Interns with learning disabilities helping Bluestone cope with staff shortages in tourism sector

  • Intern Morgan Scarfe says working at Bluestone has boosted his confidence and given him career ideas for the future

Interns with learning disabilities are helping one of Wales' largest tourism businesses cope with staff shortages in the industry.

In 2022, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that the UK tourism sector experienced an average gross labour shortfall of around 114,000.

Bluestone National Park Resort, near Narberth in Pembrokeshire, employs more than 800 people and attracts around 150,000 guests a year.

But its chief executive said recruiting and retaining staff has become increasingly difficult due to a "skills and people shortage".

Bluestone National Park Resort is set in 500 acres of land and includes a water park, lodges, outdoor activities and a spa.

William McNamara said: "It's always been a challenge, especially down in west Wales. We are a peninsula county, simply the pool isn't big enough.

"We work very hard and continuously to bring the right people in and more importantly when we've recruited them we work very hard to keep them here.

"Historically a lot of businesses have employees Eastern Europeans and they can't do that any more so there is going to be a shortage of people and you see it in the industry now and people are literally not opening businesses because they can't get the staff.

"People's views of tourism and hospitality is that it's last resort, low pay, long hours and that's very unfair. It is an educational thing and a perception thing. If we work on both of those then we can improve the situation."

Morgan Scarfe, intern at Bluestone Resort

In January 2023, the resort hired five interns with learning disabilities.

They gain experience within different departments with a view to being offered full-time employment at the end of the internship.

Morgan Scarfe said working as an intern at Bluestone for the last six months has helped build his confidence.

"At the start I never talked to anybody even when I was in college," he said.

"It took me about two years to start and want to talk to people. I mostly talked to the staff as I was more comfortable around older people. I've come out of my shell."

  • ITV Wales reporter Gwennan Campbell explores how the tourism industry is coping with recruitment challenges

Morgan added that the internship has helped inspire his career decisions.

"Everyone over the years has always asked me where I've wanted to go, where I've wanted to be, where I would be in the future and I had absolutely no idea.

"Once I started coming here I found it more comfortable, I've found my place you could say."

He has now been offered a permanent job at Bluestone in the cleaning team, and has opportunities to move around different departments.

Intern Cicely Holcombe has dreams of becoming a chef.

Cicely Holcombe, another intern who works in catering, said: "I've been working here for six months and I really enjoy it. The best part of working here is seeing the smile on people's faces.

"I just didn't even dream I would be working here. I just thought I wouldn't get into it, but since I've been her it's just been magical.

"I work two days a week and then on Monday we're normally in college doing life skills and how to look after ourselves.

"My confidence has grown since I've been working here. I know now how to chat to people that I don't know.

"My goal is to work in the industry to become a chef. I've been accepted on an apprenticeship next year to work here next year. I can't wait."