By Julie White, CEO of Hospitality New Zealand

New Zealand’s hospitality sector needs migrant workers and government support to fill skill shortages

Prior to COVID-19, New Zealand’s hospitality industry was already experiencing a significant shortage of ready and appropriately skilled people to fill roles. With 20-30% of the 172,800 people currently employed across New Zealand’s accommodation, food and beverage services on working visas, we’re a sector heavily reliant on migrant workers. And now, in this critical recovery stage, many operators are trying to operate as best they can, often relying on migrants to keep doors open.

Hospitality operators are striving to employ more Kiwis, however, at the core of this issue is the insufficient availability of skilled workers. While the barrier to entry for a career in hospitality is low, it can easily lead to rapid career progression or even business ownership. I strongly refute claims that hospitality jobs don’t require skilled workers. Almost all roles within hospitality require training and differing levels of skills – many of which carry with them statutory responsibilities, such as the sale and supply of alcohol or upholding food safety regulations.

Migrants are not taking away work from Kiwis. There’s simply not enough people in the right regions with the right skill-sets to perform some of these roles, particularly those of chefs, duty managers, and in some locations housekeepers. This issue is exacerbated by the current perception that hospitality and tourism aren’t viable and legitimate career options – or given the gravitas it should through the education system.

We’ve always wanted to encourage Kiwis into hospitality careers. Currently, one in five Hospitality New Zealand members are advertising positions, but very few applicants have the necessary training and experience to fill the roles. Furthermore, of all our industry members that have gone to Work and Income (WINZ) to source café, restaurant, or bar managers, 93% weren’t able to find suitable candidates and of those trying to recruit a chef, 86% were unable to find suitable candidates.

If the Government is serious about creating employment opportunities for New Zealanders, they should develop training pathways that cater to individuals looking to upskill. In order to achieve this, the public sector needs to focus on attracting and retaining people in the hospitality industry. As the talent pipeline is the foundation for the future, this strategy needs to begin at school level education. It should also include a hand in glove approach with the sector that supports people into workforce pathways, enabling career growth through on-site training. The secret to getting more Kiwis into work is simple – targeted sector training, from micro-credentials through to qualifications and the opportunity for upward mobility in their career.

Join the Conversation


  1. My husband is a qualified fine dining gourmet chef with over 17 years experience.
    He also has lectured for 4 years in South Africa prior to moving to New Zealand.
    Sadly with hospitality taking a hard hit he has now been made redundant and we are battling to find him a job.
    He would love to be able to lecture here and part knowledge to students wanting to learn more on cooking.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Good article and right on the money. The question is, if all the migrant workers employed in hospitality, Tourism and Agriculture had to go tomorrow, where does the government think the replacements are coming from? With the growth in all sectors over the past decade New Zealand doesn’t have enough of it’s own citizens to do the work.
    All past government party’s have wanted growth for New Zealand. That growth has meant more staff requirements from the new businesses.
    Many of these businesses are hospitality and tourist related along with the agriculture sector.
    Small to medium businesses that are taking the risk and employing people and making a huge contribution to our economy.
    Like it or not we are now in the position of not being able to do without migrant workers who are in many cases doing the work that needs to be done.

  3. Kiwis need to be prepared to work nights and weekends. They also need to learn to be reliable, work hard and be professional. This is why migrant workers are so successful in hospitality!

  4. The industry might be a bit more attractive if we could pay our staff a bit more money… especially considering the hours are the not the most attractive. This would mean increasing prices… which we have already done as much as possible or… lowering costs. Hmm… Perhaps the overbearing regulatory environment, council rates and requirements, fuel taxes, GST on food, high alcohol taxes – I’m sure you can all think of more of these costs – could be adjusted to make a lot of room for higher pay rates. Then you will see a lot more enthusiasm for people to work in the kitchen. Let’s get commie chefs starting on $28 an hour. Let’s get kitchen hands starting on $25 an hour. Let’s get Sous Chefs and Head Chefs well over $30 an hour in all kitchens. This is easily possible if our extremely high costs were reduced

  5. I am interested to hear from Nikki Smitt’s husband, I should be able to give him a job but it’s in Taupo.

  6. [email protected]
    Hi Vaughan – thank you for your email. Please find above Nikki’s email – you may care to respond directly to her.

    Kind regards
    Kimberley Dixon

  7. New Zealand needs to consider a suitable wage for hospitality staff. Most places including top 5 star hotels and top rated restaurants pay chefs very poorly, similar to supermarket staff pay rates for skilled labour making this job category unsustainable for most who want to pursue a career in hospitality.

  8. We have a motel business, and we are struggling to find local housekeepers to work. Somehow those overseas backpackers seem more reliable and keen to work.

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