ASCE survey: COVID-19 continues to cloud industry future

ASCE members participated in a third survey this spring to assess pandemic-related effects on the civil engineering industry.

The COVID-19 Impact and Implementation Survey, compiled by Industry Insights for ASCE, collected feedback from 836 Society members between May 26 and 28.

The results paint an interesting picture – one where the initial shock of the pandemic has faded into a realization that the effects on the industry may be here a lot longer than once expected.

ASCE News asked members of the ASCE Industry Leaders Council to assess some key stats from the survey.

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Gen. (Ret.) Merdith W.B. “Bo” Temple, P.E., F.ASCE, consults as Temple Enterprises LLC and is affiliated with Dawson & Associates and Burdeshaw Associates, while also serving on several boards. He retired in 2012 after nearly four decades of service to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, most recently as the acting chief of engineers and acting commanding general.

Lisa Washington, CAE, is the executive director and CEO of the Design-Build Institute of America.

Gerald Zadikoff, P.E., F.ASCE, is CEO of G.M. Selby Inc. Consulting and Design Engineers in Miami.

SURVEY STAT: Expectations for a return to pre-COVID-19 day-to-day operations have been pushed back with each survey.

  1. March 18 survey: target date for normalcy was May 15

  2. April 9 survey: target date for normalcy was July 10

  3. May 26 survey: target date for normalcy is Dec. 26

“This mirrors what we are hearing from our [DBIA] members. The longer the pandemic continues the higher our uncertainty. While it’s notable that our industry sees some signs for cautious optimism, rather than expecting to see normal again in a couple of months, we’ve settled into the possibility of a prolonged ‘new normal.’ Engineers on design-build teams will play a key role in helping define what that new reality looks like.” – Washington

“When do we think we’re going to return to normal? Well, we might return to normal in the next year or two, but even that normal will not be the normal we knew in January. Certain practices like remote work will have been established and that has implications on office space, costs, supervision, management and leadership.

“In short, I think many AE firms have adapted well to the new situation.

“The question now is, what will the new norm look like a year or two from now, assuming we get a vaccine? I can’t say that I know, and I don’t know that anyone knows.” – Temple

SURVEY STAT: 82 percent of respondents said their companies are operating at 75 percent capacity or better.

“I completely agree. That number doesn’t surprise me. In fact, it may be a little on the low side. The AE firms have found ways … to allow their employees to operate from remote locations, and it doesn’t appear to have impacted productivity in a seriously negative way so far.” – Temple

SURVEY STAT: 68 percent of respondents said they’ve experienced COVID-related cancellations or delays of contracts.

“This has also happened to us with a major infrastructure operator that has canceled or delayed projects until ‘further notice.’” – Zadikoff

“I would say that based on what I have seen, 68 percent may be a reasonable ballpark figure. Clearly, it depends on what market you’re in and what state you’re operating in. Some states never stopped construction. They considered construction an essential function. Some states had construction-related activities already planned and paid for. Those construction projects went forward as if nothing had changed. The real question, I think, is if the impacts of COVID-19 continue for another year or two or three, what is the impact on local and state revenue, which has a direct effect on a state’s ability to acquire construction services.” – Temple

SURVEY STAT: 29 percent of respondents expressed moderate-to-major concern about long-term viability due to coronavirus. Interestingly, that figure is up from 16 percent in the April 9 survey.

“I am in full agreement with this stat, as it is a low percentage. We should have faith in our medical researchers to come up with real cures and/or vaccines. I certainly do have faith and am very encouraged with research coming out of Israel currently.” – Zadikoff

SURVEY STAT: 26 percent of organizations have furloughed, laid off or terminated staff since March 1. The typical organization has hired 50 percent of those employees back.

“Hopefully, the balance of professionals laid off will be hired back when economic certainty returns.” – Zadikoff

SURVEY STAT: The top three challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Economic uncertainty

“Agree.” – Zadikoff

  1. Employee safety

  2. Managing overall safety requirements/regulations

“Since we are out of the office on projects, this is a major challenge to our engineers and professional staff.” – Zadikoff

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