Survey: industry responds to impact of COVID-19

The pandemic has made things like this planning and safety meeting prior to the installation of a large rooftop unit by Sprint Mechanical in Toronto a few years ago a lot more difficult today.
By Leah Den Hartogh
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11. Since then, the number of cases across the globe has been on the rise. At press time, Canada had over 25,000 cases and 767 deaths.
Every type of business is struggling, and the plumbing and HVAC/R industry is no exception, despite being deemed an essential service. We surveyed our readers in early April and received 485 responses.
Comments from an Alberta contractor expressed what a lot of companies are going through. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now in the Lethbridge area,” he noted. “Some jobs have been put on hold to protect the workplace of our customers’ employees. We have a plumbing business that currently is taking important service calls, but that also has been quiet as far as phone calls go.”
Some respondents criticized the government for leaving job sites open for as long as they have. “It’s disgusting that sites are remaining open, taking personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizer and cleaning supplies to keep the money rolling. It has been made clear to construction workers; we are not essential – we are expendable.”
When asked about how the pandemic has been impacting their business, 38 percent answered “a great deal,” 30 percent answered “a lot,” 23 percent answered “a moderate amount,” seven percent answered “a little,” and only two percent answered, “none at all.”
Facing tough decisions
Those companies that are still operating are having to alter how business is done due to extenuating circumstances. Tough decisions are having to be made. Employees have to be sent home, some workers are not willing to do the work, projects have been postponed, there are material and equipment shortages and some customers are unable to afford maintenance. And then there’s the need to have some employees go into self-isolation.
“We have some bigger jobs that are going on right now that we started before the COVID-19 broke out and should keep us busy for awhile. My main concerns right now are how long this will take? At some point, the restrictions will get tighter if the virus spreads and the number of cases increase. When this is over, what will the economy do? Is it going to pick up right where we left off? As of right now, we look at what we have and focus on that and try not worry too much. I hope that we can keep our employees and come out above water, so to speak, when this is over,” said another reader.
Some contractors have been a bit luckier and have found that business has been typical as the pandemic has coincided with the annual slowdown.
New business practices
Most employers have made changes to how they are conducting business in an attempt to keep employees and customers safe. This includes providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers (71 percent), working more shifts (five percent), social distancing (82 percent), and working from home (52 percent). Only three percent made no changes.
Some businesses have even gone as far as to screen customers before entering their home to ensure their employees remain safe. Some cannot find the proper PPE equipment due to shortages.
Federal and provincial governments have been offering subsidies to help businesses survive the pandemic. We asked our readers if this is helping. It was fairly even across the board on the responses to whether or not the help will make any difference for companies – 12 per cent answered “extremely helpful,” 15 per cent answered “very helpful,” 30 per cent answered “somewhat helpful,” 19 per cent answered “not so helpful,” and 21 per cent answered “not at all helpful.”
Some were not convinced that the subsidy would help business in the long-run. “This is all very nice that the government is willing to help us and give hope for the hard-working businesses with an interest free loan. But what worries me is that nothing is really for free! Our government is creating a deficit so large that our business taxpayers will just have to pay it back eventually.”
One respondent said that the hardest part of the government initiatives is just figuring out whether or not they are applicable to their business as they are vague and unclear. Most are concerned about going into even more debt if they apply for the loans.
Facing uncertainty
In the long run, most don’t know what things will look like. Many expect this year to be one of the worst they have had to go through.
“I think the long-term impact globally could bring us from recession to a depression, economically. Hopefully, people realize the importance of Canada being a more self-sufficient country (i.e. resources, supply chain, energy, etc.),” said one reader.
That doesn’t mean that people aren’t optimistic. “If we are able to survive a sustained impact on our business, I think we will be much stronger coming out, having discovered more effective and efficient methods to operate our business and address challenges that are presented. The impact we have experienced due to service site access in both extended care facilities and hospitals (which represent a large portion of our business) has been substantial. However, as the situation changes, so do the needs of our customers. We are doing our best to try and come up with ways that better suit these needs.”
Only time will tell.