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Hospitality facing widespread staff shortages, survey finds

It comes as many restaurant, pub and bar staff left their jobs during lockdowns, whilst Brexit also caused a steep drop in people travelling from Europe to work in the UK

Nine in 10 hospitality business leaders expect to face staff shortages this year as restrictions continue to ease, according to the latest Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth. 

Half (51%) of respondents anticipate shortages in all roles, while 39% are only concerned about back of house roles. According to the CGA, the latest figures “reinforce widespread concerns” about a crisis in hospitality recruitment as trading restrictions ease. 

It comes as many restaurant, pub and bar staff left their jobs during lockdowns, whilst Brexit has also caused a steep drop in people travelling from Europe to work in the UK.

The Business Confidence Survey found that shortages appear to have “caught many employers by surprise”, with 51% of leaders finding that the reduced recruitment pool has been a bigger issue than they anticipated since restrictions began to ease. 

Nine in 10 (88%) employers now expect to hire staff this year, with half (44%) of them to a greater extent than expected. Only 4% are confident they will not need any new recruits. 

Although two thirds (67%) remain confident about their ability to recruit, retain and train staff, the CGA said there is “likely to be intense competition for available labour in the coming months, increasing the pressure on businesses to keep hold of team members”. 

Following months of on-off furlough, respondents were also concerned about drops in staff productivity, as 47% say improving employee productivity will be a major focus in 2021, with only 4% unconcerned about the issue.  

Despite these issues, the survey showed that 79% of leaders were optimistic about prospects for the eating and drinking out market ahead of full reopening, the highest level for just over six years. 

Karl Chessell, CGA’s director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “It’s already apparent that recruitment and retention are going to be huge concerns for hospitality over the remainder of 2021. Post-Brexit shortages had been expected for some time, but COVID-19 has multiplied the difficulties and many businesses are already facing a staffing crisis at the worst possible time.”

Sebastien Sepierre, managing director – EMEA, Fourth, said: “The survey paints a very stark picture of the staffing crisis currently facing the hospitality industry. We know from our data that the number of EU workers in the UK hospitality workforce fell by 4% when comparing the first quarter of 2021 with 2019. 

“This, coupled with a 12% reduction in new starters from EU countries over the same period, has exacerbated the impact of the pandemic on the workforce, generating the most challenging recruitment market in recent memory.”

He added: “In the face of a shrinking pool of workers and increasing consumer demand, improving employee productivity has clearly become a major focus for operators. This is a complex task that not only involves smart-scheduling, but, crucially, motivating and engaging the existing workforce in the face of ever-increasing pressure.”

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