By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie’s COVID-19 Business Insights Survey shows that small businesses are being hit hardest by the pandemic. Of the 195 businesses that participated in the survey, 85% indicated that COVID-19 had a negative overall impact, with 36% stating the impact was significant.
“The impact was inversely related to business size; while 41% of small businesses experienced significant negative impact, none of the large businesses surveyed indicated the same severity of impact,” read the report. Nearly half of all businesses temporarily laid off some portion of their staff, and a third of respondents permanently laid off staff. These numbers may have grown since the survey was completed between July 6 to August 14, 2020.
“A large portion of the permanent layoffs were within the accommodation and food services, construction, and retail trade sectors, wherein an average of 40% of businesses had to make some permanent layoffs,” said the report. “Additionally, 34% of businesses – primarily small and medium – believe that some of their temporary layoffs may become permanent.”
However, not everyone was seeing a downturn because of COVID-19. About 2% of respondents reported no change, and about 7% reported positive impacts. While 61% of businesses saw a decrease in demand for their goods or services, a quarter of respondents actually saw improvement. For those with growing demand, issues instead arose around the ability to successfully grow their supply.
“Some manufacturing businesses mentioned that while demand for their products was growing, they were unable to meet this as their suppliers were at a standstill,” said the report. “Of the 25% of employers experiencing growth, many noted significant difficulties in hiring during this time…. While businesses are certainly eager to pick up momentum and make up for lost revenue, finding the workforce to help execute this has proved challenging.”
The need for hiring is only expected to increase, with 60% of businesses stating they are planning on hiring within the next six months, which the report called “an exciting signal that business confidence is rising.”
Some resistance from potential workers is expected however, with the report citing a fear of the virus resurging and that 47% of job seekers are only considering part-time work to ensure they can handle other responsibilities.
Regardless of how they’ve been impacted, COVID-19 has many businesses reconsidering how they operate. About 4 in 5 said they are more likely to consider a hybrid model with employees working partially from home and partially in the office. Additionally, 73% said they are considering allowing employees to “continue remote working in the long run.” About a third believe the well-being of employees has been improved since switching to remote work, which may be partially attributed to the drop in productivity noted by 29% of respondents.
“There was less interest in newer work models, such as the four-day work week or six-hour work shifts, although some manufacturing, retail trade, and accommodation and food service businesses did note that they were considering these options,” read the report.
Changes in operation come with their own challenges. Over 60% of businesses, both urban and rural, cited concerns with internet issues for remote working. This need was further shown as “an astounding 93%” say government investment into broadband infrastructure in rural communities is needed. About half of respondents were also concerned with the need to care for children or elders while working from home. Family benefits to support those caring for dependents was therefore unsurprisingly of interest to about 75% of businesses, and a similar amount noted interest in productivity training for staff.
“The results highlighted within this report reveal a desire among companies to return to business-as-usual as quickly as possible. The obstacles presented by COVID-19 hinder this and can only be overcome through unifying the business community and working collaboratively and strategically,” said the report. The report further asserted that governments need to invest in local businesses moving forward, and help with safety concerns, such as by creating clearer guidelines for various industries.
“Business associations and union groups must act towards creating opportunities for business owners to communicate, share ideas, brainstorm solutions to common challenges, make joint investments in technical trainings for their staff, and support each other’s growths,” continued the report. “Lastly, the workforce must take ownership of the development of their skills. For employees, this means taking advantage of training programs…. Together, these actions can reduce the negative impacts felt by the workforce and foster long-term changes within the Grand Erie community.”