Construction Employment at Highest Level since January 2009 While New Multi-Year Highway and Transit Law Should Help Boost Employment in Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction

Construction firms added 46,000 workers in November for the biggest monthly gain in employment for the sector since January 2014, as the industry’s unemployment rate declined to 6.2 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that the robust job gains come as demand for construction continues to expand and new federal transportation legislation will further boost employment in the sector.

“Construction firms appear to be having an easier time finding workers to hire after months of struggling with worker shortages,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “Between accelerating construction spending and new transportation investments coming online, construction employment should continue to grow at a steady rate for the next several months.”

Construction employment totaled 6,490,000 in November, the most since January 2009, and is up by 259,000 jobs compared to a year ago, a 4.2 percent increase. Residential construction increased by 32,100 in November and by 128,100, or 5.4 percent, compared to a year ago.  Nonresidential construction employers added 13,900 jobs for the month and 131,200 jobs compared to last November, a 3.4 percent increase.

The number of unemployed jobseekers in November who last worked in construction totaled 536,000. The unemployment rate for such workers was 6.2 percent, the lowest November number since 2007. Meanwhile, Census Bureau data released on December 1 showed that the growth in construction spending accelerated to seven-year high of 13 percent in the latest 12 months, October 2014 to October 2015.

Heavy and civil engineering construction, which covers highway building and many other types of infrastructure work, expanded at a slower rate than other industry segments, adding only 4,600 jobs in November and 26,000 for the year.  But the construction economist noted the recent passage of a new multi-year surface transportation measure should help boost employment in that sector as state and local officials are now able to plan larger, multi-year projects.

November marks the second month of large increases in construction employment, following several months of relatively little construction employment growth, the economist said. The recent surge in construction employment could indicate that firms are having more success recruiting and hiring new workers after months of struggling to cope with worker shortages, Simonson noted.   

Association officials said the new and much-needed highway and transit bill that Congress just passed will allow many transportation construction firms to expand their headcounts during the coming months, as long as they can find qualified workers to hire.  They added that many firms report trouble finding qualified workers, which is why federal, state and local officials should act on the measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to increase recruiting and training opportunities for new construction workers.

“For the first time since the downturn, we are likely to see robust demand coming from both the private and public sector for new construction projects,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “As long as the workers are there, firms are likely to keep hiring workers for the foreseeable future.”