Hiring Christmas casuals: how 2 businesses are preparing for the holidays

Hiring for EOY AU

In the current market, some hospitality and retail businesses are struggling to find Christmas casuals amid border closures and COVID-related business interruptions. Here are two businesses finding creative ways to hire in a staff shortage.

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewees:

  • Consider outsourcing manual tasks to labour companies.
  • Have a contingency plan ready to execute if lockdowns hit again.
  • Explore ways to make your business less reliant on staff.
  • Hire local – it’s easier to manage local staff amid restrictions, and better for the business all round.

Party People retail: Finding Christmas casuals via social media

“Halloween was huge last year and we are anticipating another massive one this year,” says Dean Salakas, Chief Party Dude at party supply emporium The Party People. “Then straight off the back of Halloween comes Christmas so it’s a really huge part of the year for us.”

But finding the staff to accommodate this busy time hasn’t been easy. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 27% of Australian businesses were having difficulty finding suitable staff – and that was in June this year, before the most recent lockdowns and without the need for additional Christmas casuals..

“We would normally hire three to six months out from summer,” explains Dean. “That would get us through the busy period, then there’s  some natural attrition over the first part of the year and we start hiring again mid-year. But we couldn’t do that this year because of the uncertainty around lockdown.”

So only weeks out from the biggest party season of the year, Dean was only just able to recruit staff.

“Traditionally we’ve used Seek to advertise for staff but this year we are doing anything we can to find people, including lots of word of mouth and using social media to get the word out. We typically recruit juniors because we have an experienced core staff in place already and having casuals gives us more flexibility.”

One solution to the temporary staffing issue has been to outsource some of the more repetitive manual labour jobs.

“We’ve been able to use a labour company to take care of some basic tasks while we’re catching up on recruitment,” says Dean. “It’s been more important to keep the staff we do have managing online orders or at the store now it’s opened and is so busy.”

And what about the possibility of further local lockdowns?

“Like everyone we’ve been through a few now, so we know what to expect. It’s all about planning and we have a contingency plan we can execute for each level of lockdown,” says Dean. “A big part of that is shifting staff onto work-from-home schedules wherever possible, using any downtime to complete those jobs that have been on the to-do list forever, and really tuning into what customers want. During the last lockdown that was arts and crafts supplies, and things to make homeschooling more interesting.”

Outfield cafe: Hiring local

Just as it has for many hospitality businesses, the lack of travellers and international students has made finding staff a huge challenge for Caleb Maynard at Ashfield’s Outfield cafe in NSW.

“The hospitality industry relies hugely on international workers,” says Caleb. “I had a big group of Nepali and Bangladeshi guys in the kitchen when COVID hit and they all had to leave as soon as they could. Now the majority of staff around are either really young and totally inexperienced or they’re older hospitality veterans.”

Outfield also lost staff to other industries, including aged care, when hospitality became too uncertain amid restrictions.

“Because we didn’t know at the start of the lockdown in 2020 if we’d be opening again, I had to encourage people to take another job opportunity if they could find one,” says Caleb, who’s now pivoted Outfield’s offerings not just to cope with the lockdown restrictions but so the entire business isn’t built on what hard-to-find waitstaff can bring to the tables.

“For the first lockdown, we started jarring our own relishes and pickles, and sold pasta and picnic blankets and all kinds of stuff. We were just rolling the dice to see what worked,” Caleb says. “We’ve focused on handheld foods – stuff that’s easy to walk away with. Then when restrictions started to ease we introduced picnic packs.”

Caleb also won’t be shifting back to the classic cafe experience of inside table seating anytime soon.

“We’ve changed our business model for good. Outside seating is still important and people prefer it at the moment anyway,” Caleb explains. “But now when someone loves their burger, we can tell them the pickles on their burger are for sale – it’s an easy add-on transaction.”

The inside space will be used to collaborate with a local plant business, filled with greenery instead of tables and chairs.

Caleb is on the hunt for a barista and a cook to see the cafe through the busy summer period but still has a core kitchen staff who’ve been with him the whole way. And why have they stayed?

“Well, I like to think I’m a nice guy!” he laughs. And it’s not far off the reason – Caleb’s kept his current team by making sure they feel as valued as they are.

“I try to make gestures that count. We’ve really encouraged our staff to take home anything they need from the kitchen over lockdown and sometimes I’ll buy them all a bottle of wine and send them home to share some time with their families,” he says.

“And they’re local – they care about the business. They see their customers around the neighbourhood. I think hiring locals is going to become more and more important in hospitality especially if we’re faced with more local lockdowns. You need people who can get to the business and who want it to succeed.”

Speak with one of our small business lending specialists about how a Prospa Small Business Loan could help you through the busy end-of-year season. Apply now.

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