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Business / Businesses struggle as number of local job vacancies closes in on 400-mark

The hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit by the labour shortage.

SHETLAND is being held back by the ongoing labour shortage crisis, which appears to be affecting almost every sector in the isles.

The shortage has been evident nationally since the spring and data released by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) on Friday suggests the picture will get worse before it gets better.

Shetland appears near the top of a list of hiring hotspots across the UK with 385 “unique active job postings” during the week of 23 August, an increase of 11 per cent on the previous week. In neighbouring Orkney there were 373 unfilled posts.

Hospitality, retail, logistics and tourism are the hardest hit by a crisis most people in the industry agree has been created by a combination of Brexit and the economic upturn as the Covid pandemic eases.

The crisis also extends to Shetland Islands Council as well as NHS Shetland where many jobs, particularly in the social care sector, are proving difficult to fill.  Meanwhile, staff shortages in the council’s planning department are well documented.

The expectation locally is that over coming weeks it will get even harder to fill vacancies as students return to university while large construction projects in the centre of Shetland lure people in with pay offers the hospitality industry cannot afford.

There are also warnings of food shortages in some areas nationally as haulage companies struggle to find lorry drivers, while fruit and veg are not being harvested by Eastern European workers.

A number of local businesses, mainly in hospitality, have had no choice but to curb some services due to the ongoing labour shortage.

Grant O’Neil of Busta House Hotel said they were down by between five and six full-time staff, and the upshot was doing less business than would be possible under normal circumstances.

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“The demand is there but we can’t satisfy it,” O’Neil said, continuing that nationally huge amounts of people have come to the conclusion that hospitality is not for them and have decided to leave the industry.

“The most important thing for me is to ensure that we deliver the same level of quality, and also to make sure we are not overworking the people that we have,” O’Neil added.

Over at Brudolf Hotels, owner Robert Smith paints a similar picture. He says he could easily do with about 15 more staff in various departments of the Lerwick and Shetland hotels.

He added: “We also have the Kveldsro shut at the moment as we are doing a major upgrade of all the public areas, but when it’s all done and time for the grand reopening, [I’m] not sure where the staff are going to come from.

“Since 2004 when Eastern Europe opened up within the EU, we and others like us were able to get a steady stream of good quality employees, some of whom are with us still, some have settled and married in Shetland.

“Since Brexit this is no longer possible. Covid has confused the situation completely; the London government think this is short term but it isn’t.

“They have given a dispensation to the fruit growing industry in Britain of 10,000 seasonal workers; until or unless they do the same for hospitality, probably around 500,000 for the country as a whole, this issue will not go away.”

Other hospitality settings in Lerwick such as the Dowry and Fjara, report similar difficulties in recruiting people, as have many others. Caffe Volare at Sumburgh Airport, meanwhile, has had to reduce some of its opening hours.

Meanwhile, Peter Tait of Shetland’s largest construction company DITT said the company could easily employ another 10 or 12 people but they would have to be skilled. He praised the quality of the new apprentices coming through the system over the last two to three years.

“There has been a general shortage and that has been the case for a number of years. It is an ageing industry, people are getting older and there is a general drift away from people on the tools to other jobs because there are so many other opportunities out there,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shetland News’ own job page has never been so busy.

SIC development director Neil Grant  admits there is little the local authority can do other than assisting people in developing the right skills and training for the local workforce, such as extending apprenticeship programmes, as well as provide more affordable housing, something that takes time to show results. It was reported earlier this week that over the next five years £27.6 million of Scottish Government funding will go towards Shetland’s affordable housing programme.

Very early on in the Brexit process, the development department had warned of the consequences for the islands should many of its Eastern European workers decide to leave.

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