Voice of CustomerAs we head into the last few weeks of 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 ability of employers to safely bring their people back to work.

As round two of our Voice of Customer Survey efforts has been analyzed, many of your customers have been “okay” as they continue to forge ahead through the ongoing pandemic. We found correlations related to dollars already committed to smaller than expected layoffs, and it’s safe to say that’s at least partially due to the work of our AEM Washington DC colleagues in having our sectors identified as “essential businesses,” allowing our manufacturers to continue producing product and your customers to continue using it.

This pandemic didn’t have as great an impact on roadbuilding, due to the ability to be outside and work at a safe distance. But as we look to a new presidential administration and another run at a funded Highway Bill, we wanted to share the most recent results from our survey.

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, with 60% laying 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 likely delaying the impact of COVID-19 on many of our industries.

Recent Findings

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

We saw less people laid off, which can likely be attributed to survey participation. In round two, 55% selected “government,” another 39% selected “heavy construction” which, as was the case with what we saw in round one, funding tends to be secured through the calendar year when working with, or in, government on highway projects.

Fifty percent of respondents were small business with less than 100 employees, while nearly 20% have 1,000 or more employees, which gave us a good 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%-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 1/3 have had funding cancelled 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 jobsite issue they would like technology to solve.

Focus on 2021

Safety was overwhelmingly identified by respondents as the biggest jobsite issue, which has been identified as a priority for the CE Sector Board in 2021. Jobsite safety, including personal safety, traffic safety, and operator situational awareness, is a priority for everyone on every jobsite.

The CE 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 CE Sector Board is working diligently to stay ahead of trends and help lay out best practices for our members and our industry. We’ll look to first quarter next year to gauge what outlook is for 2021 from your customer base. Until then, best wishes for a healthy, happy, and safe holiday.

And, as always, thank you for your continued support.

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