International students key to recovery catering
According to Professor Alan Bowen-James of Le Cordon Bleu, Australia, hospitality skills gaps won’t be filled until international student numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
Increased spending is making strides in the hospitality industry’s recovery after COVID-19. Still, according to Professor Alan Bowen-James, executive dean of Le Cordon Bleu Australia, “businesses are crying out” for employees.
New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that Australian consumer spending in food and hospitality will continue to rise monthly in 2022.
Alan says the increase in spending is welcome, but the industry is under pressure, with staff shortages and rising commodity costs.
“We are both excited and relieved that the industry is recovering and more people are getting out and enjoying life with others, especially in cafes and restaurants, but the industry is clamoring for staff,” said Alan, speaking to CityMag in Le Cordon Bleu’s Regency Park campus.
“It doesn’t matter who you talk to; they are understaffed and struggling to provide services.”
He says this shortfall is due to the absence of international students, who typically work in various roles in the hospitality industry.
A reported backlog of student visa processing in Australia in 2022 has meant that the return of international students has been a trickle since students returned in January.
“Often international students and other migrants work in the hospitality industry,” says Alan.
“These are students who might be doing anything from electrical engineering to aerospace but still have a role in the value chain because there are a lot of jobs that Australians are either not interested in or just have other opportunities.
“International students are an incredibly important part of the economy, forming an ecology of services from the low-skilled to the most highly-skilled chefs and managers.
“It could be an entry-level position, like a delivery boy, to the more advanced level of baristas, serving in restaurants and hotels.”
He says student workers help maintain a viable cost structure across the industry.
“Without them, it becomes unfeasible, and we could witness the collapse of many of these middle-class hospitality establishments. There is a big gap there, and many companies are struggling.”
To help the industry’s recovery, Alan wants the federal government to speed up student visa processing and make courses at schools like his more attractive to domestic students by lowering the tuition tax waived for international students.
International students comprised about 90 percent of Le Cordon Bleu’s student cohort pre-pandemic. The training organization saw its “fantastic” student numbers in 2019 evaporate in 2020 and 2021.
Alan says that in 2022 some students were admitted to Le Cordon Bleu courses but had to postpone because they were waiting for visas.
“The backlog in processing student visas and the tax on domestic students are huge barriers to getting things going,” he says.
“The visas are a blockage, and it stops the flow.”
The good news is that there is plenty of work for anyone looking to pursue a career in the hospitality industry. Alan is also optimistic about the future of the sector, despite inflation.
“Hospitality is booming and will continue to grow; inflation won’t stop that,” he says.
“It means that people are moving away from other, more expensive activities such as traveling, renovations, or a new car, and now spend that money on hospitality.
“The situation is not all negative, and if we were to remove some of these barriers for international students, the industry here could recover much faster and grow significantly.”