Peter Strong: Something good from evil COVID?

- April 2, 2020 3 MIN READ

The government’s response to the COVID crisis gives some 6 million people money to survive and live on. That is a relief and sends a great message that we are all in this together, with many getting the same money as we fight for health and for the economy.

So, we are looking for opportunity and goods news to provide hope and succor for the millions of people sitting at home for many months. One key answer is in training and skills.

We can spend the next 5 to 6 months with millions of people idle, with all the negative destructive effects that can have. Or we can use the time to build skills, knowledge, understanding and health. We can become the learning country or training nation for the next 6 months.
There are hundreds of thousands of work teams around the country in small businesses. Many of these teams are still in action providing services, food, coffee, products and advice. But it appears the majority of the work teams will be idling, waiting to recommence when this is all done.

Training is a way to keep those work teams in contact with their employer and with each other, and focused on skills and knowledge that they, the team, think is a good outcome. The outcome will be for them as individuals and as workers. Better skills create better workers and a
healthier workplace. Access to learning may help create a much healthier constructive home environment.

There are plenty of on-line training courses available and many more will be developed over the next few months. So, what can people do? What is suitable and apt? If an employee is a relatively new arrival in Australia or their English is not that good, then training can focus on English as a Second Language as well as on literacy and numeracy. Any training in those areas would benefit both the person and the business.

All employees would also benefit from formal awareness raising on Cyber Security. The person and their family would be safer using the home computer and the work place would also be safer as a result of increased awareness. Employees in the hospitality industry may benefit from refresher courses on responsible service of alcohol or food safety.

Most people would benefit from creating or improving skills around: word processing; spreadsheets; creating a website; on-line sales – the processes and best practices; skilling in specialised software programs; basic financial management; writing blogs and using social media; on-line sales techniques; customer related training courses and the list goes on.

The professional sector would be able to complete many more refresher courses or industry information seminars. There can be research on emerging trends in particular sectors. Teams could review books related to their industry and even rate those books or rate information websites.

Certainly, on-line training in ‘how to be COVID safe’ wouldn’t go astray.

There is also the non-vocational training that can accessed. Activities could include: on-line games development, public speaking, writing blogs, how to write a book and so forth. Keeping people healthy and active isn’t just about vocational skills. Many teams used to go for a run at lunchtime or play netball together once a week. Non-vocational skills development can also help keep a team together and keep people mentally healthy.

The access to training and skills development to people forced to stay at home is a necessity. This is a great idea, yet will anyone build barriers to this happening. The ACTU has stated that if an employer demands that an employee, who is on the $750 Jobkeeper payment, undertake training then the employer will have to pay that employee their full wage. The reason is that the ACTU seems to think the $750 is there for people to sit around doing nothing if there is no work. That is such a dangerous position to take. Employers without income will not be
able to pay full wages, that is the whole idea of the $750 pw payment. It is to keep employees and employers connected, not provide a long-term holiday. And anyone who has ever been stuck in the home and not allowed out, if only for a few weeks, knows that is real challenge and can be damaging to health, it isn’t a holiday. An employer who works with their team to get skills developed is a good employer.

There is no way to actually force an employee to do the training. But it is an outcome that benefits everyone. The ACTU will likely support training if there is no compunction to do so. They should not be ambiguous on this. People’s health, long term and short term, is at risk.
Because the next 4 months at least will be about physical health, mental health, stopping domestic violence and keeping people active where possible. Becoming a training nation for 4 months is a good thing.

We should do all we can for the workers and the self-employed, not focus not focus on ideology as we all face this awful crisis – a prolonged war with a deadly virulent virus.

This post was written for Flying Solo by Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia.