Construction employment reached a 50-month high as employers in the sector added 11,000 jobs in October, according to an analysis of federal data from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). This marks the fifth consecutive month of job gains in the sector as industry unemployment fell to 9 percent.
“After some very dramatic declines and years of sluggish growth, the construction industry is slowly adding jobs,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “The federal government shutdown did not appear to have undermined construction job growth in the short term probably because it did not significantly impact projects that were already underway.”
Construction employment totaled 5,834,000 in October, an increase of 185,000 from a year earlier, and is now at the highest level since August 2009. Simonson noted that the October increase was the fifth consecutive month of construction job growth. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 11.4 percent in October 2012 to 9 percent last month.
Nonresidential construction firms added 6,600 new jobs in October while residential firms added 4,800 jobs. Within the nonresidential sector, heavy and civil engineering firms added only 200 jobs. Declining public sector demand and not the federal shutdown, Simonson noted, likely caused the modest increase for that sector.
As the industry continues to add new jobs, many firms report they are having a hard time finding qualified workers to fill key positions. The number of unemployed construction workers has declined at a faster rate than the industry has added jobs as laid-off workers either retire or found work in other sectors. During the past three years, the number of unemployed construction workers has declined by 712,000 while construction firms have added 323,000 new jobs, Simonson said.
AGC officials said another reason construction employers were worried about finding enough qualified workers is the limited number of career and technical education and training programs that exist. They noted that many school districts have eliminated vocational education programs in the past several decades. AGC is preparing a series of proposals to increase the number of career and technical education and training opportunities, which will be released later this year.
“While we have a long way to go before construction employment hits pre-recession levels, we need to take steps now to keep up with growing demand,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC's CEO. “The last thing we want is for the lack of qualified workers to undermine the sector’s recovery.”