Business

Staff shortages have hit business owners hard at a hugely popular vacation spot in the UK — even as tourists flock back

Up to 58% of businesses in Devon, a picturesque UK county, are struggling to fill open roles due to a severe labor shortage. ...
Aerial view of Darmouth, Devon, next to a poster about staff shortages at a cafe
Aerial view of Darmouth, Devon, next to a poster about staff shortages at a cafe.

  • Restaurants, cafes, and stores in South England are struggling with staff shortages.
  • I went on vacation there recently and saw lots of recruitment ads and worker shortage signs.
  • Some businesses were happy to hire people with no prior experience.
Devon, a popular tourist destination in South West England, is suffering from a severe shortage of staff in stores, cafes, and restaurants. A recent survey showed that 58% of businesses in the area are struggling to fill open roles.

Aerial view over Exeter city centre and Exeter Cathedral, Exeter, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Aerial view over Exeter city centre and Exeter Cathedral, Exeter, Devon, England.

Survey: BDO's Rethinking the Economy, August 2021.

When I went on vacation to Devon, I noticed lots of hiring posters in shop windows. Some of the stores, such as the optician chain below, were looking for people with no previous experience.

Hiring poster
Hiring poster in shop window in Exeter, Devon.

Big brands, such as Clarks shoe shop based in Exeter, were advertising for various jobs and encouraging people to apply via their websites.

Hiring poster
Hiring poster in shop window in Exeter, Devon.

I visit Devon a couple of times a year, but I had never seen so many job advertisements until my most recent trip.

Overlooking Paignton Beach from the pier. Devon.
Overlooking Paignton Beach from the pier, Devon.

Some cafes had signs reminding customers to be kind to workers because they're short staffed.

Staff shortage poster
Staff shortage poster

One day, I took a steam train from a small town called Paignton to Kingswear, a village with a harbor.

A steam locomotive pulling away from Kingswear, Devon (over the river from Dartmouth) on the way to Paignton
A steam locomotive pulling away from Kingswear, Devon, (over the river from Dartmouth) on the way to Paignton

But even the office at the steam train station had a poster saying it was closed because it didn't have enough staff to keep it open.

Staff shortage poster
Staff shortage poster

After getting off the steam train, I hopped on a ferry to Dartmouth, which is in the South Hams district on the south coast of Devon.

Dartmouth, River Dart, Devon, England.
Dartmouth, River Dart, Devon, England.

Dartmouth was flooded with hiring notices and labor shortage signs. Some stores were looking for as many as three employees.

Hiring poster
Hiring poster

Cafes and restaurants were on the hunt for staff, especially as the school holidays brought more tourists to the seaside town.

Vacancy sign
Vacancy sign in a restaurant in Dartmouth.

"The South Hams, along with the rest of the country, is having problems with recruiting staff in some local businesses," Cllr Hilary Bastone, South Hams District Council's executive member for economy, told Insider.

Hiring poster
Recruiting sign.

The pandemic, Brexit, the regional housing crisis, and national supply chain issues have had an impact on the local workforce. This resulted in issues when hiring "much-needed staff" and triggering "a perfect storm for local businesses," Bastone told Insider.

Dusk at Dartmouth Harbour South Hams, Devon
Dusk at Dartmouth harbor in Devon.

Bastone said that although retail and hospitality are struggling to hire staff, the South Hams has one of the lowest employment rates in the UK, standing at 2.9%, compared with 5% nationally.

Hiring poster
Hiring poster in the window of a shop in Devon.

I came across many shops that were closed up. The clothes shop below had shut in August and was still empty.

Closed-up shop
Closed-up shop in Dartmouth, Devon.

Other stores had advertisements saying they were available to rent out.

Closed-up shop
Store up for let in Dartmouth, Devon.

"The retail industry has been calling for action on labor shortages for some time and government needs to find a long-term solution," Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, told Insider.

A picture of Kingswear across the water from Dartmouth, Devon.
A picture of Kingswear across the water from Dartmouth, Devon.

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