Like many other organisations in Australia and around the world, YMCA Victoria was heavily impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. JobKeeper saved us. It's thanks to Australia's Federal Government wage subsidy program that we were able to survive and rebuild.
But for an organisation our size, it wasn't easy to administer. Here's how we handled the challenge of implementing JobKeeper.
How YMCA Victoria adapted to support staff with JobKeeper
How YMCA Victoria was affected by COVID-19
With over 6,000 staff and volunteers, we deliver services at more than 150 locations every day – including camps, community recreation and sporting facilities, swimming pools, children’s programs, as well as youth services.
In March 2020, we had to make the very difficult but necessary move to protect our staff and members by closing our non-essential physical spaces and buildings, in line with the state government’s directives.
This included closing all recreation centres, camps and offices. Our only service which remained open throughout the lockdown was YMCA Children's Programs, as our Early Learning Centres, Before and After School Programs and School Holiday Programs provided child care for essential and permitted workers.
This meant that our business was significantly impacted financially, and as a result, we had to stand down approximately 90% of our workforce.
The introduction of JobKeeper
Thankfully, in April 2020, Australia’s Federal Government brought in a new initiative: JobKeeper. Eligible organisations would be provided with government funding of $1,500 per fortnight for each eligible member of staff.
At the Y, we knew this wage subsidy would be vital for thousands of our staff. However, there were a variety of challenges in relation to implementing this.
The challenges of implementing JobKeeper
Eligibility and managing expectations
We knew how important JobKeeper was for our staff. Our first set of challenges included managing expectations of when payments were to be made. The JobKeeper initiative was announced to the public before having passed through parliament. We needed to wait for the initiative to pass into legislation so we didn't make payments prematurely.
In addition, in order for YMCA Victoria to receive this funding, we first had to be deemed as an eligible organisation by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The ATO was of course inundated with requests from businesses around Australia and as a result, there was a waiting period to receive confirmation that we were eligible.
Staff were naturally eager for these payments to start as soon as possible, but we needed these external factors to be confirmed before moving onto the next steps. To ensure full transparency and trust, we increased our communication with staff by holding frequent webinars with CEO Carolyn Morris, other executives, and the General Manager of People and Culture, and by sending out multi-channel alerts via SMS, emails and social media.
Logistics – managing the data
Fortunately, we were eligible for JobKeeper. Then came our second set of challenges: the logistics of staff actually applying for JobKeeper.
We needed a way to:
- collate all our relevant staff data;
- deem which staff were and were not eligible;
- communicate this with each staff member;
- get eligible staff to submit individual applications; and finally
- to collate all applications to enable systematic payment by our payroll team.
What we needed was eligible staff to nominate themselves for JobKeeper in an automated and simple way. Over 3,000 staff were eligible. That’s a lot of data to sort through and a lot of staff to help.
How we implemented JobKeeper
We used 'PowerApps' – a tool from Microsoft’s Power Platform. This would allow us to simplify what staff had to do to nominate themselves for JobKeeper. The solution was led by YMCA Victoria's Head of IT, Shane Riddle and Microsoft partner Barhead Solutions.
Through PowerApps, we built a webpage that generated a unique and secure URL for each eligible staff member. We then emailed all eligible staff asking them to nominate themselves for JobKeeper. The email included a dynamic link to their unique URL. Staff clicked this dynamic link, which led them to a JobKeeper nomination form that was prepopulated with their individual details. Staff then simply completed the outstanding information required before submitting the form with a digital signature. This then matched the submitted data back to the relevant user account, to enable our HR and payroll teams to process the payments.
Manual solution vs automation
Had we used a manual solution, for example, by emailing out a static PDF form to all staff, this would have meant we received nominations from those who were ineligible as well as incomplete forms. This would have had to be sorted through manually for thousands of nominations, which would have required more staff time and delayed our response in what was already a tight deadline (we had turnaround time of just two days to comply with the ATO’s deadline and get eligible staff onto the pay cycle to ensure they get paid for the month).
These delays would have meant our staff would suffer more hardship. But we were determined to help and with JobKeeper, there was hope.
By choosing to automate our processes, we were able to ensure that we received as many staff responses as possible. By keeping the process simple for our staff and having forms pre-populated, we reduced the time it took for staff to complete their information and removed a barrier to submission. This solution was also more secure by only allowing eligible staff to nominate themselves and reduced the potential for human error. This also reduced admin hours and therefore saved us costs.
What we learnt
Ultimately, JobKeeper has been a lifesaver for our organisation. Using an automated solution enabled our organisation to support staff with the JobKeeper payments they needed.
Not only did using this technology allow us to help our staff by automating the process, but we were able to meet tight deadlines, make our data more secure, reduce human error and save costs.
Barhead Solution even won the the 2020 Microsoft Partner of the Year for Social Impact.
This has highlighted the value of having an agile and digitally-savvy culture to all of us at the Y – something many organisations are having to adapt to amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
More from the Y in 2019-2020
My first full year as CEO of YMCA Victoria and Kingswim has been unlike anything I ever could have imagined. The leadership team and I had to make some of toughest decisions of our careers and I am truly grateful for the support of our whole Y community: staff, volunteers, our Board, our local council partners, our customers, members and participants – everybody who has the Y in their lives and had to make a sacrifice this year for the greater good.
Unprecedented. It’s probably the most overused word in 2020, but accurately describes the devastating events we as Victorians, as a nation and as a globe have experienced this year. Before I reflect on the year that was, I want to thank our staff and volunteers. Your hard work and dedication is always inspiring, but this year you have shown incredible resilience and made sacrifices that have helped the Y get through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to put into words how grateful and appreciative I am of you.