IBA launches brewer immigration drive

The Independent Brewers Association told its members last week that it was making efforts to have brewers listed on the skilled migration occupation list to combat skills shortages in the industry.

The notice came on the back of the Federal Government increasing the skilled migrant cap to 195,000 last week, highlighting an opportunity to bring in more talent from abroad.

“We’re not the only ones, we’re in quite a long line of industry shortages across various industry sectors, particularly hospitality,” reasoned IBA chief executive officer Kylie Lethbridge.

“We’re obviously not asking to be prioritised, but there’s no shortage of information or evidence that the industry is growing, and the availability of skilled and experienced brewers isn’t able to keep up.”

The growth Lethbridge describes has exacerbated skills shortages as education and training pipelines take time to deliver new entrants to the workforce.

Skills shortages generally have led to campaigns like WA’s hospitality recruitment drive, and Carlton and United Breweries’ traineeships.It has also led to smaller breweries looking elsewhere for talent.

“In the last year, and in the last six months I’ve had more and more enquiries [because] bringing in skilled migrants is a costly and quite convoluted process,” Lethbridge explained.

“Our members tell me they have no choice, they’re advertising in America, Germany and other countries with a strong brewing community. We have tried to tackle [skills shortages] in varying ways by advocating for more training across the nation over the last couple of years.

“But that’s the long game as it takes quite some time before there is a critical mass of people that are skilled enough to take up those more experienced or senior roles.

“For this reason, we very quickly realised we needed to hedge our bets and look at some more immediate solutions,” she told Brews News.

Currently, the broad term “manufacturers” is listed in multiple skilled visa lists – but employer nominated visa schemes can cost several thousand dollars and take more than a year, which smaller breweries cannot afford in time or costs.

Across the ditch, New Zealand breweries are facing similar issues, leading some to look elsewhere for talent, such as Sprig + Fern Brewing Co. which recently advertised over in Australia for a new head brewer.

Brewers Guild of New Zealand executive director Melanie Kees explained that the organisation had undertaken a survey on behalf of Hanga-Aro-Rau, the Manufacturing and Logistics Workforce Development Council, to get views on the current and future state of skill requirements for manufacturing industries.

Kees said that the Guild is currently working with Hanga-Aro-Rau and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to understand the process the organisation will need to go through to get brewer on the skills shortage list.

“A few of our members have reported having brewing staff, who have been on temporary visa extensions due to COVID, have had their application work visas accepted,” she explained.

“We currently have brewery jobs on our ‘careers listings’ for members, and a number of people I talk to are all struggling to find and or replace recent departures.”

Pay benchmarking

A major aspect of the current skills shortages impacting businesses is wage growth, and Lethbridge explained that the IBA has fielded a host of enquiries about salary benchmarking and the proper remuneration for brewers recently.

“It’s pushing salaries beyond what a brewer can afford,” she said.

“It obviously varies by state, scale and size of the brewery operations but based on the benchmarking that we did in 2020, I can tell you that the situation now is very different. And very hard to measure because it’s market driven.”

Lethbridge said that it was a concern for the IBA because of the difficulties it is generating in what is a very collegiate industry.

“Even considering the last two years I feel like this could be one of the greatest risks to our culture. Our people are amazing, they’re mates, they work on collaborations together, they share valuable IP and on the whole are always willing to help each other.

“But when your head brewer is poached, in some cases taking their crew with them…I think this poses a significant risk to that culture.”

As with the wider immigration cap increases, there is a fine line to be walked between oversupply in the industry and bringing new talent in to fill the gaps.

“We obviously don’t want to take jobs away from Australians, but we do need to address this issue and maybe it is good thing that we bring new techniques, skills, or new ways of working into the country.”

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