Tackling talent shortages: lessons from Australia

3rd Dec 2021

Now that customer-facing businesses across the UK have mostly reopened, it is becoming clear that there is a significant talent shortage. Restaurants and pubs, in particular, face a wave of people eager to return to socialising, but many are struggling to find front-of-house staff to facilitate a full-scale return.

According to research by UK Hospitality, venues are finding it difficult to hire front-of-house staff and chefs as they experience a shortage of 188,000 workers, citing a ‘perfect storm’ of Covid, Brexit and the furlough scheme. Some have changed careers, while many of the overseas workers who returned home at the beginning of the pandemic have not come back, with nearly a fifth of them saying the quarantine costs upon return were preventing them.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to the hospitality industry. The chaos stemming from Covid is far from over, and industries of all types are still experiencing surpluses and shortages at a record pace. Any business involving getting multiple people together for an experience – such as attending a wedding, participating in an event, or going to a concert – is particularly vulnerable to potential closures and talent shortages. Fortunately, there are steps firms can take to prepare for an uncertain future.

Issues down under

Australia is currently experiencing a similar issue to the hospitality industry in the UK. The country completely closed its borders during the pandemic, only allowing a trickle of Australian nationals to return. This has caused a significant talent shortage, as experts and skilled workers from overseas have been unable to enter the country. At Bullhorn, we have a team in Australia, and I’ve spoken to them to understand the issue and gather their advice for the rest of us.

They say that hiring bounced back suddenly following the downturn. While many were anticipating a moderate recovery, the speed left many recruiters struggling to meet demand. Many recruitment firms were themselves struggling to hire to meet the influx.

As Aaron McIntosh, Managing Director, APAC at Bullhorn explained: “Many recruitment firms downsized during the pandemic. This meant that a large number of recruiters either left the industry or went on to start their own business, so they were no longer available to be hired back. The issue was further compounded by that the fact that, with the borders being closed, there was no influx of new candidates from the UK.”

These firms are experiencing a perfect storm: businesses are hiring faster than they can process applicants. No recruiter ever wants to pass on considering a candidate or filling a job opening because they don’t have the hours in the day. Meanwhile, the natural solution of bringing in more staff to the recruiting firm hasn’t worked because of the suddenness of the recovery.

Automating the solution

In Australia, the organisations that are having the best time in this tsunami of demand are the ones that have heavily invested in technology and automation. Firms that took the quiet period during Covid to learn and implement new tech now reap the benefits of time savings and efficiency.

Even if tech-forward firms can’t bring in the staff they need, they can still process more candidates and openings than they would have before their digital revamp. According to these firms, the real benefit has been alleviating the “busy work” of recruiting. Rather than taking on repetitive tasks, those responsible for recruiting can spend time on high value processes like speaking with candidates.

Some firms and stakeholders, including many in the C-suite, are still resistant to automation because they are concerned that it removes the human touch. In fact, the addition of technology has actually freed up more time for recruiters to spend engaging on a human level. Being able to send a personalised email or give a candidate a quick video call can make a real difference, especially as ‘ghosting’ and counteroffers are commonplace in the flooded market.

Modern recruiting systems create a pool of talent ready to tap into and will highlight the most appropriate candidates looking to move. This allows candidates that are likely to make it through the process to be prioritised.

The role of reskilling

While reskilling necessarily has a longer lead time than recruiting someone who already has the requisite skills, it’s clear that it’s an important part of the solution, given today’s shortage. From an employer’s perspective, it’s better to bring in someone with the latent ability and reskill them than to leave a role empty indefinitely, hoping that the skills shortage will end, and the perfect candidate will appear.

Reskilling to match candidates with the requirements of a role is likely to become a common practice in the years ahead, and it’s likely to outlast this current shortage. Reskilling takes time, so the earlier businesses and recruiters adopt and invest in the strategy, the sooner they will have access to the skilled employees they seek.

Timeless lessons from a temporary shortage

Although it’s impossible to predict when this one is likely to end, talent shortages don’t last forever, and those hiring certainly have the option of waiting it out. However, there will inevitably be more shortages in the future, so the smart choice is to invest in systems that guard against the most severe impacts. By investing in technology to maximise efficiency and a robust reskilling strategy, firms will be prepared for whatever the future holds.

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