The first keynote speaker at the 2021 TMA National Conference was Alison Kitchen, Director of the Business Council of Australia, National Chairman of KPMG and member of KPMG’s global and regional boards, Council member of ANU and Director of Belvoir Street Theatre.
One of the biggest challenges Alison faced in the last 18 months during COVID was the lack of autonomy and learning to let go of things she could not control personally and at a business level. She effectively had to go with the flow and adapt as the situation changed; committing to things 3 months out doesn’t work any more and she has learned to be more agile.
In terms of emerging from COVID, Australia needs to open international and state borders, revert to previous levels of migration and possibly have catch up migration programs such as in Canada. Australia and North Korea are the only countries that do not allow citizens to leave the country – other countries are opening up and attracting overseas students and tourists that would ordinarily come to Australia. As a result, Australia is missing pent up demand and risks being left behind if it continues to close its borders.
There are tremendous skills shortages globally and there is a very real war for talent as the young workforce look for new opportunities after lockdown. Businesses will need to be agile and look for greater technology, incentives and different ways of training staff.
Australia will have a large national debt emerging from COVID, the size of which has only become more opaque since JobKeeper has fallen away and been replaced by a range of Commonwealth and state support. This debt will need to be addressed – this will require tax reform (ideally a broader and deeper consumption tax) and increased productivity.
Gender equality is a priority in the post COVID workplace – Australia goes to extraordinary lengths to educate women but women do not have access to senior leadership roles in the same way as men because of the traditional challenges that they face including childcare, the gender pay gap and parental leave. Successful businesses have greater diversity including gender diversity and support women through their childcare years and getting women back into the workforce. Women are a big source of untapped and underutilised talent and skills in a time when there is a desperate need for talent.
Boards have had to adapt and evolve in the way they operate during COVID including as board meetings have had to take place virtually. There have been real benefits to virtual meetings including a capacity for chairs to ensure all voices are heard, not just having the usual voices dominate, and – in relation to global companies – actually more regular and meaningful engagement with offshore operations than with an annual physical visit. Moving forward, boards are likely to have a mix of physical and virtual meetings. There will be less overseas business travel, but it is still critical as it offers a level of engagement that cannot be replicated virtually.
In Alison’s view, Australia and Australian businesses need to continue to be agile to adapt to the changing economic and other challenges and opportunities that COVID has brought. The post-COVID world, globally, will be a different one where many practices that were adopted during lockdowns will continue to be utilised as businesses endeavour to address and overcome the impact of COVID and its effects on the economy.