A roadhouse in far-flung Outback Queensland is attracting international headlines and has become an unlikely symbol of a problem the state is facing: Too many jobs chasing too few people.
It sounds preposterous in a world still struggling for post-Covid economic recovery, yet Queensland currently has the most available job advertisements on the Seek job placement platform across Australia – a whopping 35,500 vacant positions that need to be filled.
This is despite the state having an unemployment rate of 5.9 per cent, which is slightly higher than the national average.
Eateries are having to close on certain days
Many of the available jobs are in the hospitality industry, and Wes Lambert, CEO of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, recently told Brisbane radio station 4BC that some restaurants can no longer open the entire week due to a lack of staff.
Now it seems that the Burke and Wills Roadhouse in Four Ways, a tiny Outback community of around 15 people and located almost 1,600km from Brisbane, has become emblematic of the problem.
The roadhouse has attracted media attention from as far afield as the UK and the Middle East with its recent emotional appeal on Facebook for enough workers to help service rising demand from travellers, including bus companies who want to stop there with their loads of Australian tourists.
Proving near-impossible to find workers
Its owners say that despite constantly advertising for employees it has proved near-impossible to find them, and other hospitality venues in the area are suffering from the same difficulties.
“We are getting busier and busier each day, which is exactly what we’ve been working so hard to achieve – but we cannot find employees to share the workload with,” they posted on their Facebook page recently.
“Every remote town/roadhouse/pub in all the surrounding towns are all in the same situation; no-one can find employees/help. Other businesses are closing their doors for certain days during the week, reducing their opening hours or closing all together… All because no one can find help…
“No one replies to our job ads; some have committed to coming but then pull out last minute, others don’t bother to answer our messages. A good friend of ours who owns another great Australian roadhouse has posted over 1,200 messages/posts looking for people with no success… 1,200 posts!!”
Two reasons for the shortage of staff
Subsequent to the publicity generated by the plea, the Burke and Wills Roadhouse says it has found six new workers who will be coming to help out.
Industry experts believe there are two major reasons for the problems of the Queensland hospitality industry. One is the lack of overseas working-holiday backpackers who filled many of the roles pre-Covid, prior to the closure of Australia’s international borders.
The other, says the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, is that entries into the industry through Vocational Education and Training courses and TAFE have dropped by almost 40 percent in the last five years. As more young people are encouraged to study at university, fewer are doing vocational training.
Slim Dusty once sung of the far-flung Pub With No Beer. In post-Covid Outback Australia, the lament seems to be the Restaurant With No Staff.