CEO Update July 2020

Angelina Pillai , 14 July 2020

In January I was celebrating my dad’s 80th in Malaysia, pondering what the year ahead was going to mean for all of us. There was my eldest son turning 18 and the ‘coming of age’ party I was not ready for; my Dad’s next visit to Melbourne and the tricky coordination of ensuring the weather was ‘just right’ for him; and the challenges of running a membership association straight out of bushfire season, layered with the hopes of planning our next family holiday to fire-ravaged regions in support of their rebuilding efforts.

And then it went pear shaped with COVID-19… In between the incredible shock of the crisis, I lost an old friend to the virus in the UK, an uncle to old age in Malaysia, an aunt to a persisting illness in country Victoria, and an ex-colleague who tragically took their life while battling depression. I couldn’t attend any of their funerals. Whether I would have been able to go is beside the point. The point is that I didn’t get a choice in the matter. COVID snatched the right for me to make that choice, and the realisation that I may never ever be able to make choices freely again.

But it is happening to all of us in some way, shape or form. The loss of freedom, livelihoods, networks, employment… the list goes on. What we have always taken for granted is no longer; and that is daunting.

However, as I reflect on how we as a community have risen to this challenge, I am in awe of the generosity of our members and many non-members within the profession to offer their advice, direction, feedback and general willingness to be ‘part of the solution’, whatever that solution is. We have also been incredibly heartened by members renewing your support with the ACA and delighted to welcome new members on board this new financial year.

JobKeeper and Advocacy

The ACA’s third pulse check made it clear that the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme had helped practices retain skilled practitioners and enabled them to continue to operate. This is critical so as not to lose this valuable experience from the profession and there is a sense that it is an opportune time to upskill for the post-pandemic scenario. However, with JobKeeper payments coming to an end in the coming months, there is concern about practices ‘falling off the cliff’. Feedback from our members says that an extension to this scheme is essential. So, data collected from our surveys will help inform ACA’s work in advocating for an extension of the JobKeeper program together with other industry bodies.

Through ACA’s membership with the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF), we were able to contribute to the document Construction’s Bridge to Recovery, with a number of key recommendations to guide the construction industry out of the coronavirus disruption period. Of note is the “calling on governments to pull forward and re-commit to spending already announced…with stimulus spending being spread across residential, non-residential and infrastructure construction, with much of the spending to go to small and medium-sized enterprises…” The submission goes on to highlight that social housing should be a particular focus of residential stimulus. On 25 June, on behalf of the ACA and other member organisations, we submitted a letter to the Treasurer strongly urging an extension to the JobKeeper package to at least December 2020.

In early June, the Federal Government announced the HomeBuilder scheme, unfortunately with little consultation from architects. The scheme requires the construction contract to be signed in 2020, which effectively precludes the commission of any design work for residential projects where Development Approval or Town Planning Approval is required. The ACA co-signed a proposed revision to the HomeBuilder scheme in consultation with ArchiTeam and the Australian Institute of Architects proposing that the scheme should be adjusted to encourage the commission of all new projects that require planning permissions with architects being involved in the onset of these critical processes.

Using the ACA Business Toolbox

With projects cancelled and being put on hold, there has never been a more important time to understand what it costs to do business. As practices face difficult times ahead, the ACA has launched Version 3 of the ACA Architects’ Time/Cost Calculator, which enables you to really understand what’s involved in preparing fee proposals. This new iteration of the calculator also enables you to value Innovation and Commercial Risk within projects.

Talent loss has been a big concern for many in the profession. Staffing issues presented as a key concern, with practices forced to make staff reductions, stand employees down, cutting their hours and/or considering redundancies. Many were also asking about secondment opportunities. So, the ACA has brought forward the release of the Resource Sharing System (RSS) in direct response to the increasing need to retain and sustain employees in the workforce now and into the future. The RSS is also supported with a new ACA Secondment Agreement.


There have also been some positive developments with wellbeing. Practices in general are increasingly aware of the prioritisation of staff’s mental health and the wellbeing of the overall practice. Principals, Directors and Managers are talking about this more and highlighting its importance. From conversations with members, there is a general feeling of employers and employees working together to address and manage issues before they deteriorate. From the Pulse Check data, over half of the respondents in the third survey felt that the wellbeing of their practice was similar to the onset of the pandemic, with over a quarter suggesting that it had improved. The ACA has curated information and published advice on mental health and wellbeing on our website. Look out for the ACA’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Forum coming soon…

National Principal Partners

Throughout this time, we’ve also been working hard on securing valuable and positive partnership arrangements so we can continue to support the profession. We would like to particularly acknowledge the excellent ongoing support of our National Principal Partners – Planned Cover, Armstrong Flooring, and Deltek – and we welcome informed Lawyers and NexSys IT in assisting us with our work. Thanks also to NATSPEC for a special contribution during this time.

ACA Community

The ACA will continue to work hard to support you with our platform of valuable information, useful tools and an increasingly supportive community of practice.

If you haven’t renewed your membership, please do so here and if you are not a member and would like to join our vibrant network of architectural practices, please consider joining here.

Oh, and by the way, the 18th birthday party was a huge success – lockdown style with five friends social distancing in the backyard. There’s that silver lining I was looking for…