Employer of Choice: Coffs Harbour Ex-Services Club

Who are you and what is your business?

My name is Karen Curnow and I’m the Human Resources Manager at the C.ex Group, which includes Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga and Urunga Ex-Services Clubs. We have 170 employees.

Describe your core business 

Customer Service.  We provide hospitality services for members and guests including restaurants, entertainment, and events of all sizes.

How would you define an excellent employer?

An excellent employer provides consistency for their employees so they know what they’re getting, they know who they’re working for, and they feel safe and comfortable. Honesty is also key. You have to treat your staff with respect and listen to them. They are not a number they are a person.

In your organisation, what are some of the things you do that make you an employer of choice?  

C.ex food and beverage attendant

We have recently worked collectively with our staff to create an Enterprise Bargaining that has been named one of the best in the state. This took effect from November 2022, however we passed on all the benefits from 1st October 2022 as well as above award wages plus 5% on top of that. For the next 3 years they get 1.5% increase for the next 3 years or the fair work increase, whichever is highest, plus we introduced night-time penalties Monday-Friday.

We support many staff through qualifications to degree level financially as well as offering operational support through multiskilling and career progression. We actively recruit for a diverse and inclusive workforce, which in our workplace looks like a diverse range of ages, from 17 – 75, and hiring for different cultural backgrounds.

Staff are valued and embraced and often comment it’s like a big family. We prioritise flexibility for our staff – in our rostering, we have more casuals, and are aware that people often have more than one job, so they have a preference for a particular shift. Some of our fulltime staff have changed to part-time and kept some of their roster.

We also have paid days off for birthdays – whether you’re casual, part-time or fulltime!

Why is it important to you that you are an excellent employer?

Reputation and integrity – we are a big company that gives back to the community, so we need to live and breathe our mission statement to provide our members, guests and visitors with the highest quality of service whilst providing a safe environment. Without customers we can’t employ our staff.

What have you learned along your journey to becoming an employer of choice?

Be respectful of your staff and treat them as people – treat them as you would like them to be treated. Put yourself in their shoes – some people have not had the greatest start. Be flexible, employ the right staff for the business, value your staff and be honest in feedback. Embrace all age groups and cultures.

Do you employ young people (under 25)? Do you consider you do that effectively? Why/Why not?

29% of our staff are under 30. We employ school leavers even if they are just with us for a couple of months before Uni if they display the qualities which we look for. Many of our young staff start off shy and leave with the confidence they have learnt on the job. We also employ staff under 18.  I think the biggest barrier is that we are not thought of as a place to work by young people. Usually they are referred by a friend or parent that has heard great things about our work environment.

What is your advice to organisations that want to improve as an employer?

Value your staff and treat them as people, have conversations with them on a regular basis, be flexible. The work environment has changed which has made it harder in some ways to keep staff engaged. Follow up on issues that staff have brought up to let them know you have heard them. Provide upskilling/training so employee is valued and feels they are contributing to the business.

 What key trends do you see impacting your business in the next 5-10 years? 

  • For us as a Registered Club the Cashless Gaming Card will impact our business in the next 5 years if the current government gets back in. 
  • Retaining talent will become harder which will mean we will have to continue to be agile if we wish to attract the right staff. 
  • Two significant trends that will impact our business now and going forward is the cost-of-living crisis which has impacted many Australians this year. Hospitality venues have faced financial insecurity on multiple fronts, and businesses are being hit hard by interest rate rises, inflation, and the rising cost of inventory and wage increases. This cost-of-living crisis has led to cautious customer spending, particularly on non-essential purchases. This has impacted hospitality venues as many people are reducing spending by cutting out daily coffees, takeaways, and eating out. 
  • Despite a rise in in-person dining in 2022, customers still want the option to order online for takeaway and delivery. Our customers have got used to and are better at ordering takeaway foods and this “habit” will dilute some of our restaurant business in the coming times which will have an impact on our revenue and our staffing needs. 



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