Nigel Walker, Complete Exhibitions Director
Complete Exhibitions has mirrored these trends. Nigel Walker, Director, says, "At the end of June we were working simultaneously in East London, Durban, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, whilst in July we were working on concurrent projects in Pretoria, Soweto, Durban, Johannesburg and Sun City. This exponential growth that we have experienced determines that we have staff on-site in several regions at the same time, which places significant challenges on our logistical and operational structures."
According to the Pastel SME Business Survey (December 2010), nearly a third (28%) of local SMEs reported labour related issues as the main barrier to business growth in the past year. So whereas our current business environment is highly indicative of entering a growth phase, labour issues are an impediment to the ability of SMME's being able to take advantage of this to the fullest. While small business owners acknowledge that they need more staff in order to grow their business, they report that they either can't find the right people or are too nervous to employ because of the country's rigorous labour laws. A practical example is that according to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act any person employed for more than 24 hours a month is entitled to paid leave, paid sick leave and paid family responsibility time.
There is thus a balance to be strived for between growth as a result of being able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and managing administrative and overhead costs. It is therefore not surprising that nearly a quarter (23%) of the southern African respondents to the UFI survey highlighted internal management challenges (i.e. finance, human resources, staff, training) as a major issue.
Labour laws are not the only challenge that SMME's in this sector are faced with; indeed they may not actually be the biggest challenge.
The implementation of the relatively new event (including safety) Regulations are also a growing challenge to SMMEs in this industry being able to take full advantage of the growth opportunities. Obviously safety is, or should be, paramount in all operations, but challenges arrive when the same regulations and laws, coupled with local (municipal) and venue specific regulations, are interpreted and enforced differently by consultants and from event to event. For any SMME striving to comply with the different interpretations of 'the law(s)', the result is in significant resources, both financial as well as time, being focused upon safety. Our experience is that for the majority of projects our safety procedures and documentation meet requirements, that the goal posts are constantly moving. As an 'extreme' example, earlier this month all our employees and sub-contractors had to undertake a medical prior to the completion of the build-up as a compulsory requirement, in order to prove that everyone was fit for work. We were, on a positive note, allowed to forego the required 'end of contract' medical, that would have proved no-one had been injured during the project's implementation!
As in anything there is surely a balance to be strived for, so that SMMEs in the exhibition sector can generate the job opportunities that the country, and its people need.