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Looking at COVID-19's impact on the construction and utility sector workforce

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The AEM Construction Sector team continues to look to how we can help provide clarity or support to the needs of our members in these trying times.

As was mentioned last quarter, we are building on our relationships with sister associations and industry publications through CONEXPO-CON/AGG to be the consolidated voice of the customer for equipment end users.

Part of this included a survey that we sent out to pull together industry-wide data that will give us industry insights and may help determine the speed of industry recovery as companies look to bring back their furloughed and laid off workforce. Our initial survey asked questions related to workforce furloughs and layoffs, outlook and timeline for bringing back workforce, and potential ways companies plan to reestablish their competitive advantage. Respondents included all industry segments and were predominantly contractors or material producers in the Unites States.

Across all industries surveyed, 74% of companies furloughed none of their workforce, while another 13% furloughed less than 10%. Sixty percent of companies laid off none of their workforce, and another 23% laid off less than 10%. These numbers are surprising, as we had all heard about the rising unemployment numbers and stagnant economy. We anticipated a much higher percentage of furloughed and laid off workforce.

We asked questions specific to both furloughed and laid off workforce, as a means to help determine outlook across industries. The primary business segments were heavy construction, government/municipality, non-residential construction, dealers/distributor/rental, and utility. By industry, the heavy construction and utility industries remain somewhat positive with 79% of companies furloughing none of their workforce. Of those who have furloughed employees, more than half are bringing less than 25% back within the next 30 days, while 28% are expecting to bring almost all their furloughed workforce back at some point in time. Within the next 90 days, half of respondents are expecting to return more than 75% of furloughed workers to their jobs.

By industry, 96% of companies in heavy construction and 93% in utility laid off less than 10% of their workforce, which is again a much higher percentage than we anticipated. 80% of companies with less than 100 employees did not lay off anyone, compared to 50% of companies with less than 1,000 employees. In general, contractors, large or small, have laid off less than 10% of their workforce.

Comparing furloughed workforce to laid-off workforce, more employees were furloughed than laid off in the heavy construction and utility industries, while the agriculture industry laid off more workforce than they furloughed, same as the non-residential construction and service industries (which makes sense given the current uncertainty in those markets).

Of those who have laid off employees, more than half are not expecting to bring their employees back within 90 days. Of those laid off, a significant amount of positions will remain unfilled for the near future. We will continue to keep an eye on what happens moving forward, as companies and industries are having to do their work with less people.

The survey will be repeated on a fairly regular basis in order to develop potential trends and gain additional insights. We are also expanding it to include some Canadian publications and associations to show a broader voice.

Megan Tanel is the senior vice president of the construction and utility sector for AEM.

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