Retail and hospitality industries feel the brunt of COVID-19
Most restrictions may have lifted, but COVID-19 is continuing to impact the way we live and work. And Kiwis in some industries are feeling the effects more than others.

Research conducted on behalf of SEEK reveals how workers in some sectors stand out when it comes to their feelings of security and optimism about their working lives. Here’s a look at the key insights and how they may shape your approach to attracting talent.

But first, let’s take a quick look at the economy and the potential impact of October’s General Election.

Doug Steel, Senior Economist BNZ Markets, says the October’s election result will signal little change in overall policy direction.

“It was certainly a big result for the New Zealand Labour Party and there will be tweaks around the edges of policies, such as introducing a new top marginal tax rate and a spend up on infrastructure. These will have some influence on the economy over time, but we don’t expect much change in policy.”

While the financial fallout from COVID-19 continues to be felt across the country, Steel says there are small signs of encouragement.

“If there's been any theme to the recent economic data, it has been for the better – at least relative to expectations, which were fairly modest,” he says.

“Businesses are still pessimistic, but there is a lot in the detail that they seem to be getting a little more cheerful about,” adds Steel. “For example, employment intentions have ticked back into the positive, and activity indicators are nowhere near as weak as they were. So, that's quite encouraging, now the wage subsidies have all but finished.”

The retail and hospitality industries are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and this has shaken the confidence of employees in these industries.

While the sense of job security across all New Zealand workers in their current roles was at 70% between July and October, those in retail and hospitality felt less secure (62%). This compares to 73% for healthcare, call centre and community services workers.

In terms of the availability of work, 41% of Kiwis felt there aren’t enough jobs out there for them. This was slightly higher among those in retail and hospitality, at 43%.

“I'm not surprised that healthcare workers are feeling more confident than those in hospitality, because the value of healthcare has been such a focus this year,” says Steel.

Employers across hospitality have faced hard decisions this year.

Craig Binney is Head of People & Culture at Scenic Hotel Group, New Zealand’s largest locally owned and operated hotel group with 18 hotels and resorts across the country. He describes March as the toughest month in the group’s 30-year history.

“I remember sitting in a room trying to figure out what on earth we were going to do,” he says. “We were looking at downsizing our workforce from 800 to 100, but then the New Zealand Government extended the wage subsidy scheme that day.”

Binney says that while the government support allowed the business to retain more people, their strategy was readjusted almost daily due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We ended up retaining 350 people, which was more than three times what we’d originally predicted, but it still really hurt to lose almost 500 people,” he says.

“We’ve been lucky enough that as things have developed, we’ve been able to bring people back into their roles. That’s been really heartening from our perspective.”

Domestic tourism contributes $23 billion a year to New Zealand's economy and locals will play a vital role in the sector's long road to recovery.

Binney says a positive sign is that Scenic Hotel Group has started recruiting.

“There's a lot of talk about how bad everything is across the country, but we have got 23 open roles at the moment, which is really encouraging,” he says. “Some regions, like Queenstown and Hawkes Bay, for instance, are recovering faster than others.”

He adds that COVID-19 has changed the way hotels operate and that it is having an impact on job descriptions. It may also help to attract candidates who are looking to broaden their skills and take on more responsibilities and should be highlighted in the recruitment process.

“A lot of the structural barriers have had to be broken down,” he says. “Before, we would say ‘you work in the restaurant, you work in housekeeping and you work at reception’, and roles were very clearly defined. That has been thrown out the window now and there is a real focus on cross-training, as well as cross-skills required in the job descriptions for roles that we are putting out.

“There's more flexibility, which hopefully creates a slightly more interesting job,” says Binney.

Small signs of economic encouragement across the country may lift the outlook among Kiwis – including those in the hardest-hit industries.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published October 2020. 

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