By Ron Maxwell - CEO

Australians love to travel and eat out. Our hospitality industry is a vibrant one and our restaurants and hotels are world-class. The industry is growing rapidly, and job opportunities abound, so it can be hard to understand why the sector is in the throes of a skills shortage.

Many operators report having difficulty attracting and retaining skilled workers, and changes to the 457 Skilled Migration Visa in 2018 had a notable impact for some. However, for an industry that offers such a wealth of opportunities, it seems like we should have a thriving local labour market.

So why don't we? In my opinion, it's because the hospitality sector has an image problem. From being seen as a job, not a career, to casualisation of the workforce and reports of underpayment in the media, it's an industry that needs an image makeover.

A great career choice, not just a job

For many, hospitality is seen as a stop gap, a job to do while travelling or studying. This is leading to the industry becoming a transient one, employing backpackers and students, which in turn, is increasing the 'stop gap' perception. It's creating a difficult cycle.

I've talked before about the tendency for school leavers to be pushed toward university career options and, in my opinion, hospitality is one of the industries that has suffered as a result.  Often, vocational education and training (VET) options aren't given the same airtime and this can make career choices like hospitality appear to be a 'poor cousin.' 

In reality, hospitality is an excellent long-term career choice. It's an industry that offers a wide range of career opportunities, and the potential to live and work almost anywhere in the world. It's a fast-growing industry too, with 91,000 new jobs expected in the next four years, and a range of roles, from barista to event organiser, in high demand.  

It's also an industry that operates in our regions, not just in our cities. Many of Australia's regional areas have thriving tourist industries as well as local food scenes that need qualified employees.   

Reality, not reality television 

Another issue for the sector is the rise of programs like MasterChef. Although these programs should be great for generating interest in the industry, in my opinion, it's contributing to the misperception that you can start from the top. 

These types of programs make it seem simple to go from someone who likes cooking to a celebrated chef. Well, the reality is very different. Like any career, it takes time, dedication and hard work to succeed and in hospitality, this can often mean working unsociable hours and doing the more menial tasks to begin with. 

At VERTO, we've had great success matching the right people to care roles in Aged Care by offering opportunities to experience a day in the life of a carer. In my mind, this could work for the hospitality industry too. By giving prospective students an opportunity to see what life is really like, we can match the right people to the industry – giving the individual the best chance of a fulfilling career and the industry access to great long-term candidates. It's a win/win.

A changing workplace 

Hospitality can be an unpredictable, and often seasonal industry and to cope with this, many operators are casualising their workforce. Combine this with media reports of underpayment that have been casting a shadow on the industry and it becomes easier to see why hospitality is getting overlooked by school leavers and job seekers.

In my experience, however, appropriately qualified workers are easily able to find stable and long-term positions with many career development opportunities. Many operators are running with a largely untrained workforce because finding qualified staff is a challenge; one Deloitte study estimates that the shortfall of workers will reach 123,000 by next year.  

We need a strong hospitality sector 

 It's an industry that employs almost 7 per cent of the entire Australian workforce, is the backbone of our tourism industry, and plays a part in creating a good lifestyle for many Australians. We have a vibrant restaurant and bar scene in Australia, and many of us enjoy time with family and friends over a great meal regularly.  

In my opinion, if the skill shortages continue at their current rate, we will see restaurants closing in even greater numbers, and the flow-on effect could impact our tourism industry.

It's about a level playing field 

One part of the solution, in my mind, is to showcase hospitality as a great long-term career. We need to get better at educating young people about what an entire career in the hospitality industry can look like. Encouraging more school leavers to consider hospitality will certainly help the industry, and it might just also help some students to find a fulfilling career too.

It's also about creating a level playing field when it comes to funding within the VET sector. Many hospitality qualifications come under traineeships, rather than apprenticeships and are funded differently as a result. In my opinion, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two and ironing out inconsistenciesto support students through traineeships could make hospitality a more attractive option.