Australian businessman says he has solution to staff shortages - convincing people out of retirement

Leonard Powell for RNZ

An Australian business owner has come up with a clever way to deal with a dire staff shortage and believes other businesses crying out for workers would be wise to follow suit.

Barry Iddles has convinced senior citizens to come out of retirement and work at the 360Q restaurant in Queenscliff, Victoria in Australia and his new grey-haired workers have the business booming.

Iddles said the idea came from his daughter.

"She'd been travelling and said the only people working in the Outback were grey-haired nomads in their caravans working in reception, etc.

"I said, 'Well, I'm gonna get home and I'm going to approach hitting the seniors market.'

"I'm 67, I've got plenty of spring left. So I had 42,000 postcards mailed out through Australia Post promoting our winter trade, because winter in Queenscliff gets a bit quiet."

Iddles didn't want to waste the back of the postcard, so he decided to tailor his message to cover all age ranges.

"I put on it 'Juniors', come and learn the art of hospitality. 'Millennials' come and show us what you can do, 'cause they know everything, and 'Seniors' come back to work for us for one or two shifts a week."

Iddles was rapt with the result.

"Well, I got 12 seniors and they're absolutely fantastic. I managed to pick up a few juniors... The young and the old get on very well."

He explained that some of the seniors were more senior than others.

"Well, I'm a middle-aged senior at 67. I've got a junior senior who's 60. I've got a couple of seniors who are 75."

The age gap between the youngest and oldest staff member at 360Q was 60 years, with a 15 year old and a 75 year old working side by side.

Over the winter the popular seaside restaurant does anywhere from 1500 to 2000 meals per week, and Barry said it hadn't been an issue that his senior staffers hadn't done hospitality before.

"None of these guys have got any hospitality experience at all, but they do have life skills and they took to it like a duck to water. The interaction between young and old is absolutely amazing.

"I would like to see everyone out here and in New Zealand become positive and proactive. Don't be frightened to hire the older generation, and don't be frightened to get the young ones in and train them up.

"Don't go around going 'There's no staff, there's no staff' because I guarantee if that's your attitude, you'll never get anyone."

Business expands

Monday to Friday wait staff earn $30 an hour and weekend staff $45 an hour, a far cry from what Iddles earned when he first started in hospitality.

"I was O'Brien Catering's first apprentice, I was just 18. I was on $36 a week. That was 1973.

"I ran a car, I paid my bills, board and lived on it. I'd spend $8 a week on petrol driving up to the farm, now I probably spend $8 a minute."

He said his new staff have completely changed the operation and it has resulted in his business expanding.

"The little shop across the road was a cafe that serves ice creams and pies. The owner had a bit of a gambling problem and the rent fell by the way.

"I stayed open right through Covid, they didn't open at all, people were hankering for coffee and a pie. So they've gone this week and I don't like seeing empty businesses, so I said to the owner of the building 'I'll take it on'."

Iddles hoped his much-publicised move to employ older citizens would breathe life into an industry that has been struggling to stay afloat.

"I'd love to see every hospitality business get off their butts and start embracing it, because I'm sure every region, every town has that same demographic."