By Peter Shelley, Managing Director, Australian Tourism Export Council
TOURISM needs the extra workforce that Working Holiday Makers can deliver. There is no mistaking tourism is facing severe workforce pressures. As an industry which is entirely built on customer service, Australia’s workforce shortage has left many businesses struggling to deliver the level of attention and detail they know their customers expect and appreciate.
As we rebuild the industry we also need to rebuild our workforce. Pre-COVID our tourism and hospitality businesses were already coping with an annual shortfall in skilled and unskilled labour estimated to be around 30,000 jobs a year.
The crucial point here is the industry needs not only skilled staff like chefs and tour guides, sales and marketing staff and experienced managers, we need unskilled staff who underpin the success of tourism businesses.
In order to address some of the shortfall in our tourism workforce ATEC has called on the Federal Government, directly though relevant Ministers and through the recent Jobs and Skills Summit, to expand the eligibility criteria under which Working Holiday Makers (WHM) can extend their stay.
Right now, WHM visa holders can extend their stay by an additional one to two years by undertaking three months of work in certain jobs, most of which are farming related, with tourism businesses in some ‘northern or remote and very remote Australia’ regions also qualifying.
With tourism and hospitality businesses across the country facing severe shortages in staff, particularly the unskilled workforce which helps them meet the demands of seasonal fluctuations, we believe this WHM visa class should be amended. Our industry has done it harder than any other though the COVID period and we deserve a hand up in getting back on our feet.
While we do need long-term solutions that require the development of strong employment pathways for a local workforce, there is an opportunity to find a short-term solution which will encourage more people to visit under a visa class which was, after all, introduced in 1975 with the purpose of promoting cross cultural understanding.
ATEC is calling on the Federal Government expand the definition of a ‘specified area of work’ to include all tourism and hospitality work across the country. This will encourage greater numbers of WHM visitors to Australia, provides a desperately need boost to our workforce, will lock in this expanded workforce for a second year, provides tourism dollars to our economy and will help to create a positive message for international visitors thinking of coming to Australia.
We have an opportunity to use the WHM visa system to both support the rebuild of Australia’s tourism industry and to help solve some of the critical workforce shortages being faced across the nation.
Surely this is a win-win-win.