Some of the UK's biggest hospitality employers have said they do not have enough staff to cope with reopening indoors on 17 May.
A survey of 15 large companies, including InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), BaxterStorey and Compass Group UK and Ireland, by the Springboard charity found many are facing a major recruitment crisis.
One in three respondents said they do not have enough staff to manage reopening indoors, and 80% said there was a lack of skilled candidates, especially among young people. Almost nine in 10 are struggling to recruit for kitchen and back of house positions, while one in three cannot fill senior management roles.
Noel Mahony, co-chief executive of BaxterStorey, said a "cocktail" of Covid-19 and Brexit had seen hospitality lose many "brilliant" team members as they returned home overseas.
"Over the last 30 years we have not produced enough hospitality professionals in the UK and have become increasingly reliant on incoming labour from around the world," said Mahony.
"Across BaxterStorey, I have spoken to individuals who have chosen to retrain and take a different career path altogether, from courier work to retail grocery to setting up their own businesses in different sectors. This trend is concerning, and shows how some are viewing the fragility of our industry just now."
Many smaller hospitality business owners have told The Caterer they are unable to find staff, with candidates not turning up to interviews or even leaving the country before their shift is due to start.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the hospitality sector lost 355,000 paid employees in the year to March 2021, over three-quarters of whom were under the age of 35.
Mahony added that hospitality needed to address "big issues" around working hours, pay, diversity and training programmes to fill the skills gap.
The majority (87%) of the employers surveyed by Springboard are now investing more time and money in retraining staff who are returning from several months on furlough.
Springboard chief executive Chris Gamm said: "Our industry was facing a skills shortage pre-pandemic and Covid-19 has put even more strain on this problem."
The charity has launched an initiative called Springboard to 2022, which is aiming to train 10,000 young people to work in the sector by December 2022.
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