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'chronic shortage' Recovery of Ireland's tourism industry at risk as 40,000 jobs remain vacant

There are shortages of chefs, waiting staff and restaurant and bar managers

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Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly. Photo: Fennell Photo

Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly. Photo: Fennell Photo

Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly. Photo: Fennell Photo

There are fears that a chronic skills shortage will hamper the tourism industry’s recovery as 40,000 job vacancies were revealed in the sector.

Fáilte Ireland is set to publish the figures next week when it unveils its most comprehensive research to date on the tourism and hospitality labour market.

It is expected to estimate there are 40,000 vacancies across the industry, with 24pc at senior level. There are shortages of chefs, waiting staff and restaurant and bar managers.

The research shows many businesses have cut services including curtailing menus, while others reduced opening hours. Three in 10 of those experiencing difficulties say they would have to close if more staff cannot be found, including 40pc of restaurants and cafes.

In a letter to a Dáil committee seen by the Irish Independent, Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly seeks an opportunity to discuss the urgent challenges facing the sector early this year.

His submission says 180,000 jobs were lost in the industry during the pandemic, which has “decimated” the supply of skilled workers at all levels, from front-of-house to middle management.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on labour supply, which has led to a chronic skills shortage across the tourism and hospitality industry,” he says in the letter to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

“The loss of skilled workers and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff are among the greatest barriers to the sector’s recovery.

“Compounding this is the prevailing negative narrative that exists about working in the tourism and hospitality industry.”

Roles that are hard to fill include senior restaurant and bar manager, chef, and waiting staff positions, according to the submission.

Many middle to senior-level managers in hotels have moved into retail, while coach operators have lost drivers.

The submission says sales and marketing roles need to be filled immediately “to ensure a pipeline for 2022/2023” as many staff have moved to other sectors.

“These roles are fundamental to the recovery as they are the frontline sales team for Ireland and are key to generating international demand,” it says.

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The State agency outlines urgent challenges affecting businesses’ ability to bounce back. These include a negative impact on workers’ views of the sector’s stability, a lack of international workers, higher pay expectations, and a dwindling pipeline of new talent.

It says four in 10 tourism and hospitality workers on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (Pup) had not returned to their pre-pandemic employers. Eighty-eight per cent of businesses trying to recruit staff and 68pc of businesses trying to rehire pre-existing staff had difficulty doing so.

The submission says tourism is a leading job creator, especially in parts of Ireland where alternative employment opportunities are low, with a total labour force of 260,000 before the pandemic.

It says tourism is one of the hardest-hit sectors and recruiting and retaining may get more difficult. This is because the unemployment rate is forecast to fall to 5pc and comes as there is “unprecedented mobility” between sectors and a fall in applications for third-level tourism and hospitality courses.

Other industries appear to be experiencing staffing problems. The Construction Industry Federation’s latest outlook survey says 39pc of employers have difficulty retaining skilled staff.

Managing director of Retail Excellence, Duncan Graham, said filling rosters was a bit easier since close-contact rules had been eased recently, but there was demand for speciality roles including pharmacists, opticians and butchers.

Jack Kennedy, economist at jobs website Indeed, said jobseekers’ interest had declined most in cleaning, warehouse work, hospitality, customer service, retail and care roles.

However, Ciarán Nugent, an economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute, said the large fall in Pup claimants indicated people were returning to work in their droves.

He said the amount of jobs advertised in hospitality last year, when employers were highlighting hiring difficulties, was less than half the EU average.

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