Construction employment increased in three-fifths of metro areas between August 2015 and August 2016 — the smallest share in nearly three and a half years — as contractors in many areas report difficulty in finding qualified workers, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released today by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the new data underscores the need to make it easier for school officials to set up programs that teach skills like construction.
“While the number of metro areas with employment increases has been slipping, the number with decreases — 76 in August — has held roughly steady,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Meanwhile, job openings have been at a 10-year high but hiring has stalled in many parts of the country. Together, these facts make it clear that the slowdown in hiring has more to do with workforce shortages than shortages of work.”
Construction employment increased in 220, or 61 percent, of 358 metro areas in the past year, held steady in 62 areas, and declined in 76 areas. The number of areas with gains was the smallest since April 2013, the economist noted. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. added the most construction jobs during the past year (11,400 jobs, 12 percent), followed by Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, Calif. (10,200 jobs, 11 percent); Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (10,200 jobs, 17 percent); Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Ga. (7,700 jobs, 7 percent) and Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, Calif. (7,400 jobs, 14 percent). The largest percentage gains occurred in Boise City, Idaho (24 percent, 4,500 jobs) and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford.
The largest job losses from August 2015 to August 2016 were in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (-3,700 jobs, -2 percent), followed by Birmingham-Hoover, Ala. (-1,500 jobs, -6 percent) and Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky. (-1,400 jobs, -5 percent). The largest percentage declines for the past year were in Bloomington, Ill. (-16 percent, -500 jobs); Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville, Ala. (-11 percent, -100 jobs); Dothan, Ala. (-11 percent, -300 jobs); and Lawton, Okla. (-11 percent, -200 jobs).
Association officials said the new construction employment figures, combined with recent data on job openings in the sector, make it clear that firms in many parts of the country are having a hard time finding enough workers to hire. They added that the data is consistent with survey results the association released last month showing two-thirds of construction firms are having a hard time finding qualified craft workers to hire.
“Many firms would be hiring more people if only they could find qualified applicants to bring onboard,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer, who urged the Senate to act quickly on a House-passed measure to reform and boost funding for career and technical education programs. “Making it easier for school officials to offer programs that prepare students for high-paying careers in construction will certainly help overcome chronic workforce shortages in the industry.”