Survey Shows Many Contractors Successfully Navigating Challenges of the Pandemic

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ latest survey looking at the impact of COVID-19 shows that most contractors have been able to stay busy and avoid laying off workers

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As we head into 2021 and leave behind 2020, a year many are ready to bid farewell to, we look ahead in hopes of a healthy, safe, and economically positive year.

Notice I said, “economically positive,” as opposed to being too optimistic and using “economically prosperous.” The outlook is marginally positive across our sectors, with so much depending on the rate of delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine coupled with the ability of employers to safely bring their people back to work.

We’ve done a second round of our Voice of Customer Survey, and many contractors have been OK as they continue to forge ahead through the ongoing pandemic. That’s at least partially due to the work of our AEM Washington, D.C. colleagues in having our sectors identified as “essential businesses,” allowing manufacturers to continue producing product and contractors to continue using it.

Looking back

We set out to gauge industry recovery and determine industry outlook with an end user survey. To do that, we focused primarily on furloughed and laid-off workforce.

In our summer survey, 83% of respondents had laid off less than 10% of their workforce, among them 60% who had laid off none of their workforce.

At the time, based on everything we were hearing and seeing in the news, we anticipated a much lower percentage laying off none of their workforce. However, when looking at the survey results by industry, we realized that funding had been secured and work had already begun on many projects, ultimately delaying the impact of COVID-19 on many of our industries.

Recent findings

For our fall survey, we were expecting to see those “none” numbers decrease, essentially showing that more respondents eventually had to lay off or furlough their workforce as the pandemic continued. However, the survey showed that 76% of respondents had laid off none of their workforce, while 93% laid off less than 10% of their workforce.

We saw fewer workers laid off, which can likely be attributed to survey participation. In the second survey, 55% selected “government” and another 39% selected “heavy construction.” As was the case with what we saw in the first survey, funding tends to be secured through the calendar year when working with, or in, government on highway projects.

Fifty percent of respondents were small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, while nearly 20% have 1,000 or more employees, which gave us a broad spectrum to consider.

Of those who have furloughed workforce, we again asked about bringing workforce back. In the next 90 days, 30% don’t plan on bringing people back while 30% plan on bringing 75% to 100% back, which is a relatively even split, further highlighting the current uncertainty in the industry.

In our fall survey, we also asked about funding and potential business impacts. Thirty-one percent of respondents indicated they have secured funding at the federal level, while only 23% secured funding at the private level. Across all funding levels, roughly one-third have had funding canceled or anticipate cancellation, while almost 40% are still unsure about their funding for 2021.

In the summer survey, we asked about competitive advantage, hoping respondents would give us some insight into their plans for technology adoption. In the fall survey, we asked specifically for the biggest job site issue they would like technology to solve.

Focus on 2021

Safety was overwhelmingly identified by respondents as the biggest job site issue, which has been identified as a priority for AEM’s Construction Equipment Sector Board in 2021. Job site safety, including personal safety, traffic safety, and operator situational awareness, is a priority for everyone on every job site.

The Construction Equipment Technology Leadership Group, working with the Safety & Product Leadership team, will be researching standards currently being developed, including standards for backup cameras and proximity sensors, and determining how manufacturers and end users may be able to work together to encourage the development and implementation, as well as greater adoption, of safety technology.

Safety and technology will continue to be top of mind as we head into 2021 across services at AEM. The Construction Equipment Sector Board is working diligently to stay ahead of trends and help lay out best practices for our members and our industry.

About the author: Megan Tanel is AEM’s senior vice president of Construction and Utility Sector. AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 950 companies and 200-plus product lines in the agriculture and construction-related sectors worldwide. AEM has an ownership stake in and manages several world-class exhibitions, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


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