Staff wanted. Reduced operating hours. Closed.

It is a familiar story for businesses up and down the nation — and it is no different here in Central Otago.

From tourism and hospitality, building and construction, through to healthcare, teaching and media, our workforce is stretched beyond capacity.

With borders open again and Covid-19 restrictions lifted, an influx of visitors is good news for the businesses and towns who have been struggling without them.

But what happens when the customers return and there is no-one to serve them?

In Central Otago, tourism is a booming industry — pre-Covid-19 it contributed an estimated $188 million to the region’s economy and supported as many as one in seven jobs.

As the region emerges from more than two years of pandemic-induced restrictions, people are returning to visit — and to live.

However, staffing issues across all sectors are starting to bite.

Central Otago District Council economic development manager Nick Lanham said the staffing crisis was a ‘‘complex issue’’.

‘‘The shortages of staff are extreme — I believe most businesses wouldn’t have experienced shortages like this before.’’

The shortages were caused by a mix of factors such as a high level of economic activity and consumer demand, low levels of immigration due to closed borders and the more recent exiting of working age Kiwis as borders open, he said.

This was on top of New Zealand’s long-term underlying trend of an ageing population with more Kiwis retiring out of the workforce than entering it.

Staffing shortages had flow-on effects to the wider industry and region.

‘‘Labour shortages mean that businesses are often unable to meet their customers’ needs. This puts mental and physical strain on business owners, staff and customers.

‘‘Businesses trying to attract and retain staff are facing higher wage costs and are also having to invest more in the training and development of staff new to their business or sector.’’

There was no simple solution to fix the issue, Mr Lanham said.

‘‘The issue is complex.’’

‘‘I believe the solution needs to be a mix of supporting into employment those who are not employed, changing our work practices to include more flexible arrangements to make sure as many people are engaged in work as possible, finding more efficient ways of working through adoption of technology and training.’’

Immigration would continue to have a role in the employment market, but internationally there would be more competition for this workforce as most other western nations also face an ageing demographic, he said.

The shortages were causing people to think outside the square on how they approached the issue.

In September, CODC launched Central Mahi, a campaign to help Central Otago employers attract and secure staff for the busy summer months when demand peaks.

The campaign involved employer-created videos promoting the vacancies, and support to help place potential employees into roles.

It aimed to fill seasonal roles, attract individuals to undertake specific projects, or provide an opportunity for someone to experience a workplace and consider a permanent role in the industry.

Recognising the need, and in an effort to encourage young people to stay in the region, Cromwell College is organising a speed-meet tomorrow afternoon for employers and pupils.

Assistant principal Sarah Hill said she hoped to forge greater links between employers and the school, and give pupils an idea of the existing opportunities available to them.

‘‘The staffing shortage is huge, it’s massive, and this is a wayfor businesses looking for people to consider young people.’’

Teenagers had a lot to offer employers, whether they were looking for full time or parttime staff, or apprentices, she said.

Central Otago Youth Employment Programme (COYEP) co-ordinator Jenna Faulkner agreed.

‘‘They’re not stuck in their ways, they’re willing to learn and employers can shape them to the jobs,’’ she said.

‘‘Some of these employers see themselves in the pupils because someone gave them a chance.’’

As more people start to venture out again, Tourism Central Otago general manager Dylan Rushbrook is reminding them to be patient with businesses.

‘‘I think we’ve gotto accept the reality service levels across the district and wider country aren’t going to be what people are used to, or what we would like them to be, especially at peaks times.’’

‘‘Visitors and locals can help to an extent by booking in advance allowing businesses to prepare ahead oftime.’’

Many operators were looking at refining their operations as best they could to account for limited staff, he said.

It was a tough time for many working in frontline customer service — as well as other sectors — and Mr Rushbrook encouraged people to show kindness.

‘‘Help out by booking early and being really appreciative of when you get great service. Having previously worked in frontline hospitality, nothing makes your day more than being told how great someone’s experience was.’’