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Engineering: the balance sheet one year after the start of the pandemic

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Engineering is going through a complicated period with the pandemic. Like many other industries, the time has come to assess the impact of COVID-19 on employment or the economy. Parts of the industry are bearing the brunt of this crisis, impacted by the decline in activity of their corporate customers. On the other hand, others are making progress, driven by changing demands, such as the pharmaceutical industry. Between support measures, financial aid and innovation, how is engineering really doing in 2021?

Engineering in the face of containment, a shaken operation

While engineering is a sector that is a carrier of the French economy, it is also experiencing a difficult period with the COVID-19 pandemic. Engineering companies lost an average of 11% of their turnover in 2020. This year, marked by two containments at the beginning and end of the year, has been difficult for the sector. Despite a third containment that began on April 3, 2021, experts believe the restart will be slow. The return to normalcy is not expected until 2022.

What’s causing this drop? The shutdown of construction sites, the closure of industrial sites following the first strict containment… But also a sharp drop in orders, which sharply slows down the activity of engineers. This, combined with the implementation of strict measures within factories, does not help companies to continue operating at a normal pace.

Factory construction industry
Engineers contribute to the national economy.

In France, 73,000 companies operate in engineering and provide high value-added intellectual services for their public and private clients. This concerns, for example, the design of buildings and structures, but also the optimization of industrial chains… Contributions to research and development, digital innovation and adaptation to climate change are among the major engineering challenges.

Containment impacts all these companies, particularly from two promising sectors in the South West: automotive and aeronautics. Airbus is the European and world leader in aeronautics in the world. With the discontinuation of commercial flights operated by airlines, the order backlog decreases. The same is true for the automobile,despite all the sanitary measures, the pace does not follow.

Engineering, between delays and uncertainties

The sector has experienced a significant decline in activity since the beginning of the pandemic. This sector encounters a lack of visibility as well as a problem of work organization. Businesses are mobilizing to move beyond this complicated period. Their main objective is to preserve jobs and resources to restart as best as possible once the pandemic is over.

However, not all posts can be saved and continue to operate. Thus, the most affected are the junior profiles, i.e. the young graduates. They are newcomers to the workforce, looking for a first job. However, with the current labour market situation, finding this first job is even more difficult.

At the same time, senior profiles are also weakened. Considered less effective than younger profiles when the workflow is more strained, they see their positions at risk.

Construction building plans construction site
Engineering covers several industries.

In France, for example, 45% of engineers have resorted to partial activity, a device that saves jobs with the support of the state. 31% of companies in this sector have also applied for the use of the State-guaranteed Loan, financial assistance to companies most affected by the pandemic.

But engineering companies are mostly waiting to return to normal operations, including the recruitment of new employees. For example, 23% of companies in this sector ask for assistance in recruiting alternates. A available workforce that can be trained until the end of their studies… Before joining the company for good.

Employees are also asked to be more versatile in order to compensate for the decline in the number of employees. Thus, the company continues to run in a small team, with common skills for everyone. Training to acquire new skills, to progress within the company.

An expected development for companies in the sector

Thus, after an uncertain year related to the pandemic, the pandemic does not seem ready to disappear. Businesses in all sectors are therefore evolving to meet expectations and continue their business as best they can. A change that requires adaptation to get over the crisis.


  1. Engineering companies lost 11% of their turnover in 2020 as a result of the crisis, according to a study of the profession, Syntec Engineering release of March 4, 2021
  2. Engineering, research and technical advice in the face of the crisis | market and sectoral research XERFi, published January 20, 2021
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