Data from the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) indicate that construction job openings declined in May off a cycle high count in April. The estimated number of job openings in the construction sector fell back to 369,000 after reaching a post-Great Recession high of 434,000 in April. The decline occurred with a somewhat elevated level of layoffs in the sector. The May 2019 count of unfilled jobs still represents a year-over-year gain relative to the 279,000 estimated unfilled construction jobs in May 2018.
The open position rate (job openings as a percentage of total employment plus current job openings) declined to 4.7% in May, after reaching a cycle high of 5.5% in April. On a smoothed, 12-month moving average basis, the open position rate for the construction sector increased to 4.2%. The peak (smoothed) rate during the building boom prior to the recession was just below 2.7%. For the current cycle, the sector has been above that rate since October 2016.
The overall trend for open construction jobs has been increasing since the end of the Great Recession. This matches survey data revealing that access to labor remains a top business challenge for builders. However, more modest growth rates for housing construction for 2019 and 2020 are likely to place downward pressure on construction job openings in future data releases. That is, 2019 may be the year in which the job openings rate for construction levels off, albeit at elevated levels. This would nonetheless be a continuing sign for the need for additional worker recruitment into the industry.
The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a 12-month moving average basis, cooled to 5.4% in May. The 12-month moving average for layoffs increased to 2.4%, after somewhat elevated levels of construction layoffs in April and May (the highest counts since the end of 2016).