How Have Trade Businesses Fared During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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How have trade businesses fared during COVID-19

Insights from tradespeople in Australia, NZ and the UK

We've taken the pulse of more than 460 trade business owners across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, to see how COVID-19 is affecting tradespeople at the coalface. 

The global economy has been hit hard by COVID-19. One study shows a drop in consumption the same size as the GDP of Germany, resulting in 147 million people losing their jobs worldwide. As the pandemic continues, so too does the economic impact. Most of the world to a standstill, at least temporarily. It has also exposed many vulnerabilities and is forcing businesses to reset and adapt the way they operate.

Research from our September 2020 Pulse Report found that some tradespeople lost three months of work and others were forced to adapt their business quickly to keep cash coming through the door. In general though, tradespeople are just as busy as ever and don’t see any signs of slowing down despite the unknown long-term effects of COVID-19.

The good news is most tradespeople have a positive outlook for 2021 according to the February 2021 Pulse Report. This report finds 61% of UK trade business owners believe business conditions will improve over the next 12 months, with 68% in Australia and 53% in New Zealand having the same outlook.

Let’s take a look at the Pulse Report findings, broken down by country, so you can see how your business stacks up against other trades businesses in your local area.

Download Pulse Report

Effects of COVID-19 on tradespeople in Australia

The Australian Federal Government recently released its latest budget, and unfortunately, it paints a pretty bleak picture – they're looking at the largest budget deficit since World War II. 

Despite this grim news, the perceived impact of the pandemic on Aussie trades businesses was relatively low. Government actions pre-COVID-19 to stimulate spending on new builds and renovations have helped, with only 35% of Aussie tradies saying that COVID-19 has had a moderate to high impact on their business. The majority of those are either located in hard-hit Victoria or in the HVAC industry.

So far, the impact of COVID-19 on most Australian trade businesses doesn’t seem to have been as bad as initially feared, with the volume of quotes, invoices and jobs booked almost back to pre-pandemic levels, according to Tradify usage data.

 

“It’s been great to see Australians spend their money at home rather than scooting off to some other world destination like Bali,” says one survey participant, a Queensland plumber. 

Australian Trade Business Data 2020

 

However, there are still fears of a downturn as the current pipeline of jobs is completed, and some trade businesses are already feeling the full brunt of COVID-19. 

“Lockdown brought in no work, and after lockdown, there were some cancellations on reno jobs…I’m more worried about the effect COVID-19 will have next year,” says another participant, a builder from Victoria.

Effects of COVID-19 on tradespeople in NZ

The experience for Kiwi tradies has been slightly different. A relatively short but aggressive lockdown at the beginning of the year saw a huge reduction in jobs –emergency work was the only lockdown exception. Despite a government wage subsidy, 50% of Kiwi tradespeople say the pandemic had a moderate to high impact on their business.

However, the New Zealand economy appears to have bounced back quicker and stronger post-lockdown, with many trades businesses already back to pre-COVID-19 quote, invoice and job activity levels (as indicated by Tradify usage data). 

NZ Trade Business Data 2020

“We lost two months of turnover, paying insurance, hire purchase on vehicles, topping up wages, uncertainty of work. It was stressful,” says a plumber from Palmerston North.

“We just weren’t able to work at all during COVID. When we came out of the lockdown, a lot of work came in, so we had to manage the volume,” adds an Auckland-based home maintenance business. 

Even though many Kiwi tradies have quickly filled their books after an enforced stay-at-home period, like their Australian peers many are still uncertain about what the future holds.

Effects of COVID-19 on tradespeople in the UK

With an almost 30% drop in construction activity from March through to May, it’s not surprising that 66% of UK tradespeople said the pandemic has had a moderate to high impact on their business – by far the highest reported impact rate across all three countries. 

“It has been near-total closure,” says an electrician from Yorkshire. 

According to Tradify usage data, since government restrictions were enforced at the end of March, quote, job, and invoice volumes of UK tradies have taken much longer to rebound compared to Australia and New Zealand. Plumbing and HVAC trades businesses have been hit the worst, with 75% of plumbers and a crushing 100% of HVAC tradespeople saying COVID-19 has had a moderate to high impact on their businesses. 

UK Trade Business Data 2020

The way UK tradies perceive their current economic climate is a direct reflection of official statistics, but there is hope. Gradual improvements in health statistics, the loosening of restrictions on tradespeople’s access to homes, and government investment of £1.3 billion into ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects and home building is helping to increase monthly construction output.

“It was quiet for two weeks then back to almost normal. I used the furlough time to get on top of everything,” says another electrician out of Yorkshire.

The silver lining

Behind these statistics are the livelihoods of real tradespeople. Some businesses are suffering, while others have experienced a lesser impact. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Many of the trades businesses we surveyed have tried to find a silver lining, using the extra time when things have slowed down to work on improving their operations. At the top of the list is getting their admin under control, something many tradies have recognised is the best way to prepare for the unknown short and long-term impacts of COVID-19. 

To find out more about the impact of COVID-19 on trades businesses in your country – and how you can get your business ready for any opportunities or challenges that come your way – download the full Tradify Pulse Report Report.