In a survey whose results sometimes seem contradictory, the Associated General Contractors of America is reporting that beyond a doubt the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent economic shutdown have resulted in cancelled projects and job losses.
At the same time, a majority of responding firms indicated that they remained challenged trying to find qualified craft workers.
Compiling the results with the software firm Autodesk, the AGC survey states: “The pandemic is undermining demand for construction, prompting project delays and cancellations, layoffs and furloughs.”
But as was true before the onset of the virus, the search for craft workers on the part of many companies continues unabated and has even worsened in recent months.
Exactly 33% of survey respondents said that anticipated projects have been outright cancelled as a result of the pandemic, while 60% have experienced projects that may have been only delayed.
Some 41% of the companies said they have reduced their staffing, with 30% saying they have either furloughed or terminated employees.
Sector-wise, highway contractors report the lowest number of project cancellations, while 66% of building contractors, 62% of utility infrastructure firms, and 60% of companies doing federal government work have experienced cancellations.
At the same time, in a countervailing trend, 27% of respondents said their staffs have actually increased since late last year; while 29% said their workload is either equal to where it was a year ago, or even greater.
Regionally, construction firms in the West were among the least pessimistic about the future, with only 34% thinking that it will take at least half a year for them to get back to normal once the pandemic has ceased, compared to 45% from the Northeast who said it will require at least six months or more to return to pre-Covid levels of work.
The pandemic’s impact on staffing levels is seen in the 52% of firms that said they are having a difficult time finding workers, compared with 80% who said that a year ago.
Still, the need for craft workers remains: with 35% of firms saying they continue to be challenged by a lack of carpenters, and another 29% saying they remain in need of equipment operators.
In a statement, Ken Simonson, chief economist with the AGC, noted that “few firms have survived unscathed from the pandemic amid widespread project delays and cancellations.”
Allison Scott, director of construction integrated marketing at Autodesk, noted that while the long-term impact of the pandemic has yet to play out, “firms that double down on innovation efforts, whether an increased focus on lean construction, workforce training or technology that facilitates remote collaboration, will be well-poised for enduring resilience.”
By Garry Boulard
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