Staff shortage in the spotlight again due to the return of student workers to the university

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Entrepreneurs in Te Anau say student workers have helped fill the staff shortage over the summer, but it will be difficult for them to run their businesses 100 percent once those students return to university.
Photo: 123rf

Businesses in Te Anau are gearing up for more staff shortages as student workers return to college in the coming weeks.

Some businesses are already working with reduced opening hours and menus, and the situation is expected to worsen unless staff shortages can be closed.

It’s been a busy summer for Te Anau as the city embraces the return of foreign tourists.

Southland District councilor and business owner Sarah Greaney said student workers had helped make that happen as local businesses across the board struggled with staff shortages.

“They’ve played a really important role. I think you’d find that a lot of companies have taken on more students than would have traditionally been the case. That’s certainly the case in our own company,” Greaney said.

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“We’ve taken on more than half a dozen students this season to fill in the gaps that might otherwise have been filled by other people.”

But soon it will be time for those students to pick up their books and go back to their studies.

“While it definitely solved one problem in the short term, in the longer term we now face another gap as we head into February and March,” Greaney said.

With the students gone, she expected it would take longer for both the owners and existing staff.

“I think we’ll go back to potential companies offering more limited services or having to choose ‘do I open this part of my business or that part of my business? What do I have to compromise?’ We’ve seen some companies do that; if they have two restaurants, they might just open one.”

Greaney recruited intermittently every few weeks, but said workers were few and far between.

Most of the staff at La Toscana Italian restaurant are high school students, but university students come to help during the holidays.

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Owner Mark Holland will lose a large part of his staff at the end of this month, including seven school leavers who are going to study.

“It looks a little scary; I have four of my uni kids who are here right now and will be going back at the end of the month,” he said.

“I’ve already had two finish uni [who] have just come back to help us over the summer, and then they have their jobs that started in January, so they’ve already left.”

The restaurant, which has been full for weeks, has reduced its number of open days from seven to five and is currently closing a little earlier than usual to give staff a rest.

“It’s great to be busy, but [I’m] not really sure how we’re going to do once these other kids are gone…if we have to pull back some of our other operations,” Holland said.

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La Toscana, which normally offers takeaway, delivery and dining options, had to drop the latter service for a period between Christmas and New Year due to a lack of available senior staff.

“It’s inconvenient and inconvenient and you hope people understand why you’re taking these menu items away, why you have to close certain days,” Holland said.

“It’s exactly what you need to do to get through it right now.”

Cheng-Li Gao, co-owner of Te Anau Dairy, said it had been very helpful to have working students this summer.

“Having them stay on the counter to help me will make it much easier (sic) for me to work in the kitchen with my husband,” Gao said.

“So once they go back to school, I’m really going to miss them because I work between the kitchen and the counter.”

Companies hoped to see more working holiday visa holders soon to ease the pressure.

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