much of the industry shuttered for a year or more, staff working in the sector were forced to find alternatives – and in many cases, found different and more flexible working environments, making their previous roles feel less appetising.

“More and more frequently I am hearing from candidates that they do not wish to work every weekend.

“Previously this would have been an understood and accepted part of life in hospitality, but today’s candidate market simply isn’t interested in perpetuating that culture.

“Employers need to focus on delivering a culture where the team share the workload. This will be important for maintaining the future talent pipeline.”

“Chefs, especially, are more aware of how their personal reputations are impacted by the menus, suppliers and even cultures associated with their places of employment, meaning that employers need to ensure staff have a level of buy-in and a role in decision-making and feel comfortable putting their name against their work.”

On wage inflation, Nichola says she believes that wages are getting to where they should be.

“Hospitality tries to sell itself as a professional industry and wages are now starting to reflect that.

“If we want professionals, we need to pay like a professional industry.” She does indicate a key problem area amongst chefs, where employers are paying large amounts of money in a panic to attract chefs.

She says this practice is not sustainable, while larger companies are outpricing the rest of the market and leaving smaller employers unable to compete.

“Confidence is returning to the market as staff and customers alike return to hospitality”, she says.

“Impressively, Ulster University has advised the highest intake for their culinary arts management course this year. A high number of students entering the course indicates a very healthy future for the industry and reflects students’ confidence that there will be strong opportunities available when they finish their studies.”

Nichola says organisations such as charity Springboard Northern Ireland, are also working to get unemployed people back into work.

“Everyone, including part-time student workers, should be treated as untapped potential. Many people who end up making careers for themselves in hospitality began their journeys in different fields.”

And the rate of job creation quickened to a four-month high, according to the latest purchasing managers’ index (PMI) from Ulster Bank.

“The latest PMI survey presents a rather mixed picture about evolving business conditions in Northern Ireland,” Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said.

“The rate of growth in both business activity and employment accelerated in September relative to August. Sentiment also improved, with firms now anticipating faster rates of growth in output in 12 months’ time.

“Once again, improvements in business conditions were sector specific, with manufacturing and services firms posting strong rates of growth in output and employment.”

And Neil McLeese says: “In some sectors we have seen Covid-19 reset some peoples career aspirations.

“For example, anecdotal evidence based on conversations with some business owners in the hospitality industry suggests that with industry being closed during lockdown, chefs took on other jobs with more family-friendly hours and similar pay and have decided not to go back into hospitality.

“In our own business we assist clients with recruitment and in the last month we have seen a significant demand in vacancies from a wide variety of sectors. In July, a report from one of our job boards indicated that on average there were just over five candidates for each job advertised but in the last month we are seeing more and more jobs with no candidates.

“The war for talent is raging and it really is a candidate-driven market at the present but perhaps with furlough coming to an end we will start to see that having a positive impact on this situation.”