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Hospitality is in the front line, but it’s not the only industry struggling
Thursday 10 Jun 2021 Author: Ian Conway

After suffering cruelly during the pandemic, with thousands of venues closing permanently and most of those that survived racking up horrendous debts, the hospitality industry now faces another crisis: a lack of staff.

And the wider dynamics in the labour market, affecting all sectors, could add to inflationary pressures as businesses are forced to pay higher wages to attract new employees. Unsurprisingly the recruitment companies are enjoying strong share price performance amid the clamour for workers.

The most obvious reason for the shortage in hospitality is Brexit, which caused the exodus of close to 190,000 young workers back to Europe. The squeeze was compounded by Covid, with many full-time hospitality workers finding alternative jobs during furlough or only returning to work part-time.

The result is bars, pubs and restaurants are struggling to attract staff, particularly chefs, with reports of poaching and of staff demanding loyalty bonuses. Job site Indeed registered a near 600% increase in job vacancies in London for food preparation and service between the government setting out its ‘roadmap’ in February and mid-May.

Even Tim Martin, the JD Wetherspoon (JDW) boss who was a vocal supporter of Brexit and who called those who warned of a staff shortage ‘doomsters’, has called for ‘a more liberal immigration system’ because he can’t get enough bar workers.


Bars and pubs aren’t alone in struggling to recruit, however. According to the Office for National Statistics, job vacancies advertised across the UK rose by 88,000 in April to a staggering 747,000. Of these hotels and restaurants accounted for close to 30,000.

The Road Haulage Association claims there is a shortage of 70,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers in the UK, mainly due to older, experienced foreign drivers leaving ahead of Brexit and not enough (younger, inexperienced) British candidates applying in their place.

The Association of Staffing Companies even recorded a shortage of jobs in finance, with vacancies up more than 250% year-on-year in April. Demand for fintech specialists was already close to three quarters of 2020’s requirements by the end of April.

Confirming this hiring enthusiasm, the latest Labour Market Survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows employment intentions among its member firms at their highest level since 2013 when the measure was introduced.

The issue for employers, and the staffing firms they advertise through, is convincing good candidates to move. Experienced staff, typically with a mortgage and dependents, aren’t confident enough to switch jobs in case there is another lockdown and a risk they could be laid off.

Despite the offer of more money, many would rather hunker down and ride out the ups and downs of the economy over the rest of this year, rather than risk jumping now and falling between two stools. 

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