Trades Talent Dearth Tempers Strong Construction Employment Figures

An Associated General Contractors of America analysis of federal government data finds a mixed bag of positive indicators and growth constraints: Construction employment held steady in June at the highest level in six years, while the number of unemployed workers with industry experience fell to the lowest total since 2001, and contractors in many parts of the country are having a hard time finding enough qualified workers.


“Expanding job opportunities throughout the economy make it increasingly difficult for contractors to find experienced construction workers,” affirms AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson. “This scarcity shows up in record workweeks for craft workers and flattening of employment totals despite higher construction spending.”

Construction employment totaled 6,380,000 in June, matching the revised May figure, which was the highest since March 2009. The number of unemployed workers who reported last working in construction totaled 522,000, the lowest amount in 14 years. Average weekly hours for construction craft workers and other “production and nonsupervisory employees” rose to 39.9 hours, the highest June level since data collection began in 1947.

“Reports from around the country and recent Census Bureau data on construction spending show there is plenty of demand for new construction, especially apartments and a variety of private nonresidential projects,” Simonson notes. “Until now, all segments of the industry have added workers at a faster rate than the overall economy. But some projects may be delayed or put on hold without new measures to recruit and prepare future workers.”

Overall construction employment was unchanged from May to June but increased by 4.2 percent (259,000 employees) between June 2014 and June 2015, he notes, adding that the growth rate was double the 2.1 percent increase in total nonfarm payroll employment over the past 12 months. Residential (building and specialty trades) construction employment dipped by 2,400 for the month but increased by 127,000 (5.5 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential (building, specialty trades, and heavy and civil engineering) construction employment rose by 2,700 for the month and 131,800 (3.5 percent) over 12 months.

Association officials continued to urge federal, state and local officials to take measures, like the ones outlined in their Workforce Development Plan, to expand recruiting and training opportunities for new construction workers. Without those new measures, many firms are likely to struggle to find enough workers as demand for construction services expands. “Too few students are even getting exposed to the idea that working in construction is a viable, and high paying, career option,” affirms AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr. “Until officials take steps to rebuild what was once a robust vocational education system in this country, there won’t be enough construction workers to complete projects in a timely fashion.”