This shortage has resulted in a reduced number of trading days and trading hours for many pubs as they struggle to cope with limited staff.
In their Opening Statements to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media on ‘Working Conditions and Skills Shortages in Ireland’s Tourism and Hospitality Sector’ yesterday the Licensed Vintners Association and the Vintners Federation of Ireland highlighted this as being among the downstream effects of a lack of staff in pubs up and down the country.
Yesterday’s session was attended by the LVA’s Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe and its Chairperson Alison Kealy as well as the VFI’s new Chief Executive Paul Clancy and its President Paul Moynihan.
Staffing is now the single most important challenge facing the hospitality industry.
One of the direct impacts of the two years of Lockdowns due to Covid has been the huge loss of staff – either via international staff returning home or staff leaving the licensed trade to work in other sectors like retail, distribution or construction.
“Two years of such closures/restrictions have had a devastating impact on staff retention in our sector,” explained the LVA’s Donall O’Keeffe, “79% of our members reported that uncertainty about the future of the pub trade was the main reason for losing staff.
“In all, we estimate about one-third of our staff have departed the sector.”
A difficult situation of shortages of skilled staff pre-Covid was exacerbated by the loss of chefs, managers and senior bar staff from the pub sector during Covid, making an already difficult situation all the more challenging.
“While we are encouraged by the level of business since we reopened, it’s fair to say that staff availability is now the biggest inhibiting factor to full recovery,” stated Donall O’Keeffe.
The Association has provided the Committee with a comprehensive Submission setting out its views in full.
Based on the Association’s own Members’ Survey, some of the key business impacts of the shortage of staff include:
- reduced trading hours (later opening) and reduced trading days
- 88% of members reporting staff recruitment as a serious difficulty
- 89% of members worried about staff shortages in 2022
The LVA’s Survey identified the following as particular Skills Gaps in this sector:
- general management
- customer care
- event management.
“In terms of attracting staff to the sector, we must focus on what workers themselves see as the key reasons to work in hospitality,” he said.
Here, Fáilte Ireland research had found:
- a passion for a particular skilled job (66% of chefs said this)
- a passion for working with people (the core of hospitality)
- 71% see it as a long-term career
- it enjoyed flexible hours, particularly for women
- staff generally enjoy the working environment.
“To this end, we’re encouraged by the launch of the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Careers Marketing Campaign but feel it should be widened to expressly include hospitality as well as tourism.”
For its part, the LVA supports its members by:-
- offering a full-time HR Advisory Service run by a highly-experienced HR professional
- offering the LVA designed Diploma in Bar and Food Management comprising 60 hours of classroom teaching
- offering training seminars, workshops and conferences
- offering Employee Assistance Programmes (retained provider).
Looking ahead, in an economy nearing full employment, the Association believes the following policy developments are required to address the skills shortages in the sector:
- Review of efficacy of work permit scheme (not fit-for-purpose for hospitality currently) to boost skills/staff supply more efficiently. Process itself and processing times very inefficient.
- Clear designation and establishment of a hospitality training division within our existing state agency (Fáilte Ireland potentially).
- Elimination of current “silos” across Government departments and state agencies with regard to hospitality.
- What government department and which state agency is responsible for hospitality?
- Career Oversight Group’s short-term, immediate priorities make sense but the COG longer-term strategy must be finalised this year and critically, its policy recommendations funded for medium-term skills supply. Independent Chair is required.
- Longer-term, sustained Fáilte Ireland investment in marketing of hospitality (and tourism) careers.
Hospitality Sector itself
- must build and market career benefits
- invest in training and development
- improve conditions over time
- highlight flexibilities available
- good employers will attract the best talent.
“The shortage of hospitality staff and management skills is the biggest barrier to the rebuilding of the pub sector,” concluded Donall O’Keeffe, “A longer-term state strategy for hospitality skills, adequately resourced and funded, is now imperative.”
In the VFI’s submission, its new Chief Executive Paul Clancy pointed out that the Tourism and Hospitality sector is one of the key generators of employment in the country. There were 260,000 jobs in the sector pre-Covid, or 11% of all employment in the country, he stated.
“One of the critical things in respect of this employment is that it is dispersed right across the country and especially in parts where there’s little alternative employment. Of the 260,000 jobs, two-thirds – 175,000 – are generated in regional and rural Ireland.”
Tourism has played a significant role in the revival of the overall economy since 2011, he added, “It’s important to remember our sector has the highest number of new jobs created in the past decade”.
The Covid pandemic had been a game-changer like none other. During Lockdown many businesses were saved by Government interventions in the guise of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and business interruption supports. The Pandemic Unemployment Payment was also vital to support the many bar staff who lost their jobs.
“Without these supports most pubs would have gone out of business so it’s important to place on the record the industry’s appreciation of these interventions,” said Paul Clancy.
Many staff lost their jobs during Covid.
“Simply put, they couldn’t wait around to find out when pubs would reopen. If you remember, there were multiple times during the Covid crisis when pubs were given a date for reopening only for it to be postponed at the last minute.
“This played havoc with people’s lives and careers,” he explained, “They had to find alternative employment in other sectors.
“Consequently, it’s no exaggeration to say Covid has had a serious impact on labour supply for our members with a knock-on effect in respect of skills shortages that’s restricting the capability of many businesses to survive.”
Pubs have had to adjust to the serious skills shortage in many ways, including:
- reduced trading hours
- additional hours for existing staff, particularly owner-managers
- training new staff who’re both young and inexperienced
- total closure for a period to allow existing employees annual leave
- wage rates increased to meet the expectations of existing employees.
“This is not sustainable if businesses are to remain viable,” he continued, “It also has the capacity to negatively impact customers’ expectations of a hospitality setting.”
This has a major impact on the tourism offering; a lack of trained, experienced staff will impact the quality of service. As the pub sector begins to reboot its tourism business this has the capacity to be a negative factor, he continued, “The breadth of the offering will suffer. Many outlets have chosen, out of necessity, to close for two days in the early part of the week. In some geographical areas it remains challenging to get a booking for food on these nights.”
The skills shortage will require a response on multiple fronts. From an industry perspective work has to be undertaken to convince school leavers that a viable career path exists in the pub sector.
“With that in mind, the VFI has worked with state agencies including Solas and the National Apprenticeship Office – along with Griffith College – to develop a Bar Managers Degree Apprenticeship, the first of its kind in Ireland.”
The first 24 students have already started the course and feedback is extremely positive, he reported. While a relatively modest student number initially, over time the Federation intends that the degree will be available nationwide.
“These students will go on to hold senior well-paid positions within the trade, with a life-long career available if they so choose,” he said.
From a government and state agency standpoint, the industry needs the following actions taken:
- Government, through one of the dedicated agencies, needs to conduct an immediate labour market analysis to determine the precise scale of the current problem and the scale projected over the medium term (three to five years). This data needs to be used to frame a full response.
- The work permit situation has caused huge frustration for Federation members. Access to more suitably-trained staff must be prioritised so, in that regard, the COG Working Group on Accessing European Markets is so important. Given the context of the nature of employment in the pub sector, access to a visa-free labour pool is crucial.
- The Federation welcomes Failte Ireland’s new targeted marketing campaign designed to highlight the benefits of a career in the hospitality sector and the VFI will continue to work with Failte Ireland to ensure such campaigns are of specific value to the pub sector.