Dan Skelton issues urgent call for industry response to staff shortage
Dan Skelton on Saturday called on racing to come together as a matter of urgency to devise an industry-led solution to the sport's staff shortage.
Like champion trainer Nicky Henderson, who said he was "frightened to death" by the current situation on ITV's Opening Show, Skelton agreed the issues of attracting and retaining staff are no longer a threat, but a reality.
“It’s not an approaching problem, it’s a problem now,” said the trainer, who feels other industries are facing similar issues. “We have to work out how to look after those working in the sport. Racing is very good at being quite insular and looking after its own, but there are various factors that make staffing difficult.
“Pay is relevant within any industry. The problem is if trainers have a downturn in prize-money the owners win less, so we have to put up our fees to pay people more – we aren’t being directly supported by our industry to pay more.
“Trainers are responsible for paying their staff, but the money has to come from somewhere. If we were given some sort of remuneration further down the line, in areas such as prize-money, we could put fees up with the sole aim of increasing wages.
“At the bottom of it all, trainers are all human. I would love to be able to pay staff as much as possible to eradicate the issue altogether – we want to do right by our people.”
Skelton believes blame cannot be attributed to any one party, nor does he believe pay is the sole issue in retaining staff, with the hours another factor pushing people away as they get older.
“It’s an industry-wide problem and I’m not banging the drum saying trainers need more help, but it will come to the point where, if blame is left at trainers’ doors, we will have to because it’s not fair.
“Stable staff prepare the horses to turn up on the day for everybody to enjoy, so we need to have another go at solving the problem. We need to ask staff how they’d bring more people in and what frustrates them.”
He said: "From what I hear we're doing numerically better than some, you'd love to have more, but we're lucky to have those we do. We make a conscious effort to look after those we have. They get paid well above the minimum for the industry.
"The hours are a big thing, so our staff have Thursday afternoons off. The nature of the beast is horses have to be looked after at all times."
The situation could be made worse by Brexit, which has been identified as a major threat to racing’s already stretched workforce and trainer Gary Moore is aware of the harsh reality.
"Staff are not well paid but how much can you charge owners – it's a vicious circle. They're only doing 40-hour weeks now, so you want more staff to compensate for the staff who are there less of the time. I don't know what the answer is.
"I'm very lucky my family are heavily involved because you can't do it all yourself. The hours and the money are the only way to retain staff. We're as prepared as we can be for Brexit – it's not making life any easier."
However, the BHA has reported a nine per cent increase in people entering the industry in 2018 compared to 2017 and is working to tackle the issue in areas ranging from recruitment and training to staff welfare and retention.
In a statement, it said: “The current staffing shortage is an issue which affects the entire racing industry, and one which has been identified as a key priority to be addressed.
"We have taken on a leadership role and our recruitment, training and retention team work closely and collaboratively with key stakeholders through an industry programme board solely focused on the challenges around racing’s workforce.”
The BHA added that industry funding to tackle the issue reached more than £2 million in 2018 and believe there has never been a better time to work in the sport, with a great package on offer including career progression opportunities, union-agreed pay structures and bespoke qualifications.