As the world recovers from the pandemic and the unemployment rate in Australia plummets to 3.9%, staffing is the hot topic globally, closely followed by cost-of-living increases. Production companies, integrators, and distributors alike are struggling to find experienced staff. The necessary exodus from the industry during the lockdowns has not reversed, and conversations with employers indicate that it’s largely the older, more experienced techs that are not coming back.
Adelaide’s Novatech Creative Event Technology is one company that is taking sweeping measures to recruit and retain staff, adopting incentives and rewards that the industry should take note of. For starters, they’ve implemented an-above inflation wage increase across the board, including for casuals.
The competition for staff is a national one, and the pandemic has proven that people are more than willing to abandon the traditional industry centres of Sydney and Melbourne if they can still work in a job they love. Adelaide is an attractive prospect, and in 2021 was rated the world’s third most liveable city in the Economist’s Global Liveability Index report.
Novatech have introduced four lucrative extra allowances for their staff, acknowledging the increasing pain of inflation and the differences between working in the office, warehouse, and on-site. Their Production Allowance is a loading that is paid on top of the normal hourly rate when a tech is working on a gig, as opposed to prepping gear back at HQ. Team Leader Allowance is for the responsibility of leading a crew and liaising with clients and venues. The Project Manager Allowance rewards Novatech’s salaried project managers for site-work, as the eight or so other events they are working on in any given week don’t stop for shows. The Additional Shift Allowance ensures any employee is paid for any additional hours worked at their salaried rate.
The Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) system that Novatech employs was previously based on a 38 hour week, with TOIL applied after those hours worked to salaried employees. With the cost of living rapidly increasing, this has been revised to 45 hours, with the first seven hours of TOIL paid that week to the employee before TOIL is accrued.
“We were looking at the spiralling costs of living and ran some numbers,” explains Leko Novakovic, Managing Director of Novatech. “We did some modelling. We took the standard example of a salaried employee that does a 50 hour week, some on-site, and some at HQ. In this example, the employee gets paid an extra seven hours before TOIL, did 20 hours as a Team Leader, and 20 on-site hours. That amounts to almost 40% more take-home pay than an average week.”
The on-site allowances are also a mechanism to encourage and reward warehouse and office-based staff for volunteering to go out on gigs. “There’s two scenarios when the tech or office staff, who often have come from production backgrounds, put their hands up for gigs,” elaborates Leko. “The first is when it’s an act that they really love that’s performing, and the other is when we’ve asked them because we really need the bodies on the job. We feel they should be rewarded for that in both cases.”
While Novatech’s extra reward and recognition scheme was paused during the pandemic, it’s now back and bigger than before. The third-party provided system grants substantial discounts across thousands of stores and allows for the ad-hoc gifting of vouchers and gift cards to employees who have gone above and beyond.
It’s more than the hip-pocket of their employees Novatech wants to take care of. “We’ve created a strong, family-friendly and flexible workplace and we want to bring in more people to grow and maintain that culture,” elaborates Leko. “Our health and wellbeing programme has expanded to encourage that. For example, we’ve realised we’re not all gig-fit again yet, so we’ve got a personal trainer coming in. After a couple of group sessions, they’ll be running individual assessments and giving out personalised training plans. In addition, we’ve been running mindfulness courses which have had great take-up.”
Novatech staff can also expand their minds and skills with access to thousands of online courses, which they can be directed to by Novatech or search out on their own. A full-time permanent in-house trainer has been recruited and starts in July. There’s also group and individual training available with an emphasis on leadership and professional development. Health checks and flu shots are covered for staff, and there’s a bonus of up to $4,500 on offer for any personnel referral that leads to a hire.
Personal connection was the first casualty of the lockdowns, and Novatech have noted that it’s central to the mental health of their crew. “It sounds like a little thing, but it’s really important for all of us to have a BBQ out the back every month or so and have everyone have a chat over a couple of beers,” relates Leko. “We had to pause all of that, but we’ve got all of our social catch-ups and staff events going again. We want to make Novatech an enjoyable and rewarding place to work, but it’s important to also enjoy a work-life balance that is conscious of both family and personal considerations.”
Novatech believe they can fund these benefits without passing on additional costs to their clients and are happy to share the scope and structure of what they’re doing for their crew with the rest of the industry. “With what we’ve put in place, obviously our crew stand to benefit,” states Leko, “But we’re sharing what we’ve done so the industry as a whole can look at adopting the same practices. If conditions and benefits like these are on offer, maybe some of the knowledge and skills that have left the industry will come back. And being proudly SA-based, we’re not being shy in saying that relocating to Adelaide and working for Novatech gives techs the opportunity to work on some of Australia’s leading events, including interstate tours, while living in hassle-free and cost-effective Adelaide.”
First published in CX Magazine, July 2022, www.cxnetwork.com.au