Construction employment increased by 33,000 jobs in April and by 256,000 or 3.5 percent, over the past 12 months, while the number of unemployed jobseekers with construction fell to a record low for April, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the unavailability of experienced construction workers underscores the importance of including initiatives to expand opportunities for construction careers as part of infrastructure funding legislation.
"With overall unemployment now at the lowest level in nearly 50 years, contractors are having an ever harder time finding workers with or without construction experience," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "Average pay in construction is more than 10 percent higher than in the private sector as a whole but job openings in the industry keep climbing."
The unemployment rate for jobseekers who last worked in construction declined to 4.7 percent from 6.5 percent in April 2018, and the number of such workers decreased over the year from 623,000 to 439,000. Both the rate and number of unemployed were the lowest for April since the series began in 2000, Simonson said. He added that another government series showed that the number of job openings in construction, last reported for February, totaled 286,000, the highest February total in the 19-year history of that series.
Average hourly earnings in construction—a measure of all wages and salaries—increased 3.1 percent over the year to $30.60. That figure was 10.2 percent higher than the private-sector average of $27.77, the economist noted.
"These figures are consistent with the message we keep hearing from contractors that finding qualified workers keeps getting harder," Simonson added. He noted that in a survey the association released in January, 78 percent of contractors reported they were having trouble filling some positions and 68 percent said they expected that hiring would remain difficult or become harder.
Association officials said that adding to the pool of potential construction workers is essential, especially if Congress and the president agree on a bold infrastructure funding package. They urged federal officials to include in such legislation initiatives to expand career and technical education that would open the door to careers in construction.
"Including funding for new career and technical education training in a new infrastructure measure will help ensure that the measure creates a significant number of new, high-paying, construction jobs," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "These new jobs will significantly benefit the economy, as will the increased efficiencies that come with improving aging and over-burdened infrastructure."