According to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), released in late April, 38 states and the District of Columbia added construction jobs between March 2017 and March 2018, while 29 states added construction jobs between February and March. With 164,000 net new jobs, U.S. employment growth in April maintained 2018’s solid pace. Growth was spread across industries, although professional services emerged as a clear leader during the month, accounting for roughly one-third of all gains.
However, AGC said job gains in construction are coming amid strong private-sector demand and new public-sector investments. Additionally, though the impact of the new Trump tariffs remains to be seen, strong reports in construction spending and forecasts for industry growth point to continued expansion in employment.
According to Dodge Data & Analytics, this year’s total starts are expected to climb to $765 billion – a three percent rise from 2017. The infrastructure and utility sectors are expected to drive this year’s prolonged boom, aided by Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.
But in a piece for Global Construction Review, AGC chief economist Ken Simonson warned, “The two greatest risks to future construction job growth are a lack of available, qualified workers and the potential impacts of new tariffs being imposed by and on the United States.”
Nonetheless, California added 54,400 jobs (6.8 percent) during the past year, Texas came in at 34,000 (4.8 percent), Florida tallied 31,600 jobs (6.3 percent), Pennsylvania boasted 13,600 (5.6 percent), Michigan added 12,100 jobs (7.5 percent) and West Virginia – consistently suffering from mining layoffs – added 3,400 construction jobs (11.2 percent – the highest percentage in the past year).
AGC also noted that while widespread job gains were welcome news, the new tariffs and counter measures from other trading partners could undermine demand for construction of shipping, logistics and manufacturing facilities.
A familiar tune
Unfortunately, while some headlines evolve, it would seem that others remain static. According to an AGC report, about 50 percent of companies reported having a difficult time filling both craft and salaried worker positions. And in 2018, 53 percent of companies told AGC they expect to continue struggling to find qualified applicants – despite efforts to attract workers like increasing base pay and offering incentives and bonuses.
In a piece for FOX Business, Stephen Mulva, director of the Construction Industry Institute, said, “The general population doesn’t know how rewarding and profitable construction jobs can be. Six-figure salaries are not uncommon.”
He added that some of the positions that can lead to those lucrative salaries include welders, foremen and even some craft professionals, like instrument techs and crane operators.
But despite the lowest unemployment rate since 2000, many employers are still feeling the heat, especially with skilled labor. The skills gap is a complicated problem, with around 80 percent of business leaders acknowledging it as a serious issue their companies face.
Many experts think the shortage of talent with job-related skills is going to get worse as more jobs are created, more Baby Boomers retire and the unemployment rate continues to drop. Businesses are scrambling to find ways to overcome the shortage – from loosening job requirements to providing better benefits.
Perhaps we can take comfort in the knowledge that factory jobs were again on the rise as employment in manufacturing has steadily increased under President Trump, adding 245,000 jobs over the last year. This could be a sign that manufacturers are weathering the tariff uncertainty.
Meanwhile, it’s on us to continue to set the standard in safety and productivity in the construction and transport industry, working together to confront this employment crisis and endeavor to grow a workforce that will lift and move the world for generations to come.