By Len Powe
There was no time to make it perfect but architectural practices were generally united in the view, “How good was JobKeeper!” to paraphrase our Prime Minister. It’s not a question, it’s more a fact. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, the federal government’s $90 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme has apparently helped about 500,000 businesses and more than 3.6 million workers to keep their heads above water. Most architectural practices were businesses where “workers” benefited from this government initiative. JobKeeper was a quick and dirty response at a time when fast and assertive action was required. Rather than stress about financial security, JobKeeper allowed practices to focus on their clients, business relationships and how to respond to the post-COVID world, the new normal.
Many practices still had to make difficult decisions about their staff but, at the same time, others were able to retain and support their people in their remote working situations. Most importantly, this minimised the loss of experienced team members and it seems this outcome was generally replicated across many Australian businesses. While other industries weren’t so fortunate, the key objective of the JobKeeper scheme achieved its aim to plug the hole in business revenue and prevent business owners from having their backs to the wall.
Simply put, it was no-one’s fault. Most clients eventually succumbed to the economic uncertainty through 2020 and inevitably chose to park their projects and wait. The trouble was, what were we all waiting for, and for how long? Retail and commercial clients found prospective tenants reluctant to commit to leases because they were nervously in lockdown and wouldn’t travel. The economic implications were unpredictable and not for the risk-averse. Residential clients, particularly in the build to rent space, stopped any further work on new projects to commendably focus on supporting their existing tenants who were suffering rent stress. There was a general acceptance that nothing new would happen until there was a vaccine. Whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or not, that proved to be the case.
Unfortunately, the vaccine rollout has become party political and we’ve lost perspective on how fortunate we are as a nation envied by the rest of the world. There is no question some businesses thrived during the pandemic and others are still struggling. As a country, we are bouncing back and it is encouraging to observe that architects are amongst the fortunate ones to see our businesses experiencing renewed activity, growth and resurgence. But when we reflect on the past year, we inevitably conclude “How good was JobKeeper!”.
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