Construction employment increased by 17,000 jobs in April and by 257,000 jobs over the past year while firms boosted pay to help recruit new workers, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that the increases in pay appear to be attracting more former construction workers back into the job market, but cautioned that labor conditions remain extremely tight.
"Many firms are boosting pay and taking other steps to compete for a relatively small pool of available, qualified workers to hire," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's CEO. "While these steps appear to be luring more construction workers back to the job market, firms report they would hire even more workers if they could find enough qualified candidates."
Construction employment totaled 7,174,000 in April, a gain of 17,000 for the month and 257,000, or 3.7 percent, over 12 months. Construction employment is at the highest level since June 2008. Association officials pointed out that the year-over-year growth rate in industry jobs was more triple the 1.1 percent rise in total nonfarm payroll employment.
Hourly earnings in the industry averaged $29.63 in April, an increase of 3.5 percent from a year earlier. That put the average hourly earnings in construction 10.4 percent higher than the average for all nonfarm private-sector jobs, which rose 2.6 percent in the past year, to $26.84, Sandherr added.
The increases in pay appear to be attracting more people with prior construction experience back into the workforce, association officials added. They noted that the unemployment rate in construction increased from 6.3 percent a year ago to 6.5 percent last month. The number of unemployed job seekers with recent construction experience has increased 38,000 since April 2017.
Residential construction – comprising residential building and specialty trade contractors – grew by 7,500 jobs in April and added 125,500 jobs over the past 12 months, a 4.7 percent increase. Nonresidential construction – including building, specialty trades and heavy & civil engineering construction – employment grew by 7,600 jobs in April and increased by 131,700 during the past year, 3.1 percent increase.
Construction officials urged federal, state and local officials to take steps to make it easier for schools, construction firms and local associations to put in place construction-focused programs to recruit and prepare future construction workers. They noted that such measures would signal to more students that there are multiple paths to success in life.
"It is time to start showing more of our young adults that high-paying careers in construction should be on the list of professions they consider," Sandherr said. "Not every student needs to amass a mountain of college debt just to be able to make mediocre wages working in a fluorescent-lit cube farm."