It’s no secret that unemployment in the Byron Shire has spiked as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the associated recession.
But it appears that while thousands of locals are out of work, some businesses are struggling to find staff, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries.
In a sign of a significant disconnection between supply and demand within the local job market, some employers say they are looking for staff but have found no suitable candidates to fill the positions.
The major contributing factors appear to be the absence of foreign workers, who often filled hospitality and tourism positions, and the mass exodus of local staff from these positions as they search for more stable occupations.
One local restaurant owner looking for a qualified chef said she had received just two applications for the position in three weeks.
‘Usually, we have a flurry of resumes coming in, both via email, Seek ads and just walk-ins – this is now non-existent’, the restaurant owner said.
The owner said she believed the loss of skilled workers from overseas, owing to the pandemic, was a major contributing factor.
‘There has always been a number of skilled professionals travelling from other countries who are keen for work, and this has always been a help for our team both front-of-house and in the kitchen’, she said.
‘Over 80 per cent of the applications that we used to receive, prior to COVID-19, were qualified and skilled workers from overseas on either student or working-holiday visas.
‘They are no longer in the country, and therefore we are seeing almost zero applications coming through.’
With the Shire expecting a surge in domestic visitors over summer, owing to the ongoing prohibition on international travel, the staff shortage could create a major headache for tourism operators, just as they attempt to get back on their feet.
It’s part of a trend that is expected to see staff shortages at regional tourism hotspots across the country.
‘This is a national crisis facing the industry, because so many people have left tourism and hospitality to find better surety of work’, the Chief Executive of the Victorian Tourism Industry Council, Felicia Mariani, told traveller.com last week.
‘The brain drain from our industry, the intellectual capital we’ve lost from the tourism sector is immense, not just in Victoria.’
However, one local looking for work said hospitality and cleaning positions were not offering attractive wages and conditions.
‘Unfortunately, hospitality and cleaning are not offering the security and hours I am looking for, plus to be honest, the battle to Byron is ridiculous some days’, the job seeker said on social media.
‘I have applied for a temp job, which would only see me employed until July, which I will take if I get it. The risk is not being able to return to Centrelink [benefits], when it ends.’
While the skills shortage is a worrying trend, the increase in the number of available positions still represents a positive development.
According to figures from the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment, there were 2,800 job advertisements in the NSW North Coast in September.
This is a 62.3 per cent increase in the number of job ads compared to March, and a doubling of the April figure when the country experienced a major COVID-related slump.
Business NSW releases survey
Meanwhile, the state’s peak business organisation, Business NSW, believes the state is getting back on track.
According to its quarterly business conditions survey, there has been a bounce in business confidence, the first in a year.
Business NSW Regional Manager, Jane Laverty, says the outlook has improved, and Northern Rivers businesses are expecting further lifts in the economy for the remainder of 2020.
She says, ‘While fewer businesses are scaling back their capital spending and staffing levels, fewer businesses are in a position to expand without innovative support’.
‘That is why Business NSW is calling on the NSW government to continue the jobs push by announcing a payroll tax rebate in next month’s budget.
‘Our survey also examined some of the factors common to businesses most affected by COVID-19.
‘While business services, hospitality and tourism businesses are heavily impacted overall, business performance in these industries varies dramatically depending on location and the type of customers serviced, suggesting somewhat of a two-speed economy.
‘Businesses located in a CBD (regional or metro) and reliant on foot traffic, for example, are among the most vulnerable, as are those reliant on international visitors’.