Up and down, stop start, and unsettling. That’s how Auckland electrician Joe Kelly describes 2022 so far.
It’s been a tough year for his family-owned business, Coastal Connections. The operation has five people on its books – three electricians, a part time accounts worker, with Kelly and his wife at the helm.
“Financially, it’s been a killer. February was our worst month on record,” Kelly says. “It was always going to be a tough year for everyone in business and it started really bad for everyone.”
Last week, Covid spread through his own business’ ranks. One electrician has been off for 10 days, then the couple also caught the virus.
A number of jobs have been cancelled as a result. While most customers have been understanding, it’s been tricky.
He thinks workers and employers alike are burnt out, buckling under the compounding impact of the pandemic and lockdown. It’s been a challenge to find adequately skilled staff with realistic pay expectations or willingness to stay in Auckland.
One electrician left the business after getting sick of the region’s lockdowns and deciding to move out of the city. Kelly anticipates more will follow, heading to Australia to chase more money.
While the outbreak has been tough for his business, he’s optimistic and sees no alternative than to keep the wheels turning.
“I’ve got to feed the kids somehow,” he says. “I’m not going to give up on this. I’ve worked too hard to this point to let it go, that kind of drives me.”
Master Electricians chief executive Bernie McLaughlin says product shortages, rising costs, and handling work volumes are among the balls that tradies, including electricians, are juggling.
The rising cost of petrol is directly eating away at their bottom line, while the rising cost of living is feeding stress to the business from outside in.
McLaughlin says smaller businesses often have a closer relationship with their customers, meaning they might lose out financially by trying to offer ‘mates’ rates’.
“Because it’s a little bit more personal, the smaller business owners tend to try and soak up a lot of these costs that are coming into the marketplace now, and that’s probably to their own detriment,” he says.
“It’s not until quite a way down the track that it becomes apparent to them that soaking up those costs has actually affected their bottom line. At the end of the year, they just don’t have the funds to pay some critical stuff like ACC, tax, and things like that.”
While there’s a huge amount of work up for grabs in the short term, McLaughlin says there is some doubt about whether this will still be there six months from now.
“The immediate future is looking pretty good, there’s a huge amount of work on the books. but there is a little bit of apprehension that the cost of living might affect the workload going forward,” he says.
Mates in Construction chief executive Victoria McArthur says tradie bosses are under huge pressure in the Omicron outbreak and need to prioritise their wellbeing.
“If you’re working or you’re managing people, make sure that you’re okay because you’re not going to lead or manage people well if you’re not okay yourself,” she says.
She encourages discussion of mental health in the workplace and for workers to check in on each other, whether that’s delivering groceries to those isolating or having a chat with a colleague.