Construction employment grew in 265 of the country’s 358 metro areas, or 74 percent, between November 2017 and November 2018, according to an analysis of federal employment data recently released by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Employment in the industry declined in 45 metro areas and was unchanged in 48. In a written statement, association officials caution that employment gains may be tapering off because contractors cannot find enough qualified workers.
“Construction employment growth remains widespread, but as unemployment hits historic lows in many metros, contractors are having ever-increasing difficulty filling positions,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “As a result, construction employment may level off in more areas, even while the demand for projects—and workers—continues to be strong.”
The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metro area in Texas added the most construction jobs during the past year (24,000 jobs, 11 percent). Other metro areas adding a large amount of construction jobs during the past 12 months include Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona (17,500 jobs, 15 percent); Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (14,800 jobs, 10 percent); and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Florida (11,100 jobs, 15 percent). The largest percentage gain occurred in Weirton-Steubenville, West Virginia-Ohio (26 percent, 500 jobs), followed by New Bedford, Massachusetts (22 percent, 600 jobs) and Lewiston, Idaho-Washington (21percent, 300 jobs).
The largest job losses between November 2017 and November 2018 occurred in St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois (-4,500 jobs, -7 percent), followed by Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Maryland (-3,000 jobs, -4 percent) and Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, New Jersey (-2,400 jobs, -6 percent). The largest percentage decrease occurred in Laredo, Texas (-10 percent, -400 jobs), followed by Portland-South Portland, Maine (-9 percent, -900 jobs) and Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington (-8 percent, -1,100 jobs).
Simonson notes that in November, the number of unemployed job-seekers with recent construction experience—375,000—was the lowest yet for that month. Meanwhile, job openings in construction totaled 292,000 at the end of October, a jump of 59,000, or 25 percent, from a year earlier and the highest October level in the 18 years that the Labor Department has published the series. Together, these figures suggest contractors in many metro areas cannot find experienced workers to fill vacancies, Simonson says.
Association officials say the steep increase in job openings, along with the record low availability of workers with construction experience, underscores the need for policy measures to increase the supply of workers. AGC says they urge government officials to modernize career and technical education, double the funding over the next five years and enact immigration reforms that would enable construction employers to bring in international workers when there are not enough locally available construction workers.
“The construction industry makes a major contribution to the economies of metro areas nationwide, but those gains are at risk,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC’s chief executive officer. “Public officials should do their part to help local economies continue growing by overhauling career and technical education to prepare more students for rewarding and high-paying careers in construction. At the same time, immigration reform can provide needed short-term relief while communities rebuild the pipeline for recruiting and preparing local workers.”