Skills shortage forcing popular eatery to close during school holidays

A Busselton business has made the decision to close during the September school holidays due to a worker shortage, a situation being faced by many businesses in the region.
A Busselton business has made the decision to close during the September school holidays due to a worker shortage, a situation being faced by many businesses in the region.

One of regional business in Western Australia has made a "devastating" decision to close during the September school holidays due to a worker shortage.

It is a situation being faced by many businesses in many sectors around the state.

Burger Bones operates in Busselton's town centre and has built a reputation among locals for its quality hamburgers, even becoming a destination venue for Perth travellers visiting the south west.

While the school holidays will be one of the busiest trade times of the year, the fallout from COVID-19 has seen many businesses in the tourist town struggling to hire staff limiting their ability to trade.

Burger Bones owner Cooper said while their situation wasn't unique, losing a key staff member in the current economic climate forced them to make the call.

"It is the nature of our (WA's) bubble," he said.

"Our chef, who we loved, had an opportunity to go up north and earn big bucks, so when we lost him we put out a call, ads and nothing.

"Everybody I know in the industry is facing the same problem, we are not a one-off, everybody is in the same boat.

"It is devastating because we have people message us saying, 'we are coming down from Perth and we have you on our radar'.

"You are that much busier and if we had a choice it would be great to be open during the school holidays.

"We just had to call it because there are so many variables, and one of the biggest was stress, there is no way I could do the job of three people.

"It is not uncommon, it is common and it is unfortunate for us that somebody left before the school holidays.

"There is not much we can do than cop it on the chin."

Border closures have not helped

A skills shortage in WA has been an ongoing issue exacerbated by international and interstate border closures during the global pandemic.

Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre director professor Alan Duncan said prior to COVID-19, around 10,000 skilled workers were making their way into WA every quarter.

"Skills shortages has emerged as a real issue throughout the course of COVID-19 for WA, as the case for other jurisdictions," he said.

"It is almost more keenly felt in WA because of the relative strength of our recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

"We are finding skill shortages are a real and present issue, and quite a significant issue, it is not just for food and hospitality it is across the board.

"If you look at resources, engineering and construction you see there are hosts of roles, skills shortages are really an issue."

Mr Duncan said before the pandemic hit, WA had benefited from overseas migration for a long time.

"WA had a net quarterly inflow from overseas of around 10,000 people, over the course of the resources boom and the strengthening of WA's economy it has always been the case," he said.

"WA has benefited from and relied on overseas migration, skill labour, skilled workers and skilled innovation coming from overseas.

"That should not mean that we don't care for skilled training and development opportunities within WA, particularly in regions such as the South West."

Mr Duncan said when border restrictions eased in the future a greater share of the skills demand would be met by interstate migration.

"The indications we have heard from the federal government about opening up international borders suggested that it would not be before the later part of 2022," he said.

"We are talking about a full year between now and then, and in the interim, skills would more likely be met by interstate migration.

"We also know that the borders won't open up to a significant degree before Christmas, so there is definitely a short term issue before we get to some of the flows that will happen when borders relax."

Not an unexpected position

Mr Duncan said the state government's skills summit recognised the issue and highlighted that skills shortage had been an ongoing issue for WA for some time.

"This just highlights for the state government to do anything and everything it can to try and look at, especially some of these short term skills shortages," he said.

"If we don't then WA could lose out and miss the boat on capitalising WA's position as a relatively COVID-19 free, economically vibrant state economy.

"This should really be quite high on the state governments priorities - how to resolve the issue of skills shortages in WA."

Minister for Education and Training Sue Ellery said with low unemployment and international border restrictions, WA was experiencing incredible demand for workers to fill local jobs and support businesses.

"As a result of the recent Skills Summit in Perth, we requested an additional 5,000 onshore places from the Commonwealth Government under the State Nominated Migration Program," she said.

"The addition of 134 occupations, which includes chefs and cooks, prompted thousands of expressions of interest from skilled onshore migrants who are living interstate to secure work in WA.

"A targeted advertising campaign is also being developed to attract interstate and New Zealand workers and increase participation of under-represented groups in WA."

To help skill workers the state government has lowered fees to TAFE courses for 180 vocational education and training qualifications by up to 72 per cent.

Ms Ellery said reduced fee courses such as barista training, commercial cookery, hospitality, hospitality service and kitchen operations were available.

"I would encourage people in the South West to take the opportunity to learn new skills," she said.

Busselton Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Michael Brown said it was a perfect storm in terms of a lack of labour.

"Mining companies are paying more and drawing from the local source, so we lose people to the money, which is an understandable call," he said.

"It is putting an added burden on existing businesses to operate or not to operate. It is a situation I have seen in a number of businesses.

"While we have been lucky on one hand that we have not had COVID-19 yet, to say that we have not been affected by it is an absolute falsity - we have been hit very hard.

"A lack of personnel is causing massive issues for everybody."

Businesses pushed to breaking point

Mr Brown said businesses, especially in hospitality, were finding it difficult to find staff and had been pushing their existing staff to breaking point.

"Businesses have said to me if they don't shut the doors or reduce trading hours or have days where they did not open at all, they would burn out the staff they had and would not be competitive," he said.

"It is not even summer or the September school holidays and staff are burnt out already.

"It is unheard of and everyone is concerned.

"We are going to find and be very surprised going into the summer season how many shops are closed on weekends or aren't open for extended periods of time."

Mr Brown said it was difficult to predict how businesses would rebound after the borders open.

"These are uncharted waters, it is still very difficult to predict what will happen," he said.

This story WA might be fine but skills shortage takes toll on business first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.