NATIONAL PRESIDENT UPDATE – MONTH THAT WAS

9 April 2020

This last period has seen our AIB world transformed by circumstances that we could not have imagined as we spent much of the summer months coping with the combination of fire, floods and dust that impacted communities around Australia.

We are in unprecedented times with a range of restrictions affecting the community as we adapt to the new norm of ‘social distancing.’ While the circumstances for some is an enforced 14-day isolation if we are at risk of having been exposed on some form of travel and just returned, we need to remain separate to protect others in our families and the community.

Less than a month ago your National Council met to plan the program of Institute activities for the next 12 months that was structured for:

  • National and Chapter events;
  • ongoing Course Accreditation work with our Tertiary Education providers;
  • CPD presentations, Site Visits and local training information;
  • our mentoring program extended across all Chapters; and
  • the commencement of our subscription year.

With this, all to be achieved within our annual budget however, the AIB has like nearly all construction and consulting businesses which contain the majority of our working members (the industry professionals we represent) has had to quickly adapt our operations.

As I reflect on the last three weeks the construction industry has made a significant pivot from ‘business as usual,’ and we have all been learning to adapt to a completely different set of norms to continue our work. Thankfully the Government has prioritised that construction should continue as an essential service while implementing the COVID-19 guidelines or express obligations like Stage 3 restrictions. As one of the sectors of the community that is not subject to automatic isolation, we owe a duty of care to both our workers and staff who are willing and able to work. Equally the industries and sectors that were promptly closed at the commencement of Stage 1 & 2 responses are a tragic reminder that providing for a family is a precious responsibility.

I am encouraged by the stories of members within this environment providing leadership and showing radical business change almost immediately in their responses to keep the economy moving. The reality is the public need construction to continue as it employs over 10% of Australia’s workforce. Observers outside any commercial construction site don’t see or understand that these work places are already highly regulated and well managed. Construction businesses understand a duty of care in the workplace and have developed a full suite of procedures used daily as part of any construction business. Construction workers have regular training and already use site inductions, toolbox meetings and SWMS’s as part of every working day, so adding:

  • a new procedure at the start of the day to check if individual workers are healthy before entry;
  • planning work to be spread over larger areas to maintain social distancing;
  • splitting shifts or staggered start times allowing lunchrooms to have 3, 4 or 5 rotations of use, with cleaning and disinfecting between each use;
  • having work plans that record which teams, are in which zones, to track the immediate contact risks if someone does develop symptoms, so vital information of possible exposure can be shared with the work group quickly;
  • a new procedure at the end of the day to check if individual workers are still healthy before exiting;
  • this extra level of management and monitoring is possible, and the Government understands it can be implemented quickly because it is so similar to what we must already manage as Building Professionals.

So, the Construction Industry remaining at work is not ‘a fluke’ or ‘picking favourites’ to retain jobs, but it is just one example of a well-managed workplace that can control all industry trained specialists because it has systems already. As a comparison, public entertainment venues while having well trained staff, could not manage large volumes of people who just arrive without notice. These businesses could not quickly establish controls and identification procedures and therefore present an immediate risk of infection spread that could not be monitored.

We have also adopted control measures to help our AIB staff stay safe. We moved to ‘working from home’ to avoid the potential risks for staff even though we had space for staff to be socially distanced. We have all AIB operations continuing, and staff can respond to any questions by email, the office phone is also diverted and Greg can respond to any phone enquiries in the first instance.

Our Professional Excellence Award program is still open, and our venue bookings for presentation events which were scheduled between May and July have been either cancelled or transferred to a later date in 2020 where we can’t recover venue deposits. The program will still commence judging within the next week, and this is still a great way for companies and individuals to have their 2019 projects judged and awarded so businesses will have promotional / marketing opportunities as we exit COVID-19 and return to full work mode. As the Government amends any requirements around gathering in groups, we will confirm how the presentation phase of the 2020 Awards will be offered in the future.

Membership subscriptions have now been out for a few weeks and I would encourage members to contact the National Office at membership@aib.org.au next week if you have not yet seen an email from us with your invoice attached. In an effort to responsibly manage the Institutes’ resources our first round of invoicing has been intentionally delivered electronically. If you have recently moved address or changed your contact details, we would also ask that you update these by logging on using the website to check your current record or email Kerry at membership with your new details.

You can also pay directly by using the Pay Membership Fee link while you are logged in.

We also have a payment plan offer to help members at this time with a four payment option to spread the fee over April / May / June / July so again contact Kerry at membership@aib.org.au to get the form and stagger the payments. This time has also seen some large disruption with some business announcing or commencing staff reductions so I would encourage members to also contact our office if this has affected you and you want to stay connected with the AIB but have concerns about any recent employment change.

Our Mentoring program is still seeking registrations for mentors and with some construction hibernation likely there may be time for you to volunteer to help a student or recent graduate map a pathway and start to understand what a career in building offers. You can download the mentor nomination form here and return the form to events@aib.org.au

While COVID-19 restricts gathering in person, I would encourage all AIB members to look after their own mental health by staying connected with either work colleagues or other AIB members on social platforms or scheduling group catch-ups using Zoom or Microsoft teams. As we are largely in a “working from home” environment unless you are based directly on a construction site at some point, it is still important to have the coffee chat or lunchtime quiz as part of your working day. We may still be working this way for a few months, so get into a good routine to ensure you last the distance.

Well Easter is now upon us, and with restricted travel, social distancing and some products still in short supply; I hope all members do still get time with either young family at home or older family using ‘virtual technology’ so that you can celebrate a little bit over this long weekend.

So, I look forward to seeing you Zoom at an AIB event soon.

David Burnell FAIB
National President
Australian Institute of Building