Even before the pandemic struck, throwing the hospitality industry into a downhill spiral, businesses in the sector were struggling to find reliable, quality employees in sufficient numbers, to allow their businesses to run at their optimum capacity.

Veteran Mildura hotelier and restaurateur, Don Carrazza said that there is now a crisis in the industry across Australia and it’s hitting local businesses hard, including his own family’s.

In a sad twist of irony the Quality Mildura Grand Hotel, which Mr Carrazza still owns but is leased to the Quality Hotel group, recently let many of its staff go due to the downturn in the hotel’s occupancy rates and cancelled functions created by the COVID lockdowns and border restrictions.

With the COVID lockdown came vital government intervention in the form of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, which saw some workers earning more than triple what they had prior to COVID − an anomaly that impacted the sector in a negative way.

And that’s because, once these programs came to end in March this year, many people who were working in the industry, didn’t automatically return to the sector.

The reason for this is in major part, because they had saved a lot of money and many were able to access their superannuation as well, and so they didn’t immediately need to work, which has led to a major labour shortage in the industry.

While it might have been exasperated by the lockdown, Mr Carrazza said the issue is far more imbedded than that − it has been developing for many years.

“You talk to restaurant owners and other hospitality businesses here in Mildura and they will tell you that they can’t get enough staff to work in the industry, and as a result, many can’t operate at full capacity everyday of the week,” Mr Carrazza said.

“Years ago, we used to have young people training in TAFE, who were being prepared for a career in hospitality.
“Apprentice chefs and cooks and professional wait staff, who would go on to work in high-end establishments and carve-out a solid and rewarding career in the industry.
“This seems to have been lost, and young people – and people in general − don’t want to work in the sector.
“We are supposed to be training people to fill the jobs that are needed in our region, but there hasn’t been a focus on the hospitality sector and this is now coming home to roost.”

For someone who has been in the industry for more than six decades, the situation confronting hospitality businesses is concerning Mr Carrazza enormously.

“It is a huge problem. I have been involved in the hospitality and tourism industry for 65 years and this is the worst that I have ever seen,” Mr Carrazza said.

“One of the things that we don’t seem to realise, is that the industry has grown enormously, but we haven’t catered for this expansion and have failed to train people to fill the jobs that have been created.
“In the 1960s, we had more apprentice chefs and waiters and waitresses in training than there are today at TAFE.
“The fact is, the Government abandoned the industry without realising that the sector had created more jobs than any other industry in the world, without spending one razoo of government funds.”

Mr Carrazza made the point that this expansion of the hospitality sector has all been created by private investment.

“The growth of this industry has come from private investors,” he said.

“People open cafes, restaurants, bars and reception centres, and in doing so, take high risks – all with their own money.
“The taxpayer has never contributed anything to the industry.
“The Government has let the industry down, to the point where the lack of training and the lack of people’s understanding that the industry is an art, has been lost.
“Cooking is an art, and so we should be encouraging young people at school to consider a career in the industry. It is a great industry and you’ll have a well paid job forever.
“The Government doesn’t see this and the problem should be addressed through the TAFE colleges.”

Mr Carrazza added that TAFE’s were specifically established to create industry training for all industries.

“That used to happen. Then all of a sudden in the 1980s and 1990s we destroyed these training programs,” he said.

“How many hospitality industry people have gone into the schools and talked to the Year 8 and 9s about the sector? That’s the time when kids are looking at their career paths.

“The problem has to be fixed by starting to train people for the industry in the TAFE system and educating young people to understand that there is a career to be had in the industry.
”And that it’s not just about having a causal or part time job – it’s a career job. It’s a job of passion and it’s not for everyone. You either have that passion for the industry, or you don’t.
“If you do have a passion to work in hospitality you should be well trained.”

It should be acknowledged that SuniTAFE does conduct hospitality training as does the Trades Centre at the Mildura Senior College, both of whom aim to encourage young people to make a career in the hospitality sector.

SuniTAFE stands ready to rejuvenate the hospitality sector and their manager Business Development and Strategy Greg Leslie said that as Mr Carraza points SuniTAFE has been offering high quality hospitality training programs dating back to the early 80’s when Sunraysia College of began.

“Students who cut their industry teeth serving customers in the ‘Restaurant by the Lake’, which later became ‘Restaurant Delice’ and now ‘SuniTASTE’, have gone onto successful careers and become business owners in their own right,” Mr Leslie said.

“Today there are a host of issues that confront hospitality business owners and we’re acutely aware of the many pressures they’re faced with. We are best placed to help them when it comes to training their workforce.
“In fact their problems are our challenges too. We are seeing student numbers in decline.”

Mr Leslie said that where SuniTAFE once ran multiple groups of apprentice, front of house and cooking classes – this is now is a shadow of what it once was.

“We do believe the time is right to shine a light on the hospitality industry as an enticing career pathway for our young people,” he said.

“As Don suggests, long and rewarding careers are possible and there are a variety of roles to suit young people’s interests, to follow their dreams and to be creative doing something they are passionate about.
“Staff attraction and retention is an industry-wide challenge that requires a well thought out solution.”

Mr Leslie said that institutions like SuniTAFE need to help the industry get to a place where a career as a chef is valued as much as being a builder, nurse, engineer or social worker.

“Take for example the Chefs of the Future cooking competition that we are running at the moment,” he said.

“That important event would not be possible if not for an industry that is serious about developing its talent.
“Sometimes we need to search for innovative solutions to workforce supply and skilling issues.
“We live in a vibrant regional economy where young people are spoiled for choice when it comes to career options.
“SuniTAFE is the right place for our young people to come and learn the skills that will set them up for a rewarding hospitality career.
“Our teaching staff are all hospitality professionals with impressive credentials, who are passionate about the industry they represent, eager to pass their knowledge onto the next generation.”