Out with the old, in with the new – never has this sounded more appealing than now, with the difficult 2020 finally behind us. Let’s take a moment to review the past year and sneak a peek inside the crystal ball: what does 2021 have in store for tradies in Australia and New Zealand?
How did Aussie and Kiwi small businesses fare in 2020?
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, economic predictions were pretty grim. And yet, our lands down under managed to not only curb the spread of the virus for the most part, but also to push for small business revenue and job growth. After getting hit quite hard in March and April, small business revenue in New Zealand grew for several months in a row and was 3.2% higher in November than at the same period in 2019, according to Xero’s Small Business Insights. Xero’s Monthly Update for Australia revealed that Aussie small businesses have also enjoyed small but steady growth, with November showing 1.7% revenue growth over the same month in the previous year.
How did COVID-19 lockdowns impact tradie activity?
A quick glance at our Fergus job creation data shows pretty clearly that tradies’ job activity dropped as soon as the first lockdowns came into effect. When New Zealand went into Alert Level 4 lockdown at the end of March, tradies were only able to undertake work that was classified as an essential service. As a result, the construction industry was almost entirely shut down in April and jobs per company dropped by 46%. As could be expected, we saw a similar trend in Victoria during the August lockdown; however, it only resulted in a 24% dip in new jobs.
Luckily, as restrictions lifted, tradies in NZ and Aus were able to start working through the backlog and saw a quick uptick in new jobs. When New Zealand went from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 on April 28, we registered a record-high number of jobs created in the app – in only three days, Fergus users created 5x more jobs than through the entire period of Level 4 lockdown! Things kept ticking along throughout June (21% increase in new jobs compared to the previous year) and July (6% increase).
Despite the economic whirlwind brought on by the pandemic, Kiwis and Aussies managed to finish the year on a high – our data for the entire year shows that Fergus customers completed about 2% more jobs on average in 2020 than in 2019! Kiwi companies that use Fergus had 6.23% more new jobs on average vs. last year, and Aussie Fergus companies wrapped up the year with 1.88% more jobs than the same time last year.
These numbers go to show that, even with the challenges that came with working under COVID-19 constraints, tradies took hold of the opportunities that came their way and did the hard yards to make up for any lost work during the lockdowns.
A promising forecast for 2021
Trying to predict the future in the middle of a pandemic is a slippery exercise; still, there are a few things that seem to be on the cards for 2021, so we’re going to give it a crack. While an economic slowdown in the next few years seems likely, the good news is that New Zealand and Australian economies are expected to bounce back from the brunt of COVID-19 earlier than expected, and sooner than most other developed countries.
Another saving grace that tradies can take comfort in is that trades industries can typically weather hard times better than others. The National Skills Commission of Australia has categorised plumbers, roof tilers, and carpenters as highly resilient trades that have dealt with the economic blow better than most. In June, the Australian Government announced HomeBuilder, a stimulus package worth 688 million AUD that offered home grants to eligible Aussies who were either building a new home or undergoing a renovation project – a move intended to support and create jobs in the trades sector. The New Zealand government offering free apprenticeships for the next 2.5 years for construction (including building, plumbing, and civil engineering) goes to show that tradies are the backbone of our economies – and will remain so for some time to come.
The pandemic has given rise to an important silver lining – more open conversations about mental health. As more people, businesses, and institutions become aware of the importance of mental wellbeing, more tradies will hopefully be also encouraged to speak up and share their load with others.
Laying the groundwork for the future (and the unexpected)
COVID-19 has ushered in an era of remote working, and more than ever before, we are relying on technology to be able to work from home. And just as people are navigating the world of remote work and trying to stay connected through screens and devices, they are also becoming more digitally savvy. Make no mistake, they will expect the same of tradies. Researching businesses online has already become the norm, so tradies with a stronger digital marketing presence and professional customer service will have a leg-up compared to those who prefer to stick to their old ways. Remote quoting as well as site inspections via video calls are just some examples of how tradies can tweak their ways of working to move with the times.
If there’s any business lesson that 2020 has taught us, it’s that you have to make your business as flexible and efficient as possible. In case there’s another lockdown in the future, make sure that you have your bases covered and understand how to keep your business moving during uncertain times. The ongoing labour shortages in the industry and rising material costs make it all the more important to get a firm grip of your finances and resources.
Using field service management software will take the tedious, time-consuming admin off your hands and create the time and headspace you need to focus on developing and future-proofing your business. If you haven’t already, head over to our Business Coaching Webinars where we take you through the nuts and bolts of running a successful trades business, and start 2021 off on the right foot.