Construction employment increased by 33,000 jobs in April 2019 and by 256,000 over the past 12 months, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the number of unemployed jobseekers in the construction industry fell to a record low for April. However, with unemployment low, the industry is still in need of workers.
"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% 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% from 6.5% 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% over the year to $30.60. That figure was 10.2% 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% of contractors reported they were having trouble filling some positions and 68% 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."