Construction employment increased by 21,000 jobs in June and by 224,000, or 3.2 percent, over the past 12 months, while the number of unemployed jobseekers with construction experience fell, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that firms continue to increase pay as they work to attract new hires from an ever-tighter labor market.
"Construction firms continue to go to great lengths to recruit and retain workers during one of the tightest labor markets many of them have ever experienced," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "Making matters worse, relatively few school districts offer the kind of career and technical education programs that signal to students that they should explore careers in high-paying fields like construction."
Sandherr noted that the unemployment rate for jobseekers who last worked in construction declined to 4.0 percent from 4.7 percent in June 2018, and the number of such workers decreased in the last year from 466,000 to 390,000. Another government series showed that the number of job openings in construction, last reported for May, totaled 360,000, the highest May total in the 19-year history of that series.
He added that most of the construction job growth during the past month and year came from the non-residential construction sector. Non-residential contractors added 14,900 jobs in June and 146,700 jobs during the past year. Meanwhile, residential contractors added 6,000 jobs this past month and 78,000 jobs between June 2018 and June 2019.
In addition, average hourly earnings in construction — a measure of all wages and salaries — increased 3.2 percent over the year to $30.73. That figure was 10.1 percent higher than the private-sector average of $27.90, the association official noted.
Association officials said that industry employment gains were coming despite an extremely tight supply of available, qualified, workers to hire. They noted that in addition to raising pay and other benefits, many firms note they have increased their investments in training as they recruit workers with little to no prior experience in construction. Federal officials could help attract more people into high-paying construction careers by boosting funding for career and technical programs in schools and enacting immigration reform that allows more people with construction skills to legally enter the country.
"The nation's education system continues to produce too many over-qualified baristas and not enough qualified bricklayers and other craft construction professionals," said Sandherr. "As a result of these educational imbalances, too many young adults are struggling to pay off college debts while too many construction firms are struggling to fill job positions that pay well and don't require costly degrees."