Staff shortages are sweeping across small businesses in Healesville

L-R: pharmacy technician Ally, pharmacist Doris and retail manager Jessica. Picture: DONGYUN KWON

By Dongyun Kwon

Small businesses in all different industries in Healesville are struggling with staff shortages.

The issue has become significant since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said the staff shortages have hit many regional towns across Victoria.

“We don’t have enough people to fill the vacancies that are currently available,” he said.

“When we shut the borders and sent all of the temporary visa holders home, they chose different destinations due to the uncertainty of [the possibility of] being able to get back to Australia.

“One of the solutions would be the combination of having more people who want to work and having more houses in regional towns for them.”

Healesville Advantage Pharmacy, which is owned by the same proprietor of Healesville Walk Pharmacy, had to reduce its opening hours due to staff shortages on 18 December 2023.

The store now runs from 9am to 1pm instead of 9am to 5.30pm.

Retail manager Jessica said both pharmacies have faced significant staff turnover and shortages since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To manage the staff shortages, Healesville Advantage Pharmacy has had to reduce its hours with staff members working the remainder of their shifts helping with the workload at Healesville Walk Pharmacy,” she said.

“This difficult decision wasn’t made lightly given the impact it has had on our community, but was necessary to protect our staff’s wellbeing, morale and to minimise staff burnout during this time.

“It has taken a few months and we are finally starting to see an increase in staff among our pharmacy assistants, however, the struggle persists in finding qualified pharmacists to fill essential roles, this is due to the existing shortages of pharmacists in the industry and our regional location, making it difficult to find people, let alone those willing to make the commute.”

The impact of these staff shortages is not only being felt by the pharmacies themselves but also by the community they serve.

Jessica is concerned that the pharmacies may no longer be able to provide the level of support and care they have given to the community, especially in the evenings and on the weekends.

Yarra Valley Tourism CEO Simon O’Callaghan said staff shortages have affected the tourism industry in Yarra Valley as well.

“In terms of staff shortages within the tourism sector [in Yarra Valley], we’re seeing continued pressure on local businesses, trying to identify skilled people to work in the industry,” he said.

“As many people moved into other jobs and industries during the period of the pandemic, a lot of the work in the tourism industry was closed.

“We work alongside about 350 local businesses and all have experienced difficulties with staffing at some point.”

Grand Hotel Healesville had to close the restaurant on Sunday nights and Monday nights due to staff shortages.

Business owner Lisa said the chefs left the hotel and decided to start a new career in an entirely different industry as the hospitality industry was the first one closed down and the last one reopened during the pandemic.

“We just started Sunday nights again about two weeks ago and Monday nights a few months ago,” she said.

“The recent [hiring] ad that I’ve just put out [on Facebook] is probably the best response that I’ve had since Covid. People are looking for a second job now because everyone’s struggling with the cost of living.

“We’re fine with the front of the house for both bar and dining but we cannot find a security and cleaning staff.”

Simon said there are a couple of opportunities which would train people to be skilled enough to get into the industry.

“For school leavers, a certificate for tourism is available through Free TAFE, so that’s a great opportunity which can be done through any of the TAFE organisations,” he said.

“Yarra Ranges Tourism has developed a workforce plan as the regional tourism organisation.

“We completed it late last year and we’re working with that plan to see what we can do to support the local industry and particular workforce initiatives to encourage people to enter the tourism industry.”

Shore Hire Melbourne East is also one of the businesses which has been struggling with hiring new staff members.

It’s been in Healesville for about 18 months and is the first branch of Shore Hire which has suffered from the staff shortages.

Sales and operations manager Adam Brown said it’s 10 times harder to find people for every single role compared to the other branches that he worked for in the past.

“I’ve worked for this company in three different states and it [staff shortages] has never been a problem,” he said.

“Jobs weren’t normally advertised and got 20, 30 plus applications and now I’m getting one application per month even though we have them advertised in five or six different recruiters.”

“I’ve been trying to fill two positions for four months. We’ve got great staff incentives including employee assistance programs and cash bonuses.”