The Australian tourism and hospitality sectors should prepare for shortages in skilled vocational labour, as the Federal Government reviews which occupations receive preference for immigration, according to leading education, training and recruitment company Hostec International.

Earlier this week, the Department of Immigration announced the revision of the Skill Occupations List (SOL), which identifies specific job shortages in Australia and gives preference to immigrants with the necessary expertise to fill those roles.

A Hostec Academy student

Also affected will be international students, who potentially become eligible to apply for residency by completing Australian-accredited training in listed occupations.

With the current list abolished and a new SOL not due to be unveiled by Skills Australia until late April, it remains unclear if occupations relied on by the hospitality industry – such as culinary vocations – will be deemed priorities.

If not, vocational students and immigrant hospitality professionals will need to seek sponsorship from an employer in order to secure residency – and address the growing need for skilled vocational labour in this industry.

According to Hostec International managing director Raman Nambiar, Australian operators should prepare themselves now for a shortfall in the event that hospitality is not included on the revised SOL.

“There is a good argument to suggest culinary positions, for example, will be given priority,” he said. “Take the most recent Clarius Skills Index released by Clarius Group last month; chefs were listed as the occupation with the highest levels of skills shortages for the last three consecutive quarters.

“That said, our industry should prepare for more favour being shown to other higher level occupations. If that happens, chief among our problems will be the lack of Australian workers willing to take these front line jobs, and a visa system that doesn’t support small businesses – ich makes up the bulk of the hospitality industry – sponsoring skilled immigrants for entry-level hospitality positions.

“Hospitality apprenticeship enrolments for domestic students have been steadily declining year on year. The hospitality sector has come to rely on the increasing number of international graduates to fill entry-level positions; if anything, that need is going to grow in 2010 as consumer sentiment continues to improve.

“If culinary vocations are not included on the revised SOL, other policy measures will need to be considered to make up the labour shortfall. These include increasing Government funding for domestic apprenticeships; the introduction of immigration-supported international apprenticeships; and reassessment of the visa system to make it more viable for hospitality operators to sponsor expat workers. None of these could be considered a quick fix,” Nambiar said.

He said to date, the tourism and hospitality sectors are yet to find an alternate solution to filling the growing number of jobs currently filled by international graduates of Australian vocational training.

“In addition to facing rising labour costs, Australian tourism and hospitality operators will find it more difficult to find skilled workers. It is up to us as an industry to help Skills Australia understand that to disregard hospitality when revising the SOL would be to create more problems than it solves,” Nambiar said.

“Hostec International fully supports the need for regulation of international education operators in Australia, and closure of the Visa factories that have marred the sector. With that though, needs to be support for operators that are helping to fill valid gaps in the Australian workforce that domestic policies have not been able to address.

“We’re working with industry and Government to identify ways for the tourism and hospitality sectors to navigate the changes ahead of the unveiling of the revised SOL in late April. Until then however, we’re suggesting that our industry partners review their hiring strategies and consider how to proceed in the event hospitality is not granted preference,” Nambiar said.