Employment trends in the Geelong region through the COVID-19 crisis.

This report has been prepared through discussions and observations, Director, Maree Herath has had with the employers within G21’s remit.

Employment Observations

The first five weeks of Covid to 18 April saw Geelong and Surf Coast region losing 10,147 jobs according to national demography group, Australian Development Strategies (ADS). The region also saw 30 bankruptcies of local businesses with a tsunami of further instances envisioned once the Government’s Jobkeeper stimulus runs out.

In the region, permanent recruitment activity came to an abrupt halt in mid-March and contract and temporary hire also stalled – with the exception of burgeoning sectors including supermarkets, agriculture and primary production, Services Australia (manning call centres in response to the multitude of stood down or departing staff members registering for Jobseeker payments), health and telehealth in particular and IT.


COVID did not discriminate between the size/s of companies the impact that was felt was dependent on the industry and those industry’s supply chains.


  • Retail, hospitality, travel / tourism and leisure

Without a doubt this was the hardest hit as government shut our borders and we entered stage 3 restrictions. This saw the closure of our bars, cafes, restaurants, events and the tourism sector came to a stand-still. Head of Tourism Geelong and the Bellarine, Brett Ince said its 600+ membership were hemorrhaging. With the slow return, some won’t come back as it is still a loss maker for their business and some may not return at all. Our biggest hit included Geelong Cats, Sharp Group (who own Leura Park, Little Creatures, Jack Rabbit and Curlewis Golf Estate), the Costa family’s hospitality empire (including the Pier and Sailor’s Rest) and Wedding Event Function Centre – Truffleduck. 1000’s of casuals were stood down in a single day – the hardest hit being the 18-25 year old’s.

Retail could not sustain itself and we saw many of our shopping centres all but close. Those that felt the pinch the most locally were CottonOn, Ghanda and Target (although now at Williams Landing many staff reside in Geelong). Another strong youth employer.

A silver lining was our distilleries who pivoted from producing gin and whiskey to hand sanitiser. An example of pivoting to remain relevant.


  • Public Sector

Many corporate services disciplines, business support, customer services and program officers reside in the Public Sector.

Our regulatory players report, aside from changed working conditions, it was business as usual.

However, local government with added services in the community sector plus their leisure and tourism centres and libraries for the most part redeployed staff however without the opportunity to apply for JobKeeper stand-downs did take place.


  • Manufacturing

Manufacturing hires non and semiskilled production workers, trades, engineers, technical specialists and logistics professionals.

Manufacturing had its ups and downs based on the sector they served. Agriculture, primary production and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) surged with the retail surge and panic buying. Some Geelong companies reported their most significant trading months in March and April due to the spike in consumer spending. However once consumers had built their stores, the market turned. Most companies, by May moved from production to maintenance activities.

Our petroleum sector was hit hard as Viva (with significant production of Aviation Fuel through its refining process) no longer had a key market to serve. Added to this the drop of fuel price prompted the shut of a key part of the refinery. The organisation is in a six month shut-down until the end of the year.

Other impacts to general manufacturing was the ability to either gain supply or ship products with the shipping and freight forwarding industry impacted.

Many manufacturers have moved to maintenance activities which has led to an increased demand for trade – electricians and mechanical fitters in particular.


  • Transport

Transport hires pilots, mariners, freight forwarders, transport professionals, drivers, flight attendants, asset management and ground staff.

Flights stopped with the borders closing. No sooner did Avalon announce its first international flight to Bali did this service stopped and soon Avalon became the “aeroplane parking facility” with the grounding of air fleet.

International shipping struggled as containers were stuck in countries and could not get back.

Domestic transport increased however with the surge of domestic demand and consumer spending in March and April – this increased demand for truck drivers and warehouse workers.


  • Professional Services

Accounting increased as they were the ones providing clients with information on updates to JobKeeper. Forensic accounting and Insolvency accounting has increased also.

Legal declined with the bulk of private practice reducing their staff to 4-day work weeks and pay.

IT Services increased – including Technicians, Field Engineers and IT help desk as workers fathomed computing and connectivity from home.

In Human Resources, commercial recruitment services declined while employment services (servicing those on Centrelink benefits increased), yet the need for bespoke HR support in workplace relations, human resource consulting and health and wellbeing increased. Also as we embark on a COVID SAFE return to work, Work Health and Safety Specialists are sought after.

Real Estate – Real estate sales diminished, property management became busy with the rent relief.


  • Education

Many of G21’s Education and Learning Pillar saw first hand the impact to education. The biggest hit was Deakin University. The positive was they were already delivering remote and online learning but had to scale from several thousand to over 60,000 students.

Grappling with moving teaching to on-line, saw teachers and facilitators were found to be out of their depth and the digital divide became more pronounced during this time.

The pandemic has caused education providers to determine how best to deliver training and will invest in digital training moving forward.


  • Finance

Banking has been busy as government secured loans.

Financial planning has had a similar response with clients accessing superannuation and determining best courses of action.


  • Development and Construction

This sector employs development managers, construction specialists and managers, engineers, planners, surveyors, construction support staff and construction trades, trades assistants and semi-skilled labour.

With work in progress construction implemented social distancing and increased hygiene standards but, for the most part, continued on. The biggest concern is the dry up of work in the future. The government is currently initiating subsidies and offering to continue to supply.

Victoria has faired better than many States with the Westgate Tunnel project and many construction trades from Geelong have been assigned to this project.

Additionally, with the announcement of Geelong Port gaining the Spirit of Tasmania contract, Corio Quay will have major development and construction activity with the new Project Director appointed in June.

Developers have been impacted as have landlords.


  • Health

Surgeons, Doctors, Allied Health Specialists, Doctors, Nurses, Ward Staff and Property and Facilities Management.

Interestingly health reported ups and downs. The increase came from setting up for COVID-19 and COVID-19 testing – done by Barwon Health. However, with elective surgery paused and a general fear in the community the health sector including general practice and specialists reduced.

Telehealth increased.


  • Engineering and Trades

This sector employs tertiary qualified engineers and indentured trades staff.

This sector has seen an increase especially trades for construction and manufacturing.


  • Not for Profit / Community Sector

This sector employs Social Workers, Counsellors, Leisure Coordinators, Hospitality staff, program coordinators and support staff.

Some parts of this sector required modification or paused while other players increased. The need for support and assistance across the region increase so social support, social workers, crisis support and budgeting/finance advisory increased.

Those providing leisure, meals or education within facilities were negatively impacted as group gatherings were no longer allowed.


  • Energy / Resources and Utilities

Tertiary qualified engineers, safety and environment, trades, logistics, distribution and customer service and support staff are attached to these sectors.

Some energy suppliers were impacted as discussed regarding our petroleum supply. Power, electricity and water remained steady but face commercial challenges in repayment of bills.


This report has been prepared through discussions and observations, Director, Maree Herath has had with the employers within G21’s remit.

The G21 – Regional Summary on Employment Trends is representation of a value-added service to our clients and our community. Information should be used as a guideline only and should not be reproduced in total or by section without written prior permission from Harvest Human Resources Pty Ltd.

Copyright  Harvest Human Resources Pty Ltd – June 2020

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