Construction employment increased by 7,000 in May, helping to push the industry’s unemployment rate down to the lowest May level in five years, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the relatively positive jobs report for the sector underscores the need to address potential shortages of skilled workers.
“Although the monthly job gain in May was modest, both residential and nonresidential construction have been adding workers at roughly double the rate of the overall economy in the past year,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “At the same time, formerly unemployed construction workers are finding jobs in other sectors, retiring or going back to school. These conditions may lead abruptly to worker shortages in parts of the industry, such as welders and pipefitters.”
Construction employment in May totaled 5,804,000, an increase of 189,000 or 3.4 percent over the past year. Aggregate weekly hours of all new and existing construction employees expanded by 5.2 percent from a year earlier. The unemployment rate for workers who last worked in construction dropped to 10.8 percent from 14.2 percent in May 2012, not seasonally adjusted, and the number of unemployed construction workers shrank over the year by 259,000 to 891,000. The latest numbers were the best May figures for each series since May 2008, Simonson noted.
Employment expanded in both residential and nonresidential construction in May, Simonson observed. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 5,500 workers for the month and 94,400 (4.6 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential building, specialty trade and heavy and civil engineering construction firms grew by 1,700 workers in May and 95,500 (3.7 percent) from a year earlier. In a positive indicator for future construction growth, architectural and engineering services employers added 2.1 percent to their workforces over the year.
Association officials said there was still time to avoid some of the future worker shortages that will come if the industry continues to add jobs over the coming months. They urged education officials to rebuild skills-based, or vocational, educational programs designed to help prepare students for careers in construction and manufacturing. And they urged Congress and the administration to reject the arbitrary caps on construction workers that are currently included in proposed immigration legislation.
“Just as contractors found ways to cope with the downturn, we need to make sure we are able to address the challenges that will come with the sector’s eventual recovery,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “One of the biggest challenges this industry faces is limited supply of skilled construction workers available to meet the kind of demand we all hope the industry will soon experience.”