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Are There Enough Young Workers in Australia to Fuel Hospitality Recovery?


It’s 2022 and hospitality is finally on its feet again. The return of international travel and the absence of economic restrictions have allowed the sector to roar back to life. But can it find workers to fill the jobs being created?

Key Points

  • Job opportunities in accommodation & food services have surged in recent months following easing of economic restrictions and reopening of international borders. 
  • Around 3.5% of jobs in accommodation & food services are currently vacant, well above the 1.4% rate in the decade before the pandemic.
  • Two-thirds of accommodation & food service workers are under 35, which leaves industry recruitment vulnerable to the sharp fall in Australia’s youth population. 

Closure of international borders and restrictions on economic activity devastated Australia’s hospitality sector. In 2020, during the first lockdown, sector jobs fell 18.5%. Last year’s lockdown wasn’t much better, with almost 13% of jobs disappearing. For two years the sector suffered. Now, in 2022, it can finally pick up the pieces. 

As recovery takes hold, the sector isn’t so much concerned with the pandemic as with finding staff amid an unprecedented nationwide jobs boom. The recruitment crunch is especially acute because demand for workers has surged at the same time the supply of young people has cratered. The shortage of young workers hits accommodation & food services particularly hard because two-thirds of employees in the field are under 35. 

Australia’s economy is expected to grow sharply this year. Meanwhile, households are cashed up and travel-deprived, and that could be a boon for hospitality. However, recruiters in the sector may need to shift their focus toward older workers if they want to take advantage of surging demand. An increase in international students and backpackers crossing Australia’s newly opened borders will add to the labour supply. But that’s hardly a near-term solution to hospitality’s recruitment challenge. 

Australia’s hospitality sector is on a hiring spree

As restrictions have eased, the hospitality sector has staffed up aggressively, beginning in restaurants and extending more recently to hotels and accommodation. 

On Indeed’s Australia site, as of March 31, restaurant job postings were more than 180% above their level on February 1, 2020, before the pandemic began. For its part, hospitality & tourism was up 104%, surging since restrictions were eased in October 2021. Postings for hospitality jobs have rapidly closed the gap with overall postings during that period. 

Line graph titled “Australian job postings on Indeed.” With a vertical axis ranging from -100 to 200 percent, Indeed tracked the percent change in job postings along a horizontal axis ranging from February 1, 2020 to March 31, 2022, with different coloured lines representing “cafes, restaurants and takeaway,” “hospitality and tourism,” and “overall.” As of 31 March 2022, job postings in restaurants were currently 180 percent above their level on February 1, 2020.

The pandemic’s impact on postings in accommodation & food services has been far from uniform. Restaurants were highly sensitive to economic restrictions, but remained open  for takeaway. Hiring trends fluctuated wildly as restriction regimes changed. 

Until recently, accommodation services were either shuttered or operating at low capacity, and recruitment activity reflected that. On Indeed, overall job postings and ads for restaurant work in Australia passed their pre-pandemic peaks in November 2020. It took almost a year longer for that to occur in hospitality. 

Job vacancy data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics tell a similar story. Overall, around 3.5% of accommodation & food service jobs were vacant in the December quarter, well above the historical average of 1.4%. That reflects growing demand for workers across the industry, in part a reversal of earlier job losses. But the problem is also on the supply side. The sector is having greater difficulty finding candidates to fill some roles. 

Line graph titled “Australian job vacancy rate.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 4 percent, Indeed tracked the share of available jobs vacant along a horizontal axis ranging from 2010 to 2022, with different coloured lines representing “accommodation and food service” and the “2010-2019 average.” Around 3.5 percent of accommodation and food service jobs were vacant in the December 2022 quarter, well above the historical average of 1.4 percent.

The recovery in accommodation & food services was delayed relative to comparable sectors such as retail. The retail jobs boom started in the second half of 2020.  As of December, filled jobs were 6.5% above pre-pandemic levels and the job vacancy rate was 2.1%. The lag puts accommodation and food services at a recruitment disadvantage. Retail and other sectors were snapping up workers while hospitality was still burdened by economic restrictions and closed borders. 

Large decline in Australia’s youth population a problem for hospitality 

Australia’s population ages 15-24 and 25-34 has fallen 5% and 2.9% respectively since the pandemic began, reflecting the impact of closed borders on global travel and immigration. 

Line graph titled “Australian civilian population growth.” With a vertical axis ranging from 92 to 104 percent, Indeed tracked the change in population across a horizontal axis ranging from March 2020 to March 2022, with different coloured lines representing “15 to 24 year olds,” “25 to 34 year olds,” and “35 to 64 year olds.” As of March 31, 2022, Australia’s population aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 was down by 5 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.

The sharp decline in Australia’s youth population complicates recruitment in accommodation & food services. Some 47% of the workforce in the field is between 15 and 24, while 67% is under 35, far higher shares than any other sector. Retail ranks second, with 51% of its workforce under 35. 

Interestingly, retail has managed to reduce its reliance on younger staff during the pandemic. Its share of employees under 35 has fallen 2.2% points over the past two-years. That has not been true for accommodation & food services, where the share under 35 is essentially unchanged. 

Bar chart titled “Australian youth employment.” Indeed compared the share of industry employment aged 15 to 34 in various sectors using an annual average to February 2022 across a horizontal axis ranging from 0 to 80 percent. 47 percent of the accommodation and food services workforce was aged between 15 to 24 and 67% was aged under 35.

Recruitment in accommodation & food services will face difficulties for the foreseeable future. The delayed recovery has put the industry on its back foot as it tries to staff up in a historically tight labour market. Comparable industries, such as retail, had the opportunity to scoop up young talent earlier in the pandemic when unemployment and underemployment were much higher. 

Hospitality employers need to rethink recruitment strategy  

The growing demand for staff in hospitality and the decline in Australia’s youth population suggest recruiters need to explore new hiring strategies. Raising wages and benefits is often an effective approach, but shifting the recruitment focus from youth toward older workers may also be necessary. 

Border reopening and the influx of international students and backpackers — historically a deep recruitment pool for hospitality — will help. But the number of travelers from abroad isn’t likely to return to pre-pandemic levels in the near-term, so this is only a partial solution. 

Methodology

This blog post utilises a combination of Indeed job postings and data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

Indeed’s job postings are seasonally adjusted based on historical patterns in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The analysis is based on the percentage change in job postings since February 1, 2020, our pre-pandemic baseline. 

The number of job postings on Indeed.com, whether related to paid or unpaid job solicitations, is not indicative of potential revenue or earnings of Indeed, which comprises a significant percentage of the HR Technology segment of its parent company, Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd. Job posting numbers are provided for information purposes only and should not be viewed as an indicator of performance of Indeed or Recruit. Please refer to the Recruit Holdings investor relations website and regulatory filings in Japan for more detailed information on revenue generation by Recruit’s HR Technology segment.

The data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics comes from the ‘Labour Account Australia’ and ‘Labour Force, Australia, Detailed’ releases.