The business is an electrical contracting company located in Newcastle and Hunter Valley offering levels of customer focused service. It is a small family business operating since 1998. They had employed 6 staff before the Pandemic. It is an organisation that is highly skilled in all facets of electrical contracting including lighting, power, instrumentation, control, supply, installation and upgrading of motor control centres, drive cells and distribution boards. They had a diverse range of clients in a regional area from small to large businesses.
At the end of 2019, they were winning work and were very busy. When the Pandemic hit Australia in March 2020, the business had not been prepared for lockdowns and covid safe working practices. Like all business, this was the first time they were experiencing this impact.
The business provided an essential service and was able to continue trading. Working in the regions helped soften the initial shock. IT was still a time of high uncertainty for the business as to what this meant for them and their employee’s heath as well as ongoing continuity of work,
Their initial and continuing focus was on the health and wellbeing of their employees. They followed the health advice provided by the NSW Government, but the uncertainty as to what it meant to people’s health had an initial impact on employees and well as the owners of business. Was it safe to work?
This was followed about whether there would be enough work to sustain everyone. It was clear every quickly that jobs were getting cancelled and there was a definite downturn and slowdown in the work.
This was obvious to the business and the employees as there wasn’t enough work coming in to provide to everyone. The intent of the business was trying and preserve all jobs where possible. Whilst there would have been enough work for the owner of the business and possibly one other, the plan was to try and provide some work to all the people. This did mean that employees were not going to get enough hours work to sustain full time work.
The employees’ worked with the business and took annual leave in a rotation (so a week off here and there) so that the workload could be spread more evenly between those who worked in that week. The business and one employee were fortunate, that one of the more longstanding jobs they had involved work on a remote location. This meant at least one employee was fully employed.
The business was also able to access JobKeeper and this assisted greatly in ensuring that they were able to avoid making employees redundant. It was noted that having access to JobKeeper, not only assisted to keep the business continuing to operate but reduced the stress the business owners and employees were facing. Even when lockdown came off and the business could work to capacity, it was some time before the work picked up. Clients’ had also faced their own issues, and this meant there was no bounce back. It took some time for the work to come back up.
The fact that the employees were willing to work with the business, and were flexible in when they took their leave, meant that the business was able to provide work evenly to everyone and continue operating throughout the pandemic.
The business implemented the safe working practices such as:
The nature of work would usually require 1 vehicle taking more than 2 people to a job or jobs. This had to change, and the business was fortunate to have enough vehicles to ensure that there was only a maximum of one passenger in a vehicle and they had to be sitting at the back. Where possible a bubble was created, so that the same two people travelled with each other.
The measures were complied with instantly and no employee complained. Clients also had their own systems and we had no complaints that nay of our staff were not following this.
The work levels in 2021 has improved and the business found itself back to its pre covid levels. The challenge for this year getting skilled employees. With closed international borders and even state borders, there is a labour shortage. People are also still uncertain and unwilling to plan.
It is very difficult to employ a skilled electrician in the Hunter. On one job, the uncertainty faced was due to skill shortages. This causes uncertainty as to whether to tender for work. The cycle means that the business can’t risk putting on new people full time and they can’t be relied on to stay. So, they don’t want to risk mid-way through a job losing someone to a larger employer.
The business tenders based on the work it knows it can handle with its core employees. The business can sustain its pre covid levels of operation, but it has no ability to grow, due to the uncertainty of labour.
The success measure for this small business is that it not just survived a pandemic, it avoided redundancies, retained its core group of employees and now has got its operations back to its pre pandemic levels.
The Workplace Advice Line is Ai Group’s national telephone advisory service for all your on the spot workplace related questions.
Weekdays from 8.30am to 5.30pm
(Australian Eastern Daylight/Standard Time)
Want to get in touch? We'd love to hear from you.
With almost 300 staff and networks of relationships that extend beyond borders (domestic and international) we have the resources and expertise to meet the changing needs of our membership. We provide the practical information, advice and assistance you need to run your business.