It’s the end of the road 2020 (and I feel fine … just)

31 December 2020

Well that’s it.  We’ve made it.  To the end of the road 2020.  And what a journey it’s been!  While it is not a road I’m in a rush to ever travel again, it has certainly been an adventure.  An adventure made so much more bearable by the many wonderful people I have had the good fortune to work with over the year.  To you I say a big THANK YOU.  I am grateful for the trust you have placed in me, your wise counsel, deep expertise and generous sharing of your time, experience and ideas.

 

As I look back, I am also begrudgingly thankful for the forced learning opportunities.  Often teased in the past by my oh so darling children for being a noobie (which, of course, I had to look up), I can now nimbly navigate Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, Webex …  You name it, I’ve beamed in on it.  I have also discovered so many wonderful online collaboration tools to jointly hack documents, brainstorm ideas, poll participants and even draw pictures (like all good consultants do).  I had a fantastic opportunity to put these newfound skills to good use when I facilitated an online strategy day for the board and directors of FIRN, a finance researchers network.  I am not so quietly ever so proud of myself!

 

And then there are the not so forced learnings.  I have become such a tart for attending online webinars on hot topics in my fields of interest.  I think I am averaging about a couple a week.  Open online access to the knowledge and insights of others is the silver lining of the cloud of 2020.  Long may it continue as the sky clears.

 

I have weathered the storm.  I would be lying if I were to pretend that it did not knock me about a bit.  However, I have a strong sense of appreciation that I have emerged in pretty good shape.  It both saddens and angers me when I hear stories of the many capable people who have lost jobs as COVID wreaked its economic toll.

 

The following is a quick whip through some of the projects and initiatives that helped me maintain some (but not all) of my sanity in 2020.

 

 

Schooling

 

COVID hit and I was one of the first to go home.  There was a positive case in the NAB Docklands building in February.  All were evacuated including members of The Village – a community of small businesses.  I immediately missed the buzz and supportive culture of The Village.  But otherwise, I was fine.  In March, my husband joined me in working from home.  Still fine.  And then in early April, the Victorian Government announced that all government school students will not be returning to the physical classroom after the Easter break.  I was not so fine.

 

Like many school-aged students across Australia, suddenly my youngest daughter’s learning was being delivered through a mix of online and other mediums.  Trying (failing) to support her learning while trying (and failing again) to maintain a façade of professionalism and efficiency with clients, stressing over my daughter’s loss of learning due to prolonged periods of school closures, worrying about her general wellbeing … was not so slowly driving me dotty!  Particularly as I was adamant that online learning could be a more effective and engaging experience, and not require parents to overnight become teachers.  I was motivated to write and share a short article on my website, largely for my own cathartic purposes, on 5 reasons for doing online learning for school students well.

 

That article resonated with many.  It was the genesis of a series of articles shared on the NEiTA (National Excellence in Teaching Awards) website.  The first reflects parents’ COVID-renewed appreciation for teachers.  My attempts at teaching my daughter decimal places dissolved rapidly into much crying and gnashing of teeth.  And that was just me.  A second article examines the inequities exacerbated by the lockdown, and argues the opportunity to address them while they are front of mind.  Writing that article provided me with a sense of much needed perspective.  The third is on the difference between working from home and working from home with kids during a pandemic.  That one was personal.  It became the focus of a presentation I was thrilled to deliver at the Lessons from Lockdown virtual conference.  There is a fourth article waiting in the wings, which I’ll share it at the appropriate time.

 

A highlight for me during the year was to once again be involved in Futurity Investment Group’s (Futurity’s) Parents Report Card.  The Report shares parents’ views on the state of education in Australia, covering topics that have withstood the test of time (cost, quality and choice) and more contemporary issues which have been the focus of public commentary and debate.  As schools return to a new normal, educators and policymakers would do well to pay attention to the perspectives of parents.

 

 

Post-secondary education and credentialing

 

COVID-19 can provide a much needed stimulus for reform, by highlighting existing issues (refer above), demonstrating the possibility of things previously thought impossible, reallocating resources to where the needs are great, and giving people voice in a virtual world.  It can also provide an excuse to push through reforms under the guise of a COVID-impetus or while impacted communities are distracted.  I am afraid that I have uncharitably assigned the Government’s Job Ready Graduates Package to the latter category. 

 

Legislation, which ushers in new higher education funding arrangements, was given its blessing by the Senate in early October.  While more money to support growth in student demand in the wake of COVID-19, and in anticipation of the Costello baby bubble reaching school leaving age, was well received, the devil is in the detail of this legislation.  It is detail which has not been well thought through and was improperly tested through a rushed consultation process and legislative passage.  I illustrate its foibles in this article which uses law as a case study.

 

I also provide commentary on this and other education-related reforms introduced as part of the Budget in an article shared on Futurity’s website.  There I more generously assessed initiatives over the life course of education to be good, but not great.  More could have been done to support parents to return to work, address any loss of learning, correct funding anomalies, and encourage continued learning for the future of work.  Optimistically, with the next Budget only five months away, perhaps more will be done.

During the course of this year, I reluctantly made the decision to bring to an end my role as a credential assessor for DeakinCo.  I remain ever grateful for this opportunity to see firsthand how skills learnt through experience can be assessed, recognised and, thereby, given currency in a tough job market.

A highlight was to support the Executive Director of VETASSESS in researching and preparing a presentation on the experiences of international learners.  The presentation drew on case studies from Australia to inform changes to enable a talent-centric global ecosystem of credentials that facilitate their recognition and portability for further education, employment and migration purposes.  An excerpt from this address is shared on the VETASSESS website

 

 

Skilled migration

 

Such an ecosystem is even more pertinent as attracting the best talent from around the globe is critical to economies awakening from their COVID-comas.  Perversely the political imperative is to keep borders relatively impenetrable so long as unemployment remains high.  That plays into a misconception that skilled migrants take jobs.  The reality is that skilled migrants, by adding to the productive capacity of nations and through their consumption, make jobs.  In yet another frustration-provoked cathartic article (the things we do when in lockdown!), I spill my fears and argue the importance of skilled migration to Australia’s recovery and future prosperity.  I also had the welcomed opportunity to share my thinking in a paper to the Board, and a presentation to the staff, of VETASSESS.

 

Migrant accountants are a case in point.  Just as medical practitioners are critical to support the health of individuals, accountants are critical to support ailing businesses and the economic recovery of a nation.  In marked contrast to the loss of jobs across many occupations, the demand for accounting professionals increased as the pandemic raged, and continues as businesses prepare to take advantage of the new normal.  Yet the migration of accountants has practically ground to a halt.  I started 2020 assisting the two major professional bodies in Australia – CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants ANZ – develop and evidence their case for the migration of accounting professionals.  And ended the year on a similar note.  While thankful for the work, I remain hopeful that one day policymakers will prioritise good policy over politics.

 

Of course, global talent is of little value unless it is made best use of in Australian workplaces.  To that end the professional bodies for accounting, engineering and IT run professional year programs for international graduates of these disciplines seeking to live and work in Australia.  I was fortunate over the course of the year to assess the outlook for both the accounting and engineering programmes.

 

Gender equality

 

My final article for 2020 is one I had been promising myself I would write much of the year.  I finally completed it just ahead of Christmas, and got it out the door as an early present to myself.  Let’s hear it for the boys flips the traditional gender equality narrative by focusing on the paid and unpaid work of men.  It finds that dads who spend time with their kids generally do so by altering when and where they work, and not how long.  Its call to action is that as we look ahead to a COVID-new-normal, now is the time to address the assumptions, laws and other social structures that constrain the choices of men.

 

Looking ahead

 

As 2020 draws to an end, the road ahead looks bright.  A big win this year was being accepted on to the Victorian Government’s Professional Advisory Services Panel.  I look forward to working alongside Victorian public servants on the design and analysis of future and current policies.

 

It goes without saying that I especially look forward to reconnecting with existing clients in the New Year.  You guys rock!

 

I am going to unimaginatively close on the same quote I used for last years review.  Only because it takes on a greater meaning having scaled the stairs of 2020.

 

“Without the stairs of the past, you cannot arrive at the future” (Mehmet Murat ildan)

 

Happy 2021!

Mary Clarke

Principal

DXP Consulting

M: +61 401 088 571

E:  mary.clarke@dxpconsulting.com.au