Thinking back to this time last year I had a very fresh memory of long lines outside Centrelink.
It was a truly shocking time.
Businesses simply couldn’t afford to keep staff on, and those that remained attached to their work via JobKeeper faced an uncertain future.
Fast forward to today and the tables have completely turned – especially in the Food Services and Accommodation Industry.
The industry is facing a critical staff shortage.
With international borders closed, the normal pool of migrant workers simply isn't there.
And with covid outbreaks still happening, the threat of a sudden industry-wide lockdown remains.
Restaurant and café managers say workers are sick of coming to work every day not knowing if they'll be employed by day's end.
Bureau of Statistics data show this is a nation-wide problem.
For accommodation and food services, job vacancies rose 27 per cent in the three months to February.
There were 27,000 jobs being advertised in the sector as at February.
Recruiter Erin Devlin says too many workers are sporting battle scars from the pandemic and are re-skilling or re-training for other industries, including customer service roles and child care.
What an extraordinary turn-around.
Low pay and conditions
In compiling the data, the ABS also asked bosses what kinds of positions were the most difficult to fill.
The answer? Low paid jobs.
Economist at the Centre for Future Work, Jim Stanford, says the accommodation and food services industry is notorious for offering low pay and poor working conditions.
He says coronavirus has made the industry seem too risky for workers.
But who’s really paying the price for all this low paid, insecure work?
Dr Stanford warns in ruthlessly chasing profits, cafes, restaurants and hotels are shooting themselves in the foot, unable to grow because they can't retain the staff to do so.
Indeed in February the ABS said 13 per cent of bosses reported staff shortages as a factor significantly impacting their business.
Maybe everyone can win?
The obvious solution to this critical staff shortage is to lift the pay and working conditions for workers.
But the problem is that there’s an enormous amount of competition in the industry with, often, small players competing with one another for talent.
Yes there’s a shortage of workers but, crucially, many cafes and restaurants simply can’t afford to pay staff more than the award or minimum wage because of the margin’s they’re running.
Instead, it’s basically accepted that there’s quite a fast-revolving door of workers in the industry who pick and choose their employers depending on their needs at the time.
If, though, better pay and working condition were offered to staff, employees would be more likely to stick around, and that may give managers the confidence they need to grow their businesses.
For now though, if you are candidate looking for work in this industry, all you practically need to is apply for a job and there’s every chance you’ll land the role.
It’s become relatively ‘easy’ to land a job in accommodation and food services.
Coronavirus remains the key threat
It seems unlikely the food services and accommodation industry will change its ways.
That means for the foreseeable future, front of house staff, waiters, cooks and chefs will be hard to come by.
And why not?
The vaccine is being rolled out here in Australia but it’s only progressing slowly.
That means every day, week and month, hospitality workers face the constant threat of being turfed out or sent home for an indefinite period following a sudden lockdown.
This isn’t new. What is new, however, is that other parts of the economy, and other industries, are now expanding and moving on.
It means workers who do get stood down now have the opportunity to re-skill or re-train and do something completely different… which we know is happening.
On the flip side…
On the flip side, workers have swamped other industries that look far more promising and are in full swing.
Education and training, media and telecommunications, utilities, transport and warehousing reported the lowest job vacancies in the three months to February.
So if you lose your job in one of these industries, you may need to re-train for an entirely different career.
Can you see what’s happening?
Coronavirus is forcing fundamental shifts in the employment landscape.
If there are high job vacancies it usually means something’s a miss, while industries with low job vacancies also remain a risk.
As a job seeker, you need to make sure you’re on good soil and, hopefully, it’s also where you’re best suited of course!