• Stillwater co-owner, Bianca Welsh. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A skills shortage in Tasmania has employers on edge, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. One business owner is investing heavily in staff retention - going as far as getting a psychology degree.
6 Aug 2017 - 5:35 PM  UPDATED 29 Jan 2018 - 1:12 PM

Bianca Welsh has been in the restaurant business for 13 years, working her way up from waitress to part-owner of three hospitality business in Launceston.

In the last few years, an increase in tourism numbers has made staffing and retention her biggest challenge. Small Business Secrets sat down with Bianca to find out how she's tackling the problem.

SBS: Tell me about the hospitality sector in Tasmania right now, what's the state of business?

BW: It's really exciting, I think there's a lot of confidence, there's finally a good spotlight on it from consumer and public perception. Obviously Asian market is massive.

But I guess from the industry perspective we're getting a little nervous about the spotlight being on us because of the skills shortage we already face. If we're pitching for another 400,000 visitors until 2020 we've got a lot of work to do.

SBS: How difficult is recruitment and retention of staff for you?

BW:  Retention is a very big one for me - there's a lot of poorly run venues that don't treat their staff with respect and way they should in terms of paying on time, and the rate they should be getting paid, and their super.

I just see so many young people get out there, they want to get in the industry, and then they've been treated poorly and they leave and we don't see them back.

SBS: So you've got a pretty unique approach to how you're dealing with the staffing issue, what are you doing?

BW: So I had an instance quite a few years ago where a waiter was behaving in an odd way. She'd normally been a really efficient and capable waiter and suddenly her behaviour just changed.

We realised that her eating disorder had come into the work place and I needed to address that situation. I googled how to approach it... I just didn't know how to do it. I gave my self quite a lot of anxiety because I knew I wanted to deal with it, and not just ignore it or cut her casual hours.

So I approached her and it went well in the end, but from that I wanted to learn more, I wanted to be the best possible manager I could be, not only for my team, but for the health of my business.

So I started a degree in psychology at the University of Tasmania.  For me, it's about supporting and nurturing people in a comfortable and safe environment at work... [so] they're able to come to work and be empowered to be the best version they can be.

SBS: So do you feel having a psychology degree is actually impacting the bottom line?

BW: Definitely. I don't think everyone needs to go out and get a psychology degree!  But I think just some general understanding, a bit of reading, a bit of education, can really go a long way for employers.

SBS: In your spare time you also work to encourage young kids to stay in school, why is that an issue that's important to you?

BW: When I do recruiting, I see a lot of applications come through, either really poorly structured resumes, letters, they interview really poorly, their grammar is terrible, they've got poor interpersonal skills, poor work-ready skills.  And that's often from people that perhaps haven't gone on to year 11 or 12.

I guess I see benefits of them going through college and coming out the other side.

SBS: Finally, whats your advice other small business who might be grappling with the staffing issue?

BW: Taking the time to observe behaviour better, educate themselves a little bit on mental illness - because the majority of us will go through something like that at some point in our lives. And just treating them (employees) more with respect. I think that's all people want, is respect.

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