How indies can tackle seasonal staff shortages

22 November 2021, 07:08 AM
  • With job vacancies growing, many in the fine food industry are facing challenges due to staff shortages. How can independents stand out in a crowded job market?
How indies can tackle seasonal staff shortages

‘Tis the season to get the tills ringing as shoppers pile in store for their annual festive shopping spree. For many, the Christmas season means hiring additional staff to help with the surge in demand, but bringing in extra hands for the busiest time of year is proving difficult as job vacancies soar. 

This year, more than 26,000 temporary roles are currently on offer, according to job site Adzuna, which is twice as many as were advertised last year. The multiples have announced huge recruitment drives, with Tesco alone setting out to hire 30,000 extra Christmas staff.

The fight for seasonal workers is one that many retailers will be familiar with this year. As large companies compete for headcount, wages are rising and businesses are shelling out bonuses to attract workers. 

Bira’s CEO Andrew Goodacre has raised concerns over wage inflation following the news that online retail giant Amazon would offer one-off payments of up to £3,000 to entice staff to work with them over Christmas, saying that small independent retailers will struggle to compete. “This kind of action from Amazon will make it harder still for smaller companies who simply cannot afford such wages,” he said.

‘The labour pool isn’t there’

While retail and hospitality are two of the sectors that have seen the largest increase in vacancies this year, hiring is an issue across the food and drink industry – and beyond. The Office for National Statistics found there were 1.17 million job openings in October, almost 400,000 higher than before the pandemic.

Cheesemakers have not been spared, as producers of seasonal favourites like Stilton have faced shortages of temporary staff who are needed in the run up to Christmas. “Across the country there are massive vacancies. They reckon there’s probably about half a million vacancies in factory sites that we can’t fill,” said Bill Mathieson, managing director of Long Clawson Dairy. The dairy’s agency staff providers have a shortfall of about 40% compared to the same time last year down to many Eastern European labourers leaving the UK due to Covid or Brexit.

“What we’ve had to do is have discussions with customers [explaining that] we’re not going to be able to supply all of your product coming up to Christmas,” he told Speciality Food. “We believe we can get to a good position, but we’re not going to get to a position where we would normally get to, simply because the labour pool isn’t available. It’s been a massive issue for us.”

Cheesemongers have also been affected. “Getting staff this year has been horrendous,” said Svetlana Kukharchuk, proprietor of The Cheese Lady. Finding the right people for the right jobs has been a challenge. “It has to be the right kind of thing for them and for us,” she told Speciality Food. “I don’t want somebody who just needs a job, so they need to be passionate. They need to be at least a foodie, if not a cheeseaholic. And then the cheese knowledge we can teach.”

Tips for hiring staff

In a recent report, professional services group Grant Thornton said the labour shortage is the “headline challenge” for the food and drink sector. The group’s research revealed an average vacancy rate of 13%, meaning the sector currently has more than 500,000 unfilled jobs. The highest proportion of vacancies in the sector were in processing, with an average of 43%, and second highest was operational roles, with 35% of jobs unfilled.

Grant Thornton said that food and drink businesses can boost their recruitment processes by using social media campaigns to extend their reach into the local community and by offering incentives like better pay, flexible working and refreshed employee benefits.

For independent retailers, the attraction can come down to your store’s ethics and values. As Andrew Burton, a retail and catering advisor at Malcolm Scott Consultants and a member of the Farm Retail Association council, previously told Speciality Food, it’s not as simple as sticking up a generic job advert and hoping for the best. 

For example, he said, “When recruiting for farm shop restaurant managers, the key points and differences to everyday catering need highlighting. Aspects such as working for independent owners have been appealing for many, as is having a good work-life balance which farm shops often bring due to their opening hours, meaning no split shifts or late nights. Also, being able to influence menus and being able to use locally sourced products, sometimes from within the farm shop itself, also gives a good catering applicant a real buzz,” Andrew said.

Showcasing what makes your food shop different – and what makes this industry special – will ensure that independents attract the best candidates for their shops this season.

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