The construction industry added 20,000 employees in November month over month, after adding just 1,000 in October. A boost in wages for hourly workers vs. competing industries drove the sector’s unemployment rate lower, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) said in a statement.
The struggle to locate qualified workers continued, though, the report, released Dec. 2, said. Labor Department data shows firms would have added significantly more workers if they were available.
“It is heartening that both residential and nonresidential construction firms were able to add employees in November,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “But the number of job openings continues to outpace hiring, suggesting employers wanted to bring on many more workers than they are able to find.”
Construction employment totaled a record-high 7,750,000 in November, up 20,000 for the month, and 248,000, or 3.3%, vs. the same year-ago period.
Nonresidential firms—including nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors, along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms—added 16,300 employees last month, while residential building and specialty trade contractors together added 3,900 employees.
Pay levels in the industry continued to increase at a faster pace than in the overall private sector in November. Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory construction workers climbed 6.1% to $32.94 last month from $31.04 a year earlier. That increase exceeded the 5.8% rise in average pay for all private-sector production workers.
Such construction workers now earn an average of 17.2% more per hour than in the private sector as a whole, the report said.
The unemployment rate among jobseekers with construction experience decreased in November to 3.9% from 4.7% the year prior. The measure ties 2018 for the lowest November rate on record. The number of unemployed construction workers fell 16% last month to 393,000 from 469,000 in the year-ago period.
A separate job openings report from the Labor Department showed 377,000 positions remained unfilled in the sector at the end of October. It exceeded the 341,000 new hires during that month. AGC said the excess job openings indicate the industry would have hired more than twice as many workers as it did.
AGC is taking steps to help the deficit, including recruiting campaigns and working to increase employee retention rates in the industry, but it said that far too few students are exposed to construction career opportunities as educators encourage most students to pursue college degrees and office jobs.
High-paying construction positions remain unfilled, as a result, while many college graduates struggle to pay off student loans in lower-paying jobs, AGC noted.
“Public officials are missing a great opportunity to put many more people on the path to financial security,” according to AGC’s CEO Stephen Sandherr. “Instead of encouraging students to amass even more debt, we should be exposing them to careers where they can earn a great living without worrying about unsustainable levels of college debt.”
By David Schollaert, David@SteelMarketUpdate.com
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