With a new brewery opening every week in Australia, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for brewing companies to find quality production employees.
The skills shortage has forced breweries to become more imaginative about the paths they take in order to source talent.
The Australian Brewery recently sponsored Maximilian Hammerle, a production manager and brewer from Germany’s Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University, to join its western Sydney team.
“Finding experienced and qualified brewers has been difficult, making it hard to keep up with production demands,” the company said.
Since 2015, Stone & Wood Brewing Company has had an annual brewers intake, aimed at skilling up a new pool of brewing aspirants.
“You could see this problem coming… there is a bit of a skill shortage overall on the brewers front,” CEO Ben Summons told Australian Brews News.
“We wanted to get ahead of the curve and try and recruit some new talents and train them up.
“We know we’ll need them over time, but also for the good of the industry, there’ll be more bodies on the ground as well.
“We’ve done the brewers intake two years in a row now, and brought in over a dozen brewers. We recruit a mixture of home brewers, people from other manufacturing areas, quite a different mix of people with the right kind of skills and attitude towards brewing.”
Diluted talent pool
4 Pines Brewing Company has taken a similar approach to that of Stone & Wood, according to head brewer Chris Willcock.
“There are obviously more brewing roles around than there ever has been before and the experienced talent pool is getting a bit diluted, amongst all that,” he told Australian Brews News.
“We’ve had pretty good success in, rather than just going for all the right experience, going for the right people with the right attitude and aptitude and giving them the right amount of time.
“We rely on having fairly good in-house training mechanisms set up to be able to support the long-term development of our brewing team,” Willcock said.
Young Henrys founder Richard Adamson said the skills shortage is not only attributable to the sheer number of new breweries.
“The existing breweries are growing and need more brewers. As we grew, I couldn’t be on the brewery floor, I needed to be able to manage the business, so you need to be able to backfill those roles as well,” he told Australian Brews News.
Adamson said small breweries are also much more labour intensive than big breweries, so there is minimal transfer of candidates into craft beer as the majors’ volume declines.
“The big brewers rely on a fair bit of automation. That automation is not really affordable for small to mid-tier brewers, so they need more hands on deck,” he said.
Adamson and Neal Cameron, formerly of Australian Brewery, are both lecturing in the inaugural Microbrewing course at Sydney TAFE, which got underway this year.
“The biggest motivation for setting up this course was just to try and fill the gap that the industry has, which is entry level brewers with some practical skills and experience,” Adamson said.
“You kind of feel like you’re poaching off your peers, because there is such a limited number available.”
Cameron said the skills shortage has unfortunately not caused a corresponding spike in wages brewers can expect to earn, because there is little money to spare in brewing.
“It’s a low margin business, the amount of money that the brewers make out of beer is quite woeful in a lot of cases, certainly compared to retailers and on-premise,” he told Australian Brews News.
Cameron said entry level brewers can expect salaries starting at $35,000, senior brewers upwards of $60,000 and head brewers $70,000 and beyond, with only a select few exceeding the $100,000 mark.
The Crafty Pint recently shone a light on the alleged exploitation of entry-level workers that is occurring in some quarters of the beer industry.
But brewers interviewed by Australian Brews News said it was still a good time for people to enter the industry, provided they do so with their eyes open.
“Brewery owners need to set high standards in their staff safety and payroll ethics as a first priority,” said 4 Pines’ Chris Willcock.
“There are definitely some very difficult challenges for the persons with their own cash on the line, but they [safety and ethics] can’t be ignored and swept under the carpet even if they come at the expense of cash flow or growth.
“Brewers can obviously also play a role in challenging any exploitative dynamics by researching and having open conversations with their employers.
“In terms of experienced brewers, hopefully there’s plenty of opportunities for them out there these days, and they can have a little bit of power in those negotiations, due to the amount of potential opportunity there is elsewhere,” he said.