AEMT - Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades

28 May 2020
Taking the emergency out of a crisis
How the service and repair sector have coped with the strange new world we find ourselves in throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been an interesting time for the service and repair industry, whom from past records have fared well in times of difficulty. When new equipment is not being sold and commissioned, then repairs and overhaul help prop up the books. So, its good to hear that even in this unprecedented global health pandemic, our members are recognised as key workers who are working to underpin the health services and infrastructure of our modern lives. 

The most challenging aspect has been managing a rapidly thinning workforce almost overnight. Suddenly we find we are not just ensuring power and water is supplied to the nation, but we find our colleagues can be off sick for weeks at a time, we’re also expected to home school our children, and juggle the roles of parent and worker in the same instance! 

So how have we coped!? Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the AEMT have hosted a bi-weekly forum for members to come together and share their experiences, working practices, and opportunities. It has been an invaluable tool, not only for the association’s management to understand how it can better help its members, but for the members to learn from each other. 

With no rule book for dealing with a crisis quite like this, the more information we can share with each other, the better and smarter we can hope to work. 

Safe working practices
The number one priority for member companies has been to ensure their staff are both safe in work, and well cared for during the pandemic. 

Communication has been key to this, with letters and memos regularly circulated to keep worried staff abreast of the new company policies changing on a day-by-day basis. Clear markings and signage have decorated our places of work showing 2 meter working distances and reminders to wear additional PPE to what we are already used to. One member mentions their new ethos has been to, ‘make work a safer place to be, than home’.

The world health organisation has stated that the virus is spread through airborne particles from people coughing or sneezing, and through hand to face contact from contaminated surfaces. Unfortunately, health and safety guidelines require at least two people to work together safely on many activities in the workplace making them especially at-risk places.  

The industry is used to employing risk assessments to identify what measures should be taken to mitigate risk on a job. The same practise has been used to come up with some of the following procedures to fight the insidious nature of the new novel corona virus:

1. Setup a buddy system. 
Many businesses have divided up its employees into teams tasked to separate areas of the business. Anyone not essential for the onsite running of the business was either furloughed or instructed to work from home. Those remaining were given a buddy to work with, so that normal safety working conditions can still be observed. By limiting contact to only one other person in the workplace, the risk of the virus spreading across the business is restricted. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be warn. In our industry we are already used to wearing hand and eye protection, but face masks should also be now worn. The CBI, which AEMT members are members of via their membership of the association, is currently working with the government to understand the requirements from each industry. 

2. Routine health checks. 
Nipping problems in the bud is a common adage for stopping problems spiralling out of control. The last thing a business needs during the crisis is for the whole work force to be off sick and severely crippling a company’s ability to function. 

Before checking-in at the start of the day, most businesses have started to question employees on their state of health to confirm they have not got a temperature, cough, or symptoms of the virus. For added security some companies have rigged up their condition monitoring thermal cameras to measure employee core body temperatures.
Should an employee report in sick, and there is any reason to believe they could have spread the virus in the workplace, the facility is closed while a deep clean is performed.

Cash flow management
In a challenging economic climate, cash flow is the biggest challenge to business. Suppliers are asking to be paid up front, and customers asking to delay payment. One company found that a weekly cash flow forecast was a useful tool for forecasting when economic trouble would hit them, so they can be prepared with overdrafts or loans. 
Taking a deeper look into customers businesses with has enabled them to categorise their customers from high to low risk. The risk factor helps determine payment terms and service level agreements going forward with the customers. 

A crisis such as the pandemic we find ourselves in now, shakes the core of our society to such an extent that new normals are established overnight. Policies and legislation that would usually take years or decades are now implemented in days and weeks. There have been many new and strange demands to our every day lives for us to become accustomed to, and some of these are already being seen as opportunities to hold onto.  

Increase in repair services – with the movement of products across borders becoming a logistical headache for suppliers, there has been a rapid rise in repair and overhaul activity giving AEMT members an opportunity to show the world where they really excel. With safe working practices in place (see above) it gives apprentices an opportunity for more equipment to practise on.

Education – with furloughed workers sitting at home with nothing to do, companies are jumping on the opportunity to offer training to their staff. The government has setup a national careers service with opportunities to learn the basics of using a computer, to digital marketing and computer coding. The AEMT is also offering a selection of training videos to its members – please get in touch with the secretariat for more details. 

Reduced travel - With face to face meetings coming to an immediate halt, our travel expenses have diminished almost entirely. The thought of staying in your third motel in a week and eating a dry pit-stop sandwich are, for now, memories of the past, as we turn to video calling technology to keep in touch with acquaintances. With less travel comes more time, and some companies are boasting an increase in sales activity as they accomplish more with their days! 

Supporting each other
The association really comes into its own when member companies use the network to support each other.

Although most suppliers are still getting goods to customers, lead times have increased due to border restrictions, and logistics.

A few of the services which can be used include:

Workshop equipment exchange
Many members can offer the availability of their more niche workshop equipment such as PM magnet removal tools or servo motor repairs. Alternatively, if you are looking for some more permanent workshop equipment such as a burnout oven or VPI tank, many members use the AEMT to advertise their excess equipment. The AEMT website has several pieces of equipment already available: 

Advertising Excess stock:
If you have excess stock which needs shifting, get in touch with the secretariat who can share your inventory with other members who might be willing to take it of your hands. 
Sharing best practice.  
The secretariat is in the process of releasing a draft code of practise for safety in working with COVID-19. We welcome any insights or common practices members have implemented to create a safer working environment during the crisis. Look out for the first draft which will be available soon. 


COVID-19 Business Support

The consensus among members is that government support has been pretty good during the crisis. With funds to pay furloughed workers being transferred within days of application. Banks on the other hand have shown to be less helpful initially, but have shown signs of improving.

Sifting through the mountain of information suddenly available to employers has proved quite a challenge for many. The secretariat has compiled a concise directory of links to quickly point people in the right direction for the needs they require:

Read our AEMT COVID-19 Support Guide here





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