Austin Whelan pubco director, Austin Whelan, told The Morning Advertiser while rising costs are “always in the back of operators minds”, staffing issues are currently more worrisome for the sector and have held back growth, in particular for multiple operators.
He said: “[Staffing levels] have stopped me growing even more than we have. There are opportunities out there I'd love to try and jump on, but you've got to get the pubs that you have right first, and staffing issues are a major problem.
“It's the biggest thing holding me back from growing more. Unless you've got the right people in the business, there's no point in trying to move on to the next one.”
In addition, Whelan claimed the pandemic had seen a lot of people join the sector who may not be right for hospitality and “may not have worked in the industry” before that, which had exacerbated staffing issues.
“There's a lot of people that don't really have the passion and the drive for hospitality anymore in the industry, which is contributing to holding businesses back”, he continued.
The right people
Furthermore, the director added employment in the sector is where he had seen the biggest changes in recent years, in particular regarding pay increases and working patterns, stating hospitality is a “different business today” than it was four or five years ago.
This comes as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced an increase to the National Living Wage (NLW) at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday 2 October.
“Staffing is the one thing if we don't get right, we can't expand and you have to pay that bit more to get the right people now”, Whelan added.
In addition, licensee of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, Brendan Padfield questioned where the money for the NLW increase would come from as operators would not be able to “absorb” the increase.
Looking to tackle employment issues, Whelan advised solid relationships with staff and a good support network were imperative.
He said: “The relationship you have with your staff and the people you have around you, and the structure around you [are key to tackling staffing issues].
“If the structures there and the people around you care the way you care, it gives you a fantastic opportunity.”
“We need to do far more to encourage skills and the Government needs to do far more to support skills”
Cobra Beer founder Lord Bilimoria also separately told The Morning Advertiser staffing issues were one of the biggest pain points currently for the sector, and called for reformation of the apprenticeship levy to help tackle labour shortages.
“[The apprenticeship levy] needs to be far more flexible; a lot of it has been unutilised because of the lack of flexibility.
“We need to do far more to encourage skills and the Government needs to do far more to support skills”, he said.
However, Lord Bilimoria added the Government had done some “good things” for the sector in terms of recruitment, including a help to grow management scheme, which supports firms with the cost of business schools to attend programmes to aid growth and learn from other business leaders.
“That’s the sort of support the Government should be doing. When Rishi Sunak was Chancellor, that was one of his initiatives”, he continued.
The “other big elephant in the room”, the Cobra founder added, was immigration and implored the Government to add the sector to the shortage occupation list.
Shortages across the board
This comes as figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed job vacancies in the sector were 48% higher than pre-pandemic levels, standing at 132,000 in May this year.
In April this year, vacancies in the sector were also estimated to have increased 59.6% year-on-year by ONS.
Moreover, earlier this year, trade body UKHospitality (UKH) also called for the Government to make changes to the immigration system, in particular adding chefs to the Shortage Occupation List, and reformation of the apprenticeship levy.
Lord Bilimoria said: “We have labour shortages across the board. How can businesses survive or grow? We need access to skilled labour.
“The Government needs to act much quicker in addressing this issue. Net migration figures are completely misleading because that figure includes international students [who tend to only stay for one year].
“If there was less scare mongering with immigration and we had the correct figure, not including international students, then we’d have the scope to let in the immigration and the workforce that our economy and industries like hospitality need.”