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Australian Hospitality Industry Skills Shortages Cooks Chefs Waiters

Cooks Chefs Waiters Australian Hospitality Skills Shortages Return

Waiter… waiter! AROUND a smart restaurant table, friends are chatting and laughing as they look forward to that first glass of red wine. A bottle has been ordered. A minute later, the waiter, a matter-of-fact young woman, arrives and puts a bottle on the table, cork removed. It’s not what was ordered. “We’ve run out of the other one,” she says, unapologetic. “This is better.” And off she goes.

That wet-behind-the-ears young man who can’t tell you the fish of the day? His female counterpart who pours shiraz into your pinot? Get used to it. Standards of restaurant service are declining everywhere in Australia as an ever-increasing number of operators fish in a stagnating staff pond.

“This is how it goes these days, unfortunately,” says Matteo Pignatelli, a Melbourne restaurateur and president of Restaurant & Catering Victoria, on the subject of the modern job interview with prospective waiters. And for a single-restaurant operator it is, to use the political argot of our times, a new paradigm. “You see,” he says with resignation, “nowadays the staff interview you.”…

…And one of the most obvious areas of cutback in that sort of setting is in staffing and staff training, she says.
Mid last year, chefs were removed from a list of preferred trades and professions to be fast-tracked into employer-sponsored residency and allowed to work in Australia. According to many in the industry, it came at a time of relative equilibrium in the restaurant jobs market.

But now? “There are just not enough people in Australia able to deliver business growth especially in this time of almost full employment,” says Wolf-Tasker, who is on the board of Tourism Victoria. “Discussing cutting immigration in the face of these figures makes no sense. And removing cooks from the SOL [skilled occupation list] would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.”

Wolf-Tasker does not want to be seen as advocating “willy nilly” what she calls restaurant “industry fodder” (low-skilled workers) but, like anyone else with a business largely dependent on tourism, she’s concerned that Australia will price itself out of the service industry in the same way that we priced ourselves out of manufacturing.

“The fact remains that many countries with thriving hospitality industries support business growth with various easily obtainable temporary visa arrangements,” she says. “The UK hospitality industry is a prime example. There are people in many nearby countries who would welcome the opportunity to work here in a training/unskilled capacity as well as in a skilled capacity.”

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