Around The Curve: Planning In The Covid Recovery Phase
ISUZU Comment: Andrew Harbison, IAL Director and Chief Operating Officer
Just 12 months ago, I was penning a speech for an industry event and the theme was “Preparing for Change”.
All signs pointed to Australia’s road transport industry as poised at the edge of sweeping change—in terms of technological advancement, customer preference and product appeal.
As the name of the theme suggests, one of the focus points was the concept of preparing our businesses to pivot with change.
I still believe the most successful to emerge on the other side of this “evolution”, will be those planning for and adapting quickly to unfolding challenges.
It was truly a significant year for road transport in Australia last year.
Bushfires to COVID-19, to supply chain chaos and a national truck law review, not to mention intrastate border restrictions that continue to change week on week.
Planning and processes that help guide and inform our response to situations such as we’ve seen over the past year are critical for a functioning industry, and in supporting the country post-COVID.
I place particular emphasis here on having a structured, robust and importantly, practiced approach to critical incidents.
This ‘business readiness’ will give operators a strong head start when issues arise, whatever they may be.
At the time of writing this article, my hometown of Melbourne has recently emerged from a five-day ‘snap’ lockdown in another attempt to quash virus outbreaks. Western Australia is also coming out of a similar lock-down period.
Let us take some spirit in the fact that we are now well-versed and prepared to tackle these disruptions head-on. It is one more bump, and assuredly not the last, on the road to national recovery.
News of a vaccine rollout is imminent and a stronger than expected economic recovery predicted for 2021.
According to Deloitte’s Access Economics report, conditions post vaccine will look very different to those now—with a 3.1 per cent hike in business investment and a 6 per cent increase in household spending predicted in 2021, while Australia’s overall economic output is expected to jump 4.4 per cent.
This is supported by Westpac’s rolling Consumer Sentiment Index, which shows confidence at a ten year high in October 2020: this is 48 per cent above the lowest levels reached during our toughest lockdown period in April 2020.
Our behaviour as consumers serves to highlight the difference between this COVID recession and others in the past, including the downturn during the Global Financial Crisis and the grinding recession of the 1990s.
Evidence of this confidence and other positive indicators, (including the job market’s steady improvement with six out of seven initial job losses caused by the pandemic reclaimed), should provide further hope that the longer-lasting downsides seen in recessions of the past, will be contained.
It is vital that businesses and households fortunate enough to have established a buffer over the past year, while taking advantage of various incentives and tax breaks, will use that buffer to help offset the impact on the economy with the withdrawal of support programs.
Indeed, Isuzu’s own research into the road transport industry shows businesses are prepared to ‘spend to stimulate,’ with 50 per cent of operators willing to purchase new equipment with the help of government incentives—which bodes well for the recovering economy.
Share markets worldwide have broadly reflected business and consumer confidence, with gains almost wiping out the huge losses experienced at the outset of COVID.
However, the volatility of these markets and the chain effects of international trade “obstacles”—for want of a better word—must be recognised, particularly here in Australia.
Given our delicate situation with China at the moment, this is a work in progress.
On this point, I think it is important to note that Australia is increasingly standing on our ‘own two feet.’
According to Deloitte economist, Chris Richardson, our national income has so far increased rather than been adversely impacted by current trade circumstances.
In reference to the effect of trade tensions on the road transport sector and other industries fundamental to the national economy, I believe in essence, we are fully prepared to grow and find new opportunities and markets.
One door closes, another opens
Businesses in road transport now have a better understanding that we must adapt processes and plans for uncertainty in international parts supply and be well prepared to meet these sorts of challenges before they arise.
And in many ways, Australia’s road transport operators are old hands at evolving.
In a diverse and competitive industry, operators are quick to adopt technology, build cooperative relationships and have comprehensive strategies in place to changing address market demands.
As for demand in Isuzu’s own market of truck and power solutions manufacturing and sales—the federal and state budget stimulus has created somewhat of a “perfect storm” of conditions this year.
Average growth of two and a half per cent each year is forecast for the freight and logistics sector through to 2024. Construction and related industries are also booming.
All economic indicators are pointing to a strong year ahead with a few headwinds to be mindful of, and a concerted push to take up new technology.
As always, we should be looking for growth as usual, not business as usual.
We know it will take strong industry relationships and innovative thinking, along with rock-solid planning and processes that will drive us into the future.
This in the hope that ‘change,’ whatever form it may take, is ours to embrace and harness.