How business can tackle staffing shortages, according to ARA CEO Paul Zahra

Don’t miss his presentation at the QSR Media Sandhurst Conference, happening on October 18.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive officer Paul Zahra joins the QSR Media Sandhurst Conference & Awards, happening this October 18, to give his presentation on the state of the market.

A leading figure of Australian retail having worked in the industry for more than 35 years in senior executive and non-executive roles, including as former CEO and Managing Director of David Jones, Zahra has also advised companies and boards on a range of areas including leadership, disruptive change, digital transformation, and diversity and inclusion. Listen to his presentation and more by registering for the event here.

More of Zahra’s thoughts in our Q&A below:

QSR Media: What’s your assessment of how the QSR/fast casual restaurant industry handled the challenges dealt by COVID-19?
Zahra: It’s been a challenging time for Australia’s QSR industry, navigating the inconsistent approaches to state-imposed lockdowns - which are announced with very little notice - and then adapting their workforces and operations so they can continue to trade in a Covid-safe way.  

The past 18 months has been a true test of the agility of the sector, which has done [a] remarkable job ramping up hygiene protocols, contactless deliveries, and digital innovations to improve convenience and access for customers.

Covid has accelerated a number of trends that were already occurring with more and more people purchasing the things they need with a few taps of their fingers. The businesses that are investing in digital to meet the changing needs of consumers are on the right path to success. 

From your perspective, what are some key lessons/insights/trends that brands have learned/further understood/need to know as we approach a post-pandemic industry?   

Customers expect a ‘connected experience’ 
The shift to an omni-channel model, incorporating a seamless experience across online ordering, in-store dining and click-and-collect, is a trend that’s here to stay. 

For 80% of customers, the experience of interacting with a brand – whether they be browsing, viewing, chatting, comparing, buying or returning – is as important as its product or service.

Successful retailers will ensure that acceleration doesn’t result in fragmentation and will deliver the consistency their customer’s demand. Each tap, click and swipe and store visit needs to provide customers with a seamless and personalised experience.  

Skills shortages 
Beyond lockdowns, skills shortages are a significant issue for retailers and QSRs, given the lack of access to the international student and skilled migrant workforce. Businesses are having to compete much harder to recruit and retain staff, and many are tackling this head on through innovative hiring solutions, which are provided by the ARA Talent Registry.  

As a sector, we need to ensure we have the right targeted programs around skills and re-training, and importantly, remove barriers for women looking to re-enter the workforce, and that involves better access to childcare. These are both issues that the ARA is advocating for in our conversations with government. 

Social and environmental responsibility become priorities   
Just as the pandemic supercharged an already existing customer demand for empathy-driven, personalised experiences, so too did it accelerate an already high customer expectation for businesses to behave in more ethically responsible ways.

56% of customers have re-evaluated the societal role of companies this year and 98% want to see improvements in the environmental and social practices of businesses.

A recent survey found Australians are three times more concerned about climate change than Covid.

Millennials and GenZers are especially values-driven when it comes to aligning themselves with brands and expect unequivocal support of social and environmental justice movements.   

As sustainability across production, packaging and supply chains comes under scrutiny, environmental and social responsibility becomes not just a moral imperative, but a business one also.   

The ARA’s role is to help our members address their immediate sustainability challenges while uniting our members behind a shared vision that makes the whole sector more sustainable.

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