Hospitality skills shortage running dry in the NSW Riverina

Businesses such as Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory and Yarra Wines in the NSW Riverina are facing a labour shortage, with some companies having to close their doors for the majority of the week, potentially forever.

“The whole region is struggling to get workers,” says Rhiannon Druce, general manager of Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory. 

“It’s got to the point where places can’t operate seven days a week as we just can’t get the staff. Many are needing a restaurant manager, chef, wait and bar staff – so even when the crowds do come, we may not be able to service them all.”

The run-up to Easter in Australia’s largest organic chocolate factory is its busiest period every year, “when we almost double our staff force – but we’re struggling to fill the job shortage along with other businesses.

“We used to get 600-700 resumes when posted a job ad, now we’re lucky if we get 10, and only one might show up for the interview.”

Nearby Yarran Wines has also been searching for a front-of-house person for two years.

Ms Druce and Serena Hardwick, business manager, from the Wagga Business Chamber, welcome the opening of the borders, and encourage further assistance from the NSW Government such as the recent inclusion of the Artisan Food and Drink Premises in certain rural and commercial zones.

The legislation allows people to put restaurants etc on their farms and Ms Hardwick says more initiatives like this will help boost the local economy and workforce, along with the Dine & Discover programs and accommodation vouchers are a great start. 

“There’s a real opportunity to showcase agritourism in the area,” says Ms Hardwick. “The area is a food bowl – we have great produce, job prospects and it’s a wonderful place to live and work. 

“The industry got shown how vulnerable as it was during Covid, but now with restrictions lifted, it’s business as usual, and it’s a great career to invest in post-pandemic. 

“If the government can invest in more legislation and initiatives that develop hospitality and tourism and see that sector grow, the yields would be tenfold.

“There’s also the opportunity to have some great activations and events.

“If you want people to come out travelling, give them an event to go to, and they’ll stay in the area.”


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