At times I feel I'm living in a different universe from the business lobby groups that say they speak for businesses of all persuasions in New Zealand.
Most of the time, you know they're not speaking for the majority of small to medium enterprises (as few of us would be able to afford their membership fees). They make it sound as if all business in NZ is struggling and we all disagree with the things that have been put in place to help us all through these difficult times.
The doom and gloom constant negativity in the media is not the reality for many of us in terms of what we're seeing for ourselves in our businesses, or the experiences of other business owners we talk to.
Yes, lockdown wasn't an easy experience for anyone, regardless of whether it was your own business, or you were an employee.
You only needed to look internationally to see how major the effects of covid were on populations around the globe that didn't lock down.
These countries have then had continuous restrictions, and populations that are too scared to engage in their economies for fear of the virus.
Up and running
At the time of lockdown, I felt it wasn't necessarily going to be only a six-week break and was planning for a long layoff. I'll always be grateful for the fact my business is back up and running again with our full staff (and have employed three additional staff in the past month).
Our local community was swimming with us again within seven weeks from the start of lockdown. Taking a health-centred approach was the best approach.
The wage subsidy scheme was an absolute lifesaver for my business and many others. It gave you certainty for at least three months, you knew that you were able to pay your bills, able to keep all of your staff and you could make plans for what you were going to do in the many scenarios that could play out. This was one of the greatest initiatives for business as part of the management of our covid response as a country.
Since the nationwide lockdown, we have seen how communities have rallied around their local businesses. Even now, the job losses are less substantial than first predicted and we can feel optimistic for our economy despite the doom and gloom merchants. You only have to look at the fact that the $12 billion usually spent internationally by New Zealanders every year is now being spent in local communities.
This doesn't mean that all industries, particularly tourism, haven't been significantly impacted, but for all intents and purposes, most local small businesses are faring better than they have a year ago.
The real problem
So now what?
When we talk about business, it's a big umbrella term encompassing every single one in the country. Different types of business need vastly different things - business isn't just one word that can describe all as it tends to be used. A corporation is hugely different from a small business that employs one person. Their needs are very different as well.
We know there has been a major emphasis on training as one of the key policies of the government and it's important that these types of initiatives continue.
There is a skills shortage in many industries, not a shortage of people. The focus on the apprenticeship and training schemes will be crucial to our recovery.
If we take the swimming industry as an example it's not widely known that you don't have to have any formal qualifications to call yourself a swim teacher. For a long time there hasn't been many qualifications that people could even take to upskill themselves.
There has now been an apprenticeship scheme created in the area of aquatics so that people have the opportunity to create a career in the industry. As part of the government's new focus on training initiatives it means we, as a swim school provider, can take staff on and receive assistance in the costs of training them.
These are the kind of programmes that will address skill shortages.
As a small business owner I still want to see more work go into tackling the key industries that need additional skilled people.
Upskilling business owners
We have a number of business owners in NZ that are exceptional with the things they create or do, who may not necessarily have those skills in operating their business and best practice around staff management.
It would be good to see money go into business support services, which would help those businesses thrive and would mean business people were getting the professional help they need to move their businesses in the right direction.
It seems the only way to connect or have the right levels of support is to belong to business networking groups. These cost upwards of $1000 per year and won't necessarily have the people in the group that align with your values and ways that you want to do business.
What don’t I need?
It was deflating to see that some of the key "solutions" mooted for saving businesses and the economy were to roll back some of the employment legislation introduced, including taking lunch breaks away and making the 90-day trials feature again.
For many of us who own a small business, 90 days is a big investment in a staff member. We currently train our staff for a minimum of 10 weeks before they instruct in our swim school. By the time we have made that investment we wouldn't want to let anyone go.
We have robust interviewing and screening procedures in place to hire staff, and it also gives the staff member certainty in their lives. Employment is a relationship and a two-way street.
When considering who to vote for in this election there were different value models around business between the two main parties — I felt the left values aligned with my values as a person and the way I want to manage my staff.
Employment is about people. You should be taking a people-centered approach to your employment processes. I don't think the alternative punitive measures, like taking away lunch breaks, scrapping minimum wage entitlements and fighting to not increase sick leave in the middle of a pandemic, were the solutions business were asking for.
I mean, how productive would my staff be if they were teaching in a pool with no break in an eight-hour shift without food? How long would I expect them to continue to want to work in this workplace if these were the measures in place?
Sarah Chambers owns Little Makos Swim School in Wellington.