Survey: More than A Third of Contractors Have Reduced Headcount in the Past Year

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the headcounts of 50% of contractors that responded to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Autodesk’s 2020 Workforce Survey. While half of firms reported no change in headcount, 29% have furloughed or terminated employees due to the pandemic and 31% have recalled or added employees. If looking at the past 12 months, 41% of firms have reduced headcount while 27% have increased headcount and 32% have experienced no change.

While the majority of firms surveyed (68%) did not furlough any employees, 7% of firms did, but have not tried to recall those furloughed employees, while a quarter of firms did furlough employees and have since tried to recall them. Among the firms that tried to recall employees, 56% responded that all furloughed employees reported when recalled. Many of those that did not return cited a preference for unemployment benefits or virus concerns/family responsibilities as the reason.

When it comes to filling open positions, a higher percentage of firms is having a hard time filling craft positions (52%) compared to salaried positions (28%). However, 40% of firms reported having no unfilled hourly craft positions as of June 30, 2020 while 58% of firms reported having no unfilled salaried positions as of that time. Of firms that are having trouble filling salaried positions, more than three-quarters report having the most difficulty filling project manager/supervisor roles.

Firms reported using the following resources to find workers in the past six months:

  • Career-building programs (e.g., high school, college, career and technical education);
  • Unions;
  • Staffing firm (craft);
  • Executive and non-craft worker search firm or professional employer organization;
  • Software to distribute job postings and manage applicants;
  • Government workforce development or unemployment agencies;
  • Sub- or specialty contractors;
  • Instagram Live sessions and other online strategies that meet younger generations where they are; and
  • Employee-based visas (e.g., H-1B, H-2B).

Of the firms surveyed, 21% report that they have increased the use of learning programs with a strong online/video component in the past six months while 19% have initiated or increased online or mobile training options and 18% have initiated or increased spending on training and professional development. In addition, 14% of firms have allowed for more overtime, 13% have started using augmented/mixed/virtual reality training devices and 9% have lowered hiring standards.

In the last six months, 38% of firms have increased base pay rates for hourly craft or salaried personnel while 17% have provided incentives or bonuses. Only 3% have reduced pay rates while 2% have reduced their portion of benefit contributions and/or scaled back employee benefits.

COVID-19 Impacts

Two-thirds of firms have reported that at least one project was halted, postponed or canceled due to the pandemic while 60% report that scheduled projects have been postponed or canceled and one-third report that projects under way have been halted. Nearly half report that projects have taken longer than anticipated and nearly one-third report that costs have been higher than anticipated. As a result of the pandemic, 22% of firms put longer completion times into their bids or contracts and 18% have put higher prices into their bids or contacts.

“Few firms have survived unscathed from the pandemic amid widespread project delays and cancellations,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Ironically, even as the pandemic undermines demand for construction services, it is reinforcing conditions that have historically made it hard for many firms to find qualified craft workers to hire.”

When asked when firms expect their volume of business will return to its normal level relative to one year earlier, 29% report that it already matches or exceeds that level; 13% report it will take one to six months; 38% report it will take more than six months (or never); and 20% report that they don’t know.

In the next 12 months, nearly one-fourth of firms surveyed expect to furlough and/or terminate employees while 40% expect to recall and/or add employees.

Methodology

The association and Autodesk conducted the Workforce Survey between August 4 and 26, 2020. Over 2,000 firms completed the survey from a broad cross-section of the construction industry, including union and open shop firms of all sizes.

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