COVID-19: Engineers still on the job cope with ripple effect

Water ripple effect
One unexpected COVID-19 impact: Managing a team while under a work-from-home mandate has created a weird time suck for some engineers, who struggle to connect remotely. (Credit: Jacob Wackerhausen/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

While not as heavily impacted as other professions like hospitality and retail and despite continued hiring in some areas, the engineering workforce is nonetheless taking a brutal hit from the pandemic.

In pure numbers, the website layoffs.fyi, which compiles data from public reports on tech layoffs, reports as of today 61,357 employees laid off from 477 tech startups. The Seattle Times on May 29 reported that Boeing job cuts will fall heavily on engineers and machinists, with the company’s white-collar technical union losing 12% of its engineers (1,500 positions) and 21% of its technical staff (1,000 positions.)

In yet another measure of just how widespread the impact on tech workers is, fully 25% of respondents of a survey on COVID-19 by FierceElectronics conducted in May 2020 reported their companies had experienced layoffs or furloughs. The survey had 500 respondents.

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Still working, busier than ever

But for the engineers still on the job, the pandemic has wreaked a special kind of havoc. According to the FE survey, 25% said that they have spent some time working on COVID-19 related projects. Close to 20% said they have taken on more responsibilities due to layoffs, furloughs or other workforce reductions. And 25% said that they were assigned to new tasks due to an existing project either put on hold or cancelled outright.

Business mandates such as working at home are also creating a time suck for some. “I am spending much more time managing the remote work of my team,” said one respondent, while another determined that getting used to working at home was impacting personal productivity in a negative way.

And for others, it is an impediment to simply getting work done. “One challenge is my inability to access lab and specialized equipment due to work-at-home edicts,” said one survey respondent.

COVID-19 impact on engineer jobs survey results

The FE survey also revealed the extent of the business impact, particularly on schedules and sales. More than half (54%) of respondents said that the pandemic has caused slips in schedules or project delays, and over one third (36.6%) said that there has been a decrease in demand for their company’s products or services. A little or one fifth (22.1%) said that there has been an outright cancellation of customer contracts or orders.

Parts shortages or delays could be a factor in project delays, with 27.8% reporting difficulty due to shortages and 39.6% reporting delays in getting parts. Nearly 10% (8.8%) said getting application engineering support was an issue.

COVID-19 Survey impact on engineer business bar chat

On the flip side, 17% reported an increase in demand for their company’s products; while others have been able to pivot into new opportunities. As one respondent said “Automotive production has stopped, but our ventilation sensors work has increased tremendously.”

RELATED: As unemployment soars to 14.7%, even engineers fall prey

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