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Jitters Amid U.S. Job Improvement

Thursday, May 15, 2014

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Construction unemployment in the U.S. has dived to a seven-year low, sparking another call for increased training to head off labor shortages during the industry's recovery.

Six million people now work construction in the United States, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America.

Members of those growing ranks are also logging more hours, prompting AGC to repeat its call for expanded training and its warnings about labor shortages.

The unemployment rate in construction last month dropped to the lowest April level in seven years, as contractors added 32,000 workers.

Women in construction Ken Simonson
OSHA (left); AGC (right)

U.S. construction employment reached a five-year high in April, but the drop in unemployed former construction workers "may make it harder to keep adding employees,” said AGC's Ken Simonson (right).

“It is heartening that all categories of construction employers added workers—not only in April, but over the past 12 months,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist.

“Moreover, contractors have been adding to workers’ hours as well as hiring more employees.”

Who Grew

Construction employment totaled six million in April—a gain of 189,000, or 3.3 percent, from a year earlier. Meanwhile, aggregate hours worked rose by 3.8 percent, Simonson noted.

Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined total of 13,100 workers in April and 107,900 (5.0 percent) over 12 months.

Nonresidential construction—building, specialty trades and heavy and civil engineering contractors—grew by 18,600 employees last month and 81,300 (2.2 percent) since April 2013.

The employment boom continues a trend underway for several years. In March, AGC reported that all construction segments had added jobs in the prior 12 months.

"The rate of construction hiring has outpaced job growth in the overall economy for the past year," Simonson said then.

OT Overload?

The unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 13.2 percent in April 2013 to 9.4 percent in April 2014.

Construction work
OSHA

Without more training opportunities, construction employers will struggle to fill their workforce, said AGC chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr.

The unemployment rate for construction workers has plummeted by more than half since April 2010, when it was 21.8 percent. During those four years, the industry lost 1.1 million workers and gained fewer than 450,000.

“There is a limit to how much overtime workers can put in, and companies will be seeking to expand employment even faster if the volume of projects continues to grow,” Simonson added.

“But the huge drop in the number of unemployed former construction workers may make it harder to keep adding employees.”

Call for Training

Part of the decline comes from the lack of young blood to replace retiring workers—a perennial problem that AGC blames on a "sharp drop in the number of secondary-level construction training programs over the past several years.'

The organization urged federal, state and local officials to adopt measures to help schools, construction firms and local trade associations to start and expand training programs for future construction workers.

“If elected and appointed officials don’t act soon to improve the quantity and quality of training opportunities for future workers, many construction employers will struggle to find the workers they need,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer.

“It would be tragic if the construction industry can’t fill good-paying jobs because of a lack of trained recruits.”

Filling the Gap

Several programs have stepped in to fill the industry's recruiting, training and placement gap.

Construction worker
© iStock / korayhoylu

Aggregate construction hours worked increased by 3.8 percent in the past 12 months, while the workforce increased by 3.2 percent, AGC reported.

The newest is the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades' (IUPAT) Painters and Allied Trades Veterans Program (PAT-VP), which offers free training in commercial and industrial coatings and other skill areas to veterans and transitioning service members.

In addition, a coalition of construction employers and associations pledged in February to provide 100,000 "good-paying jobs" for U.S. veterans in the next five years.

In addition, the long-running Helmets to Hardhats national, nonprofit program connects National Guard, Reserve, retired and transitioning active-duty military service members with skilled training and career opportunities in the construction industry.

   

Tagged categories: Associated General Contractors (AGC); Commercial Construction; Construction; Hiring; Infrastructure; Residential Construction; Worker training; Workers

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