Could Norfolk’s hospitality industry offer a lifeline to people facing redundancy?
Local chefs say they are crying out for staff as diners return to restaurants.
It has been a rollercoaster year for the hospitality industry from forced closure to a tentative return and then a desperate need to recruit staff to meet demand.
But restaurants, hotels and resorts in Norfolk are struggling to fill their vacancies with jobs which range from minimum wage front of house positions to senior management and executive roles.
No industry has been more impacted by coronavirus than leisure and hospitality – event venues, hotels, restaurants and travel activities rely on group social environments and in-person interaction in much the same way as the virus.
As the Government sought to save lives by slowing down the spread of Covid-19, drastic but necessary measures were taken with big implications for hospitality.
“We thought it was all over for a while,” said Richard Bainbridge, of Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts Street in Norwich, “when you are forced to close the doors and have no business and no money coming in, it was hard to see the way forward.”
But six months on, the hospitality business may well be the nation’s saviour when it comes to offering new roles to those who have found themselves out of work - yet as unemployment rises, so do the number of jobs available in the sector.
A search for jobs in the hospitality sector in Norfolk reveals a wide range of roles across the county from receptionists to waiting staff, baristas to cocktail tenders, bar staff to hotel managers.
The majority of roles are in coastal regions, county towns or rural locations and many roles offer full training and do not require previous experience.
“When it comes to recruitment, this isn’t a pandemic problem, this is a hospitality problem,” said Richard, who is looking for part-time front of house staff and two chefs, one to work on his new dine-at-home range and one for the restaurant business.
“We have been blown away by the support of people in Norfolk since we reopened and are overjoyed that we need more staff in order to meet the demand.
“Our business is in the city with lots of transport links so it is far easier for us to recruit than it is for many businesses on the coast or in rural locations. Even so, we never have a rush of CVs land on the doormat when we advertise a job.
“If people want to work, there will – pandemics aside – always be work in hospitality because it’s such a fast-moving business. And when we find great staff, we look after them because we know how precious they are.”
Hospitality has faced a recruitment crisis for many years and before the pandemic the sector was bracing itself for a shortage of labour as the result of a potential hard Brexit.
Historically, the sector has the largest staff shortfall of all UK sectors and a widening skills gap that includes a declining number of catering college students and home-grown qualified recruits.
It is widely thought that Brexit will accelerate the shortage due to the industry’s strong reliance on migrant workers.
Millions of furloughed workers should find out this week if they will lose their job when the coronavirus job retention scheme comes to an end next month.
Research by the Institute for Employment Studies has shown that between May and July this year, bosses told the government that 380,000 workers were at risk of redundancy, more than double the peak reached in the Great Recession of 2009.
Simultaneously, the increase in Britons choosing to holiday at home has seen counties such as Norfolk flooded with tourists, both homegrown and from further afield.
North Norfolk hotelier and restaurateur Eric Snaith said that the coast had enjoyed a phenomenally busy summer and that he had been forced to employ agency staff in order to fill the vacant roles he has in order to meet demand.
“This is not a new problem but it’s frustrating when all you hear about jobs is bad news and you know that you have some great jobs waiting to be taken,” he said.
“We have been looking for chefs and front of house staff and until recently for deputy managers at the hotel. Some of these roles don’t need previous experience and we are happy to train staff.
“The potential for progression in one of the jobs we have is right there: we are flexible in terms of working hours and always look at people’s individual situations where we can.
“Working in a team, meeting the public, dealing with customers, working hard – all these are things that will help people in whatever they choose to do in the future, too.
“Hospitality has always been brilliant at offering people opportunities and now is a great time for people to try something new.”
Eric has bought a house close to his businesses where four staff live and is looking for a rental property he can take on in order to combat the issue of potential employees not being able to afford to live in this affluent slice of Norfolk.
Daniel Smith, who with business partner Gregory Adjemian, owns The Ingham Swan, The Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross and Warwick Street Social in Norwich, said the hospitality industry was a great place to start a job search.
“There are lots of jobs in hospitality out there, lots of different roles across the board from front of house to the kitchen – hospitality is a sector where it can be very difficult to recruit, but there are great jobs for the right people,” said Daniel.
“We have just taken on three apprentices in the kitchen and we would like to take on a chef at The Wildebeest – the jobs are definitely there.
“Our problem is recruiting as quickly as we need staff: lots of people want to eat out, but they’re not going to wait until you’ve filled your vacancies. This was an existing problem before the pandemic but we’re far busier than we had thought we’d be.
“It is traditionally harder to fill roles in locations that aren’t city or town-based, but the jobs are there and this is an industry that welcomes anyone willing to work hard.”