The Associated General Contractors of America reports that construction employment jumped by the largest monthly amount in nearly seven years in January. This brings industry employment to the highest level since July 2009.

Association officials noted that, at the current rate of growth, it would not take long before many firms begin having difficulty finding enough skilled workers to meet demand.

“Despite a second month of unusually severe weather in much of the nation, contractors more than offset the job losses that occurred in December,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “All segments of the industry added workers for the month, and the sector has increased employment at nearly double the all-industry rate in the past 12 months.”

Construction employment totaled 5.9 million in January, the highest total in 4.5 years and an increase of 48,000 from a month earlier — the largest one-month gain since April 2007, Simonson noted. For the year, construction employment rose by 179,000 or 3.1%, compared with an increase of 1.7 percent for total nonfarm payroll employment. Nonresidential construction firms added 31,300 new jobs in January and 57,100 (1.6%) over 12 months while residential firms added 16,800 jobs for the month and 121,400 (5.8%) over the year.

The unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 16.1% in January 2013 to 12.3% last month — the lowest January rate since 2008.

“Construction demand for workers is likely to accelerate in 2014 as more projects relating to oil and gas, manufacturing, warehouse, and hotel construction break ground while demand for residential work — especially apartments — remains strong,” Simonson said. “It will be a challenge for contractors in many regions and specialties to find enough employees to perform the work ahead.”

Association officials called on federal, state, and local leaders to take steps to make it easier for school districts, firms, and local construction associations to put in place training programs to prepare future construction workers. They added that they were finalizing a workforce development plan that identifies specific steps elected officials can take to improve the quality and quantity of career and technical training programs, especially at the secondary school level.

“Encouraging as it is to see firms adding job, there just aren’t that many construction workers in many parts of the country waiting to get called back to work,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Unless we act soon, many firms will be forced to delay projects as they scramble to find enough qualified workers to meet demand.”