ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Subscriber Surveys Find Limited Business Effects Among Contractors During COVID-19, a Drive to Get Back to Work

2020 Profile of the EC

In three separate research studies, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR looked at the varying impacts of COVID-19 on business activities for electrical contractors. The first and second surveys were fielded to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR’s Subscriber Research Panel in March (248 responses) and April (218 responses); they were prepared for the magazine by Renaissance Research & Consulting Inc., New York. The third survey, sponsored by Lutron Electronics Co., Coopersburg, Pa., went out in early May to ELECTRICAL ­C­ONTRACTOR’s subscribers and yielded 507 responses; it was prepared and analyzed by NECA.  

March and April surveys

The earlier ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR studies were sent out during the period of the economic shutdowns across the country and reflect a rapidly changing response to COVID-19. 

Chart 1The surveys covered conditions on the ground, specifically whether firms remained open for business; disruptions experienced among open firms and the work the firm was accepting/performing; issues with ­supply-chain shortages, if any; and steps being considered to deal with the shortages. The surveys also covered economic expectations for the future, both near-term and over the next few years.

  • About 85% of firms surveyed remained open for business, including about 10% that said they were open only for emergencies and essential work, or partially opened with reduced capacity. Some firms reported a portion, or all, of their workforce had been laid off.  
  • While 75% of open firms said that some projects were postponed, a far smaller percentage (33%) reported canceled projects. 
  • 48% of all who were surveyed expect there to be backlog of work once the pandemic is over; an additional 40% think that it is too soon to tell. Only 13% do not expect a backlog.
  • Short-term confidence hovers around “somewhat” confident. Panelists are more confident for the period of the next few years than for the immediate future with more than 50% saying that they are “extremely” or “very” confident”. Longer-term confidence is varied. Answers were split between “somewhat” (40%), “extremely confident” (18%) and “very confident’ (26%).
  • Optional comments were solicited from survey respondents, and they reflect a can-do attitude of perseverance rather than one of defeat or despondency.

Lutron and ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR survey 

The Lutron-sponsored survey found similar results, with only 7.3% of contractors reporting that their work has ceased completely during the shutdowns; roughly 70% of the respondents reported that they are continuing to work on projects and job sites with no notable changes (15%), some constraints (40%) or mostly (still working) with several constraints (14%). 

More than half (52%) of the respondents indicated an uptick in residential, followed by outdoor projects (31%), offices (24%), and hospitals (22%). Higher education (7%) had the smallest amount of uptick. 

Chart 2

For those that selected yes (25%) to taking on projects now that they wouldn’t have accepted before COVID-19, we asked them what concerns they have doing so. About one-third indicated lack of labor as a concern, while another third indicated no concerns. Those who selected “other” reported concerns about lower profit margins when taking on new types of projects (most notably residential projects), and almost 13% of respondents were concerned about a lack of expertise in the available workforce. 

Lutron, maker of the Vive wireless solutions, had a few questions about projects integrating hands-free/touchless lighting control options. During COVID-19, about 62% of contractors were asked “all the time” or “sometimes” about providing hands-free or touchless control options, compared with just 53% prior to COVID-19. 

The Lutron survey found concerns about working in a crowded space: 20% were extremely concerned and 55% were concerned. By comparison, only 24% were not concerned. 

Panelists selected planning for the future (64%); looking at new markets, sources of income, and services to add to my firm’s offerings (59%); and reading up on my industry (57%) as the top activities while they are waiting for the economy to get back to normal. Among those who selected “other” a majority reported business as usual. 

Over half of the panelists indicated layoffs (24%) or furloughs (34%) as the effects of COVID-19 on their workforce. However, 45% indicated COVID-19 had no effect on their workforce. 

The Lutron study respondents were optimistic, expecting to get back to a fully staffed workforce 0–3 weeks after restrictions are lifted (56%) or within 1–2 months (20%).

A majority of the Lutron study respondents believe their company will stay the same size through COVID-19 and beyond (42%), while 32% believe their company will grow through COVID-19 and beyond. Only 8% believe their company will struggle to survive through COVID-19 and beyond. 

You can find the full reports from these studies at www.ecmag.com/market-­research.

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