‘Perfect storm’ leaves business short of staff

A ‘PERFECT storm’ has left Guernsey with between 1,000 and 1,500 vacancies across all sectors – with housing, Brexit and the pandemic all having an impact.

The panel at yesterday's Chamber lunch at OGH. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30099690)
The panel at yesterday's Chamber lunch at OGH. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30099690)

Business chiefs yesterday described the current labour shortages as like nothing seen in decades, as Policy & Resources president Deputy Peter Ferbrache and Home Affairs president Deputy Rob Prow said action was being taken to address the issues such as greater flexibility for staff population management permits. They also stressed they were listening and were ready to work with business to see what else could be done.

The labour shortages were yesterday discussed at length at a packed Chamber of Commerce lunch with a guest panel drawn from business and government. About 150 people attended the event at the Old Government House Hotel with a further 120 watching online – underlining the level of concern within the business community.

Kenny McDonald, a board member of the Guernsey Retail Group, and head of operations at the Channel Islands Co-operative Society, said his sector was seeing recruitment challenges several times higher than would normally be seen.

‘We’ve got about 200 full-time equivalent vacancies across the retail sector,’ he said. ‘We know we’re not alone. We talk to the hospitality industry. We see that they’re under the same challenges.

‘It’s hard to get a picture for the whole of the island, but anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 vacancies we hear, which I think highlights the scale of the problem.’

Nor would the current number of unemployed people – which stood at 397 as at the end of August – fill vacancies seen across all sectors.

Retail had benefited in the past from guest and seasonal hospitality workers coming with family members who worked in retail stores, added Mr McDonald.

He praised the government’s population management team for being supportive, particularly during the pandemic, with about 300 hospitality workers moving to retail during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis. But poaching from another industry was not the answer.

Referring to living costs, Mr McDonald said: ‘A lot of colleagues that were from Latvia, Portugal are leaving the island because it’s too expensive. Cost of living is a challenge.’

Workers were also returning to their home countries because of life choices forced upon them by the pandemic. such as whether to see family.

Nick Graham, from recruitment firm OSA, said finance sector vacancies were back up to pre-pandemic levels. His firm, which mainly works with the finance industry, had 330 jobs on its website – a level that most of the most busy recruitment agencies would have.

‘We have come out the other side and that’s positive,’ he said. ‘I’ve been in recruitment for many years. And I would say past 12 to 13 years or so, we’ve seen that vacancies have been difficult and challenging to fill. But where we are today is the most difficult job market I’ve seen in 30 years-plus.’

The job market could yet get more challenging and become a ‘crisis’ in six or nine months – with housing difficulties and most firms expected to retain or increase staffing levels. Other people were also just quitting their jobs for work-life balance reasons, and not applying for local jobs.

‘I think there is a concern about wage spirals, costings coming up. I just think we’re in a perfect storm here with Brexit, Covid, housing crisis, limited labour pool across all of the sectors,’ said Mr Graham.

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