As Omicron adds to the pressure on an already chronically short-staffed sector, Hastings People managing director Luke Butler explores the longer-term impacts.
Based on many recent conversations with operators in the pub sector, two key issues are dominating our thinking right now. The immediate focus is on managing the Covid wave and developing strategies to deal with critical staff shortages. The longer-term issue involves coming to grips with what the industry will look like once we finally get through this ordeal.
So, first things first – what is the answer to staff shortages? Recent changes to close contact rules and their related isolation needs have reduced the requirement for employees to ‘in-residence’ exposure to Covid. The problems caused by a Covid case visiting a venue are no longer as dramatic and staff no longer need to isolate if a colleague tests positive.
As a result, there will be two factors that will combine to ensure a more stable supply of workers for venues. Many health professionals have stated that it is only a matter of time before most people get the virus. Once the majority of your team members have been exposed to the virus, their ability to work will normalise.
Many of our clients are already closely tracking the infection status of their employees, particularly across multiple sites. This helps them understand which venues have the highest immunity base. It also helps them either group staff who have had the virus into specific venues or spread them across a portfolio so that each site has enough staff to ensure consistent trade.
It’s an irony, but the ideal scenario for a business is to know that all team members have had the virus. The medical experts tell us that this is likely to happen over the next few months, noting that through natural immunity, some may not ever test positive!
One important tool in achieving a consistent supply of staff is the self administered Rapid Antigen Test (RAT). Soon to be readily available (hopefully), RATs will help create a broad community understanding of who is positive and who is not. This will help us all to effectively manage isolation and help businesses monitor the virus in their staff base.
Our industry cannot afford to keep closing venues. When this happens, more staff are driven from the sector as they seek alternate work to maintain their income. RATs will help individuals manage their own infection status, isolation requirements and that of their dependants. This in turn makes them more readily available to work.
Tackling the knowledge gap
Another major concern is how the industry will deal with the Knowledge Gap that is already being widely felt across the country. The skills gap is one thing, but the knowledge that has literally walked away from the industry may not be replaced for years.
By ‘knowledge’ I am referring to business-specific methodologies – ways of doing things that can only be gained through experience and repetition of a process. It is the stuff of venue-specific inductions, and ‘this is how WE do it’.
If you’ve ever seen one knowledgeable leader exiting your business, you’ll understand the impact that has on your ability to maintain consistency in standards and approach. Until you train a replacement, you could be faced with the tasks of setting up a venue, writing a roster, understanding the product and other day-to-day business changes.
In some cases, entire leadership teams, have not only left a business, but the sector entirely, meaning the industry has lost an incredible amount of knowledge. We will not be able to comprehend the full impact of such a loss for many years to come.
Dealing with this challenge will require a highly process-focused approach, forcing businesses to review their training programs, process documentation and internal communication procedures. The coming years will see a renaissance, and it is an opportunity to build back better. As an industry, we have the chance to address issues that have plagued the employment brand of the sector for years.
It is exciting. Despite the heartache caused by this experience, I am sure the industry is going to be better and stronger for it.