Construction employment increased by 28,000 jobs in August, following a dip in hiring and spending in July, but contractors face a lack of experienced workers, according to an analysis of new government data and a new workforce survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said construction job growth would have been even higher but a majority of firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers.
“Construction firms have stayed busy, adding employees in the past year at nearly twice the rate of employers throughout the economy, but more than two-thirds of contractors report difficulty finding craft workers as the number of unemployed, experienced construction workers hit a 17-year low in August,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “Although construction spending has fluctuated recently, many contractors are still looking for qualified craft workers and project managers.”
Construction employment totaled 6,918,000 in August, an increase of 28,000 for the month and 214,000, or 3.2 percent, over 12 months. Industry employment had dipped by 3,000 in July. The economist pointed out that the growth rate from August 2016 to last month was nearly double the 1.7 percent uptick in total nonfarm payroll employment over that period. The number of unemployed persons whose last job was in construction fell for the eighth consecutive year to 448,000, the lowest August total for the series since 2000.
“With such a small pool of unemployed construction workers available, it is no wonder that 70 percent of the respondents to the association’s workforce survey released this week said they were having trouble filling a variety of hourly craft positions,” Simonson commented. “Half or more of the 1608 respondents said they were having trouble finding carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, concrete workers or plumbers. Some salaried positions—notably project managers and supervisors—are also hard to fill.”
A separate government report today showed construction spending in July, the latest month available, totaled $1.21 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, a decrease of 0.6 percent from the rate in June, but an increase of 1.8 percent from the July 2016 rate. The economist said the year-over-year growth was consistent with contractors’ reports that they still have plenty of projects and need more workers.
Construction officials urged federal, state and local leaders to act on measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan designed to help recruit and prepare more young adults for high-paying construction careers. In particular, they urged members of the Senate to pass a new Perkins Act that has already received widespread bipartisan support in the House. The measure increases funding for and reforms career and technical education programs, so more schools can offer construction-focused programs.
“Exposing students to construction as a career path will encourage more of them to pursue these high-paying careers,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. Click here to see the national survey results, analysis of the data and regional and state-by-state results.