The Flemish employment service VDAB received 15,500 applications for work in the horeca business (hotel, restaurant and catering) in 2021, despite the industry being hard-hit by the pandemic, De Tijd reports.
The figure is a record – although official records only go back to 2014. The increase is remarkable given the circumstances: long closures, restricted opening hours, staff absences and customer caution.
The previous peak was prior to the pandemic, in 2018, when there were 14,000 vacancies in the sector. By January 2021, however, the number had fallen to half of that, to 7,000.
That was the middle of the second wave, and the first roll-out of vaccines, mainly for the elderly and those suffering from chronic complaints like diabetes. Significantly, the industry was still working under tight restrictions: tables screened from each other, seating numbers cut to avoid proximity.
Some restrictions remain, on seating capacity, the need for air control, private parties of strictly limited numbers, and the nightclubs remain closed.
The relaunch is all the more remarkable in that the horeca sector is what would normally be considered a proximity sector: Few other businesses would prosper while social distancing is in operation, but bars are full to the brim, and restaurants are turning away customers.
Total vacancies per sector in 2021
Kitchen staff 1,477
General staff 1,462
Restaurant bar 1,097
Assistant cook 1,070
Bar staff 1,007
Bar person 502
Hotel receptionist 490
(excludes temp staff)
But while the situation is looking up somewhat, the problems are not over. In December 2019 there were 1,947 open vacancies, and in December 2020. But at the end of last year, the VDAB still had 3,207 vacancies open.
"Corona has brought the problems in the catering sector to a head," said Ellen Bauters, catering expert at the VDAB. There was also a severe shortage in the sector before the corona outbreak. “Then you finally found people.” But the rise could be at an end, she suggested.