Construction employers added 12,000 jobs in October and the sector's unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent, the lowest rate for October since 2006, according to an analysis released by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Association officials said the construction employment gains, along with rising wages and weekly hours, are consistent with survey results showing more firms having a hard time finding enough qualified workers to fill available positions.
Construction employment totaled 6,095,000 in October, the highest total since May 2009, with a 12-month gain of 231,000 jobs or 3.9 percent, Ken Simonson, the AGC's chief economist, noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 8,000 employees since September and 130,600 (6.0 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential contractors—building, specialty trades, and heavy and civil engineering—experienced an overall gain of 3,600 employees for the month and 99,800 (2.7 percent) over 12 months.
“For the past several months, the construction industry has added jobs at double the all-industry rate of 1.9 percent rate,” Simonson said. “Construction wages, which were already higher than the private-sector average, rose 2.6 percent in the last year—the fastest rate since early 2010—as contractors ramped up their search for qualified workers.”
Simonson added, “There were fewer unemployed, experienced construction workers last month than at any time in the past eight years. Meanwhile, all construction employees worked an average of 39.2 hours per week, tying the highest mark since that series began in March 2006. Together, these indicators—high weekly hours, low unemployment and accelerating wage gains—point to an industry that may be on the verge of acute difficulty filling key positions.”
AGC officials said a survey of nearly 1,100 member firms released in October showed 83 percent of respondents reported difficulty finding craft workers and 61 percent said other professional positions were hard to fill. As a result, association officials continued to urge federal, state and local officials to enact the series of measures the association identified in its Workforce Development Plan that will make it easier for school districts, local associations and private firms to establish career and technical education and training programs.
“The construction industry has made an impressive contribution to the nation’s employment gains this year,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC's CEO. “But those gains are in jeopardy unless schools, colleges and training programs can refill a pool of talent that is rapidly drying up.”