Chamber: French students could help staff shortages

Jersey could look to France and the Caribbean to help fix the Island’s chronic staffing shortages, the chief executive of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce has said.

Murray Norton. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON.
Murray Norton. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON.

Murray Norton believes that French hospitality students, who are keen to learn English, could be one answer to filling the soaring number of vacancies in the Island’s bars, hotel and restaurants.

He added that the Chamber had been working with the government on exploring global links to find workers.

Mr Norton said that he and representatives from the Jersey Hospitality Association had visited a Faculté des Metier catering school in St Malo where they discovered that the UK’s withdrawal from the Erasmus foreign exchange scheme had left many French students looking for other opportunities to work in English-speaking countries.

He said: ‘They train these students to a very high standard, as you might imagine, in France and those students used to, as part of that course, go to the UK under the Erasmus scheme, which was funded by the EU.

‘They wanted to go to the UK, more than any other country, to learn English and the only option for them now is to go to the Republic of Ireland because Erasmus has been stopped. There’s an opportunity for that Erasmus scheme to be investigated by Jersey.

‘That would mean that French hospitality students could come to Jersey. That needs funding and investigating. And that means the Chamber, who’ve been leading this, need to involve our government, to see the possibilities.

‘Hopefully, we can convince them that if there’s going to be government investment in staffing and recovery, that’s one area that we need to look at.’

Mr Norton added that the Chamber of Commerce had had meetings with External Relation officials, who are connecting with a number of Caribbean islands. He said that post-Brexit and after Covid-19 far fewer workers wished to come to Jersey for jobs, as their pay levels and quality of life in their home countries improve.

He added: ‘We had a really positive and excellent meeting with government interim chief executive Paul Martin about this.

‘The suggestion is that we could be looking at areas around the globe that have a low season when we are having a high season. We identified many locations, looked at logistics, language and culture of tourism and we have had very good meetings with the External Relations Department.

‘They have had initial engagements with the high commissioners of various Caribbean countries including Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados. There seems to be some interest that we could explore. The issue is longer-term though, and this will not solve the short-term issue.’

He said that government needed to introduce a temporary scheme to address the immediate staffing issues that were being faced.

‘Businesses need staff for the short-term right now, but the season is coming to an end. We’re already in September and there won’t be as many people needed in October, November,’ he said.

‘The short term is going to be really challenging to get people over but I think some sort of relaxation or a short-term visa would be very helpful.’

During the summer, eight employees from the Lone Star Hotel in Barbados moved to the company’s sister business, the St Brelade’s Bay Hotel, in response to staff shortages in Jersey, while five Kenyan hospitality graduates recently started work at The Royal Yacht.

Earlier this year, Jersey introduced nine-month, four-year, ten-year and long-term permits, with only the latter allowing permanent settlement in the Island, as part of a strategy to better control immigration.

From the start of the year, following Brexit, it became a requirement for EU nationals to obtain a visa to work in Jersey before they come to the Island.

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