AWMAC survey provides snapshot of COVID-19 impacts

Matthew Bradford

It’s been a trying time for Canadian woodworkers. And yet, the industry’s resilience persists. These are among the top findings in an industry pulse report by the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada (AWMAC), taken during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The report is based on a member survey that AWMAC conducted at the tail end of 2020. It offers a snapshot of how Canadian woodworking companies fared amidst a string of lockdowns, safety risks, and labour issues while providing a glimpse of attitudes for the “post-pandemic” to come.


Closed doors


Few in the industry came out unscathed from the pandemic. A majority of AWMAC’s respondents (72.73%) were directly impacted financially due to COVID-19 regulated shutdowns or the economy in their region, with many experiencing up to 50% reduction in sales, supply chain backlogs, work slowdowns, and a decrease in corporate projects in large urban centres such as Toronto.


“There was a consensus that many projects and contracts were cancelled outright, with many members commenting that more layoffs are forthcoming due to the ripple effect the shutdowns have (and continue to have) on the woodworking industry,” the report states.


Leaner teams


It’s little surprise that the COVID crisis negatively impacted the workforce. Over half of survey-takers (56.88%) had to let staff go throughout the crisis. Those who experienced a dip in their workforce said they managed to keep up with demand by working “leaner” and “smarter.” Interestingly, a minority of respondents claimed they were unaffected by a small reduction in staffing loads


Supply chain stress


The woodworking industry is all too familiar with the recent global supply chain crisis. At the height of the pandemic, 58.14% of AWMAC members were challenged by longer lead times, lumber and metal shortages, increased material costs, factory shutdowns, and increased delivery times for overseas products, among other challenges that continue to plague industries across the board.


Safety first


AWMAC’s report speaks to the industry’s focus on worker health and safety. Numerous measures were taken in 2020, including mask mandates (when up from desks), split shifts for social distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures, weekly COVID screenings, and remote work arrangements. Moreover, over half of the companies implemented new safety measures as case numbers rose. As a result, 83.91% of companies reported that none of their staff left the company due to safety concerns.


Bringing extra personal protection equipment (PPE) into shops was another priority. And while this came at an additional expense, 80.46% of shop leaders said the purchase was not a significant burden to their business. Still, a noticeable 19.54% said the cost was somewhat of a hit.


Government support


Canadian woodworkers were not alone in their COVID-19 struggles. And like many industries, AWMAC members drew on Federal Government support programs to soften their financial losses. According to the survey, 62.79% of AWMAC members participated in the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program.


When asked how organizations like AWMAC can support woodworking companies during the pandemic and in the days ahead, respondents had a few suggestions. They included the need for continued communication, consistent industry updates, ongoing supports to build safer workplaces, and the ability to connect with others in the industry to share successes, lessons learned, and best practices.


“Overall, members noted that they were pleased with AWMAC and that it is important for the industry to stick together in this time of crisis,” the report concluded.


AWMAC’s latest industry pulse depicts a challenging time for woodworkers, but one in which health and safety strategies, external supports, and industry resiliency helped many stay the course.

Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.

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