More workers may be attracted to the construction industry because of wage increases, but there’s still a gap between the number of workers now on payrolls and what contractors need to have to complete projects, according to a June 2022 analysis of government data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
In May, contractors added workers in each part of the industry, according to AGC’s analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment in residential construction rose by 16,700 workers, including 5,000 employed by home builders and multifamily general contractors and 11,700 at residential specialty trade contractors. Nonresidential firms added 19,400 employees, including 2,400 at general building contractors, 5,700 at nonresidential specialty trade contractors and 11,300 at heavy and civil engineering construction firms.
Higher pay likely attracted more workers to the industry, the AGC concluded¾average wages for hourly workers in the trades and other nonsupervisory roles in the industry rose 6.3% in May from a year earlier. However, while that’s the largest year-over-year increase since December 1982, average wages across the private sector rose even higher at 6.5%, and so many workers chose other industries instead.
Although the construction industry overall added 36,000 workers in May to total 7.66 million in the workforce, there were still 494,000 job openings at the end of April, 40% higher than a year earlier¾and the largest total for any month since that series began in 2000.
“It is encouraging that contractors were able to add workers in May, but they will need many more to meet the increasing demand for infrastructure and private nonresidential projects,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “Despite steeply rising pay for hourly workers, job openings in construction hit an all-time high at the end of April, while the industry’s low unemployment rate suggests experienced workers are scarce.”
Indeed, the unemployment rate among those with construction experience fell from 6.7% in May 2021 to 3.8% last month, and there are now just 250,000 left in the prospective candidate pool, which is not enough for the industry’s needs.
AGC officials cautioned that the lack of available workers is undermining construction activity. They urged public officials at all levels to put in place more training programs to expose high school students and adults to career opportunities in construction.
“There is no shortage of available, good-paying career opportunities in the construction industry,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “Public officials should be exposing people to construction career opportunities that pay well and don’t require a college degree and the debt that all too often comes with it.”