Property Services: Skilling and Reskilling during COVID-19 Pandemic

The curve of Covid-19 infections is flattening in Australia and we are now entering into what commentators are calling the ‘new normal’. What impact has this had on the Property Services industry, and what changes are likely to endure?

The impact of the pandemic and its associated public health requirements will not be the same for all nations, industries and sectors. Job losses across all industries have been minimised through the Australian Government’s wage subsidies JobKeeper and Supporting Apprentices and Trainees scheme. Despite these initiatives, there was a negative 44% decline in online job advertisements in Australia during March, a fall comparable with Singapore and the United States. New Zealand and the United Kingdom experienced greater declines with -61% and -63% falls respectively.

The pandemic is predicted to be an accelerator of megatrends, particularly those in the areas of digital technology and social equality. The Property Services industry in Australia has been disrupted by the pandemic, although the Property Services Industry Reference Committee (PIRC) observed that these impacts have not been uniform or evenly distributed. Initial job losses appear to be more pronounced in public-facing, customer service roles and entry-level jobs, such as real estate. More senior roles in this sector have been insulated by digital adjustments to physical distancing requirements, such as online auctions. These are not new, but rather a continuation of the ‘prop tech’ trend which has already rapidly transformed this sector. This further highlights digital and data training gaps within the industry. REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella recently observed: “The industry has embraced ‘prop tech’ with the necessary speed required over the last few weeks, that there’s no stopping it now and supporting this shift in technology will be [sic] an influx of new markets looking to Queensland as their new home.”

With large numbers of people currently staying home for work and study, the liveability of our built environment has become paramount. Facilities management and maintenance sectors, particularly cleaning, have seen increased demand since the pandemic began in March. For example, in early May, Whizz an on-demand cleaning start-up, was seeking to recruit 1,000 cleaners to meet rising customer demand for ‘specialised disinfectant and decontamination deep cleaning.’ Airtasker also reported an 8% increasing in jobs for deep cleaning in March to early April. Members of the PIRC also observed that negative impacts and job losses have been moderated by the redeployment of some workers, such as security staff that managed crowded spaces now working in essential services settings like hospitals and supermarkets. Despite the pandemic, new areas of industry demand are expected to emerge in waste management from the development of local recycling by state governments, as a recent report that 5000 new jobs could be created in this sector in Victoria indicates.

Skilling and Reskilling Australia

The federal government has said that a ‘new economy’ is expected to emerge from the pandemic. In anticipation of this, the government’s responses has included support for online approaches to training. Minister for Education Dan Tehan has said the response is “unashamedly focused” on domestic students. On 12th April 2020, Ministers Tehan and Cash announced a range of training and education responses. The Higher Education sector’s development of new six-month micro-credentials, to be completed by students between May and December 2020, has received the headline attention. Support for the VET sector includes the following support for RTOs and students:

  • Regulatory fee relief for RTOs – ASQA fees refunded or waived
  • VET Student Loan fees six-month exemption to support full-fee paying students to continue studying

The Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) has prioritised infection control training across industry sectors, with four new skill sets endorsed by the AISC Emergency Response Sub-Committee and Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Skills Council. These skills sets have not been designed for the Property Services industry, but rather to support workers in retail, food handling and transport and logistics sectors. They are designed to complement, not replace, existing non-accredited infection control training.

Minister Cash has also said the government has been working with registered training organisations and that there are 2000 vocational education and training courses available online, and that these can be identified on the MySkills website. There are currently 18 property services-coded industry courses and 26 skill sets listed on MySkills.gov.au with online delivery options.[1] The specific nature and extent of online delivery is not yet detailed on the MySkills website. Some, such as the Canine skill set, are listed as having online delivery options, but do not detail if they will be wholly delivered online.

State and Territory Support for Property Services Training

States and territories have also developed their own specific support for VET-based training during the pandemic, ranging from a shift to online or blended delivery through to free micro-credentials and skill sets to options to upskill retrenched workers, through to continuing to offer free qualifications in the property industry. These tangible support and training offerings vary considerably between jurisdictions, and are detailed in the Appendix.

There are new and existing training incentives likely to attract people to the Property Services industry, with some states offering free micro-credentials and skill sets which will allow retrenched and stood down workers to upskill in areas that would value-add to their current work. These vary by state and territory, with areas including digital literacy, digital data essentials, business skills, mental health peer skills, and mentoring and supervision. An overview of these is provided in the table below. Please note, these offerings are susceptible to change as states and territories begin to develop industry stimulus packages. For example, the $2.7 billion dollar construction industry stimulus package announced on 18 May by the Victorian government, including school upgrades, may have positive flow-on to the Property Services industry.

The New Normal & the Second Wave: Implications for the Property Services Industry

Australia has successfully reduced Covid-19 transmissions through public health closures and advice, however the duration of the pandemic and its long-term impacts for industry are difficult to predict. Current reduced industry demand for workers is expected to be temporary, but until a vaccine is developed, the ‘new normal’ will change public-facing customer service delivery. Even without a second wave of infections, there may be delayed negative impacts on industry due to declining customer confidence, high unemployment, significant falls in GDP and higher than usual government debt. We might expect, for example, some non-essential residential maintenance works to be delayed or reduced. More positively, this is also seen as a moment of possibility, Property Services sectors are likely to be recognised as crucial to rebuilding resilience in the Australian built environment, such as through digitally connected housing and workplaces, and climate adapted, resilient housing.

Key points

  • The Property Services Industry is expected to be impacted by the pandemic, although not in uniform ways across all of its sectors.
  • Face to face customer service has shifted to digital options and this trend is likely to continue until a vaccine is created.
  • There is demand for deep cleaning and facilities management services throughout the pandemic.
  • The AISC has prioritised infection control skills and developed skill sets.
  • There are opportunities for the Property Services workforce to develop new skills in digital literacy and data, mental health peer skills, and business and customer service through fee relief and fee-free VET courses offered by the commonwealth and jurisdictions
  • Property Services are crucial to the liveability of the Built Environment and plans for industry stimulus proposals should explicitly describe their benefits, consequences and training implications for Property Services. 

Summary of Australian government VET training and education support during COVID-19 pandemic, at 18 May 2020.

GovernmentOrganisation/sDetails
CommonwealthDESEASQA fees refunded or waivedVET student loans six-month exemptionMicro-credentials online – priority area study to be completed May to Dec 2020
CommonwealthAISC and COAGFour new Infection Control skill sets have been endorsed by the AISC Emergency Response Sub-Committee, and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Skills Council.  

Infection Control Skill Sets available at 12 May 2020:
- Infection Control Skills for Retail
- Infection Control Skills for Transport and Logistics
- Infection Control for Food Handling
QueenslandTAFE Queensland’s IsoLearnFree micro-credentials and skill sets, delivered online, to Queensland residents.  

Micro-credentials offered:
- Digital Literacy Essentials (MCC00013)
- Cyber Security Essentials (MCC00014)
- Communication Technologies for Business Success (MCC00015)
- Digital Data Essentials (MCC00016)
- Data Security Essentials (MCC00017)
- Data Analysis Essentials (MCC00018)  

Nine free skill sets, including[2]: - Mental Health Peer Work Skill Set (CHCSS00103)
- Basic Customer Engagement Skill Set (BSBSS00034)
- Mentoring and Supervision (SITSS00039)  
VictoriaFree TAFE to continue, with additional fundingThere are currently no CPP courses on Victoria’ Free TAFE course list. However, the state’s two accredited courses in Building Information Modelling - a short course and an advanced diploma - are currently offered without fees.  
NSWFee-free TAFE in pandemicFee-free, accredited  short courses offered by TAFE NSW (maximum 2 per person). Five short courses are currently available. These are:
- Develop Administration SkillsEnhance Your Digital Impact
- Grow Health and Medical Knowledge
- Improve Leadership Performance
- Practical Business Skills

There are also free micro-learning resources in:
- Collaborate and lead a dispersed team
- Working from home
South AustraliaTAFE SACourses resumed on 27 April 2020 with precautions taken to provide a safe environment.
TasmaniaSkills Tasmania’s Rapid Response Skills Initiative (RRSI)    $3000 to pay for training, including licences, for people who have lost their jobs (through redundancy, workplace closure, being let go by employer).
Western AustraliaTAFEAs WA opens, COVID-19 hygiene training sets are needed for the hospitality sector. It is unclear if this training will extend more generally to facilities cleaning and maintenance.  
Northern TerritoryNT government Free training coursesThe NT Government announced free training courses on 8 May 2020. These include:
- Digital skills
- Emergency and disaster skills
- Environmental skills
- Practical business skills
Australian Capital TerritorySkills Canberra ACT government’s $137 million economic survival package includes support for VET learners, including apprentices and traineesSubsidies for priority skills and qualifications to tackle workforce demand and supply issues as a result of the pandemic, including:
- CPP30316 Certificate III in Cleaning Operations
- CPPSS00050 Clean hospitals and aged care facilities  

Further Reading

AHURI Brief (12 May 2020), What has COVID-19 revealed about the liveability of our homes and neighbourhoods?, accessed 18 May 2020 at https://www.ahuri.edu.au/policy/ahuri-briefs/what-has-covid-19-revealed-about-the-liveability-of-our-homes-and-neighbourhoods

AISC (2020), COVID-19 Emergency Response Sub-Committee: Statement on the delivery of new cross-sectoral infection control skills sets, accessed 18 May 2020 at https://www.aisc.net.au/sites/default/files/AISC%20Statement_Infection%20Control%20skill%20sets_0.pdf

Condon, B., Moyse, D. & Keech, R. (2020), ‘7 Ways to build Australian resilience’, The Fifth Estate, accessed 13/5/2020 at https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/columns/spinifex/7-ways-to-rebuild-australian-resilience/?ct=t%2812+may+2020%29&mc_cid=4f7cc66805&mc_eid=%5BUNIQID%5D

Godderis, L. (2020), ‘Good jobs to minimize the impact of Covid-19 on health inequality’, accessed 27/4/2020 at https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---safework/documents/publication/wcms_742059.pdf

The Economy (2020), ‘Real Estate Institutes respond to COVID-19 VS Australian Property’, The Real Estate Conversation, accessed 13/5/2020 at https://www.therealestateconversation.com.au/news/2020/05/06/real-estate-institutes-respond-covid-19-vs-australian-property/1588725370

Waters, C. (2020), ‘Coronavirus deep clean surge sparks recruitment drive at Whizz’, The Age, accessed 8/5/2020 at https://www.theage.com.au/business/small-business/coronavirus-deep-clean-surge-sparks-recruitment-drive-at-whizz-20200507-p54qsa.html


[1] Eligibility criteria applies, must be a job seeker or worker impacted by COVID-19.

[2] My Skills search conducted 22/04/2020 at https://www.myskills.gov.au/courses/Search?keywords=CPP&locationID=0&Distance=25&rtoCode=&campusId=0&cf=1%2C3