By Jack Banister and Kate Pease

How do we put a full-stop on a year as chaotic as 2020?

It began with Australia experiencing one of its worst bushfire seasons. In the middle of that crisis, another arrived when the nation’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed in a traveller from Wuhan on January 25.

By April, the pandemic had fundamentally altered life here and abroad, from the way we worked to the way we travelled, talked, exercised, shopped and educated our kids.

While some of the changes are gradually being wound back in Australia to achieve a “COVID-normal”, others will shape the way we live in 2021 and beyond.

So instead of a full stop, the team at Michelson Alexander is looking back to look forward. We want to begin 2021 with some questions, assessing what we’ve learnt in 2020 and what changes can have a lasting impact for ourselves and for our clients.

Does flexible work give us a chance at a gender reset?

When lockdowns first hit Australia, workforce stand-downs exacerbated existing gender inequality, with many pundits labelling the recession a pink one.

Women are overrepresented in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, including tourism, retail, and hospitality, which meant women lost more hours of work than men. Labour force participation for women fell 2.9 per cent in April 2020, compared to 1.9 per cent for men[1].

Emerging into our “COVID–normal” world, we should consider whether the flexible working arrangements can become permanent, helping to tackle this inequality.

By agreement, compressed working weeks, flexible hours, job-sharing, part-time work options, making Zoom a permanent feature of workplaces along with more unpaid leave are all things employers should consider offering their employees.

Giving male employees more autonomy to balance other commitments would

empower them to take on more of the caring responsibilities traditionally taken on by females. That shift would allow for greater diversity inside companies, with research demonstrating that companies with more part-time managers have better gender-balance at an executive level.[2]

There’s also a historic opportunity to increase female participation in construction, mining, and the other male-dominated sectors that have received large amounts of government recovery funding.

With a skills shortage that cannot be offset alone by temporary skilled worker visas, tailoring ads and positions to women is a sure-fire way for companies to ensure that funding helps Australians of all genders.

Can Hydrogen kick start our economic and climate recovery?

Last summer’s unprecedented bushfires were a stark reminder of the growing threat of climate change and the need to cut emissions.

There’s also an urgent need for a post-COVID economic recovery, which means that investing in clean hydrogen gas projects is a way of killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

There have already been some exciting developments in this space in 2020.

In Queensland, Michelson Alexander was pleased to assist one of its clients, the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre (PICAC), to secure $20 million of funding from the state government for a Hydrogen Centre of Excellence based in Beenleigh.

In Victoria, a similar push is underway to turn the state into a hydrogen powerhouse. A report penned by the John Curtin Research Centre presented a 20-year plan to the Andrews Government, which includes a proposal for a $20 million investment to build another hydrogen centre for excellence at PICAC HQ in Brunswick.

The new centre would be built by apprentices, for apprentices, helping to alleviate a skills shortage whilst providing thousands of jobs for Victorians.

Elsewhere, Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor formally announced a $70 million investment in Australia’s first regional hydrogen export hub, likely to be located in South Australia.

Can we do more to secure the financial security of our frontline medical staff?

We’ve also been delighted throughout 2020 to work with Kooyong Group, a specialist lender for medical professionals. It goes without saying that the importance of our incredible medical workforce has really come to the fore this year.

Kooyong Group is made up of individuals from some of the world’s leading private banks with a shared goal to provide tailored financial advice and options to help their client’s financial needs and aspirations.

Kooyong is also proud to support the communities that support us, and to impact people’s lives in positive, ethical and meaningful ways. This includes the firm’s support for arts initiatives like the Festival of Jewish Art and Music, one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic.

Can e-scooters help us to travel smarter?

Social distancing is here to stay, which means that packing our trains and trams like sardine cans is a thing of the past.

Commercial e-scooters represent a convenient, safe alternative, and are already available in Brisbane and Adelaide. Michelson Alexander has assisted e-scooter provider Lime’s entrance into the Australian market.

In January, Darwin began a year-long trial. The city’s general manager of innovation growth, Joshua Sattler, has since called the technology an essential part of Darwin’s economic recovery.

While major metropolises Sydney and Melbourne are yet to fully embrace e-scooters, there are positive signs in NSW. In March a working group commissioned by Transport NSW laid out the conditions for any potential e-scooter trial.

The pandemic could provide the impetus we need to travel smarter using some of the e-scooter technology available to us. Hopefully, governments continue to show the courage to think outside the box and achieve safe micromobility travel options that benefit the community.

Can tech help us to connect with people who used to miss out?  

The pandemic had a profound impact on people living with disabilities, limiting access to health care and other regular programs of support.

Our client, Wallara Australia, was quick to react and innovate when COVID-19 reached Australia. They launched Wallara Online, a new digital service offering a range of different support programs to educate, build independence and facilitate social connection.

The program has such wide-ranging benefits that it will outlast the pandemic.

It has made support access easier for people living in regional and remote areas, for people in hospital receiving treatment, and for anyone else who doesn’t have access to Wallara’s face-to-face facilities.

It’s a great example of why we should all consider the ways in which the technology we’ve become so accustomed to in 2020 can help us in the future, and especially people with different abilities.

Can we help the young and the old with one program?

When COVID-19 reached aged care homes, we saw first-hand the consequences of having a poor and unprepared aged care system.

More than 100,000 people are stuck on waitlists, caught by a bureaucratic machine that denies them the individualised, compassionate support they need. Youth unemployment has also spiked, with more than five jobseekers for each entry-level job.

Michelson Alexander has been working with Lively, a Melbourne-based social enterprise connecting these two groups. By providing training and employment for young people with an aptitude for caring for the elderly, Lively has been able to help foster social connections between two groups hurt in different ways by the pandemic.

If you’re interested in discussing how your business can leverage any of the opportunities discussed here in 2021, or would like a more general chat about communications and stakeholder management, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

[1] https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/gendered-impact-of-covid-19

[2] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-in-leadership-lessons-from-australian-companies-leading-the-way#