Industry ready as JobKeeper comes to an end

The Federal Government has ceased JobKeeper support for all industries including print, removing the braces for many businesses that depended on the scheme to keep afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme formed an integral part of the Federal Government’s stimulus package to respond to the negative economic effects of COVID-19.

The Real Media Collective general manager of IR, policy and governance Charles Watson said although there will always be an argument to further extend the scheme, given current positive economic indicators and the ramping up of the national vaccination program, it has beneficially served its purpose overall, in keeping workers employed and ensuring businesses did not lose skilled employees during the worst periods of last year.

“The scheme was only meant to be short term but ended up being extended to 12 months. There will always be mixed outcomes moving forward. Although many businesses within the industry moved off the JobKeeper scheme in the last half of 2020, there were those businesses that continued to need that support through to the conclusion of the scheme at 28 March 2021. Those businesses will likely experience mixed outcomes post JobKeeper,” he said.

“Additionally, there are other sectors of the domestic economy that continue to be experiencing negative business conditions including certain client bases such as tourism, aviation, hospitality and certain areas of retail which will have ongoing effects on our industry. 

“However, what we have seen over the last year is a high degree of creativity, rapidity and agility within the industry which evidences its core resilience as Australia moves through an economic recovery phase.”

Watson added that although there are positive economic indicators, and some have returned to business as usual, companies will have to look at their own circumstances to ensure that they emerge from the crisis.

“For those that continue to struggle, the next two quarters will be a testing time. There are businesses that should or will have to consider organisational restructuring and take a planned approach to such an undertaking. If restructuring is required, employers should keep the seeking of increased flexibilities front of mind,” he said.

“The timely and beneficial purpose our industry served to Australia over the last year should not be forgotten quickly and businesses should remind themselves and their people regularly and with some pride. The resilience and agility I mentioned previously are the skills and mindset that got the industry through an ‘annus horribilis’ and will take us through this next phase.

“The clear internal communications that were an imperative last year will need to be sustained, although perhaps at a slightly decreased regularity, to keep all employees pulling in the same direction for this year.

“The ongoing, if not greater, use of technologies will also play an increasing part of our emergence. This will require adequate employee training to ensure maximum beneficial outcomes. Overall, I have a lot of optimism for the industry generally, as well as confidence in and admiration for the people in our industry.”

Rawson Print Co. director Lachlan Finch said he is thankful that JobKeeper was implemented and has given the industry the needed buffer time to re-evaluate their business strategies.

“There was always going to come a time when it was going to end. Australians have to recognise it’s not free money – the country will be paying for it for many years to come. So as tourism, travel and the other hardest hit industries start to open up in tandem with the vaccine rollout, I feel that March is not a terrible time,” he said.

“I think most print businesses have used the COVID time to evaluate their situation and have used the various government assistance packages available to restructure accordingly. The risk of ‘zombie’ businesses collapsing when JobKeeper ends is minimal and there are no signs of a significant contraction in the boarder economy, so I believe things will be fairly stable.

“I would like to think this actually means more opportunity for the print industry as businesses start to open are and invest in marketing their products and services. I also feel the increased support for onshore production will continue as businesses recognise or rediscover the many benefits.

“In any crisis, it’s imperative to get your fundamentals right, make sure they are under control. Once you are confident that your business can survive a ‘worst case’ scenario, start working on your business growth plan.”

Centrum Printing CEO Sandra Duarte said JobKeeper was always a temporary solution to assist businesses during the peak of the pandemic.

“It has been 12 months and I believe that businesses need to find their way back to some form of normal again. Extending JobKeeper can make businesses reliant on a wage subsidy that isn’t part of the overall financial operation,” she said.

“JobKeeper was necessary and has had a positive effect in buying time for businesses to prepare a COVID exit strategy. Now, we need to be ready to apply what we’ve learnt during the past 12 months move forward.”

However, Duarte mentioned that it is possible for small businesses who may not have evolved or prepared during the pandemic to face challenges moving forward.

“There are some businesses who may have kept their doors open and retained staff purely on the basis of having received JobKeeper. I believe we will, sadly, see more businesses close and skilled workers lose their jobs.

“I think the print industry needs to collaborate more with other businesses to make use of various technologies, skills and capabilities that can be adapted as part of their own product range. We need to promote and market Australian print manufacturing to allow more local production to help our industry survive and thrive.

“During COVID-19 we saw the print industry become an essential part of our economy and we need to continue that momentum and rely less on overseas supply chains.”

Duarte suggested print businesses adjust their operations to what works and review their products and services to add further value to their customers.

“We saw many businesses pivot and innovate during 2020 and I believe that for those that were successful will continue to do more. What is most important is that business owners and leaders must remain positive and optimistic for the future. A positive mindset leads to positive action,” she added.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said while bringing JobKeeper to an end makes sense in the context of the ongoing recovery in the broader economy, the risks that arise from its withdrawal should be carefully managed to help create a soft landing.

“Ultimately, the end of JobKeeper is an opportunity to rebalance and reset government measures to take the economy forward in a more sustainable way. JobKeeper lasted six months longer than originally envisaged. Undoubtedly many sectors will need further support, such as tourism and accommodation. The Government’s tourism and aviation measures are important steps towards the management of these risks and there is clearly more scope for further targeted extension of these measures,” Willox said.

“However, many businesses in other sectors will welcome the end of JobKeeper because of the difficulties they are experiencing in attracting labour, especially relatively unskilled labour, as they grow.

Willox suggested a mix of short-term supports and long-term policy settings to ensure sustainable long-term economic recovery.

“While some of these risks are already being addressed, there is a further role for selective policy measures to be put in place to address the possibility of a sharp increase in redundancies and insolvencies in the months ahead,” Willox said.

The proposed measures include:

  • Ramping up policies targeted at youth unemployment. For example, a lift in support for greater job-readiness and helping employers meet the cost of upskilling new employees
  • Giving greater publicity to the availability of the JobMaker Hiring Credit and reducing the red-tape burden associated with this program
  • Targeted assistance to assist participation of vulnerable groups including people with disabilities.

“In addition, the withdrawal of JobKeeper and household assistance measures will reduce the extent of fiscal stimulus in the economy. It is critical that the states and territories ensure that momentum is maintained in the rollout of their infrastructure programs in the months ahead,” she mentioned.

“Both in relation to the infrastructure programs and more broadly across the economy, areas of acute skill shortages are holding back areas of expansion. The greater support being provided for trainees and apprentices is very welcome in this area and extending this type of support to a broader range of opportunities in the form of cadetships would be very positive in coming years.

“In the meantime, a selective increase in skilled migration – with support from expanded quarantining capacity – would could help address areas of acute skill shortages in the near-term.”

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