Construction employment up, but contractors struggling to find workers

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Chicago Construction News staff writer

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Construction employment increased in 250 or 70 percent of 358 metro areas across the U.S. from July 2021 to July 2022, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) of new government employment data.

However, most construction companies report struggling to find enough qualified workers to hire, according to a survey by the association and Autodesk.

Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, Ill. Added the second most jobs (8,100 jobs, 6 percent), behind only Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (up 31,000 jobs or 15 percent).

Cheyenne, Wyo. had the largest percentage gain (17 percent, 700 jobs), followed by Bloomington, Ill. (16 percent, 500 jobs) and Duluth, Minn.-Wis. (16 percent, 1,500 jobs).

“It is good to see construction employment top year-ago levels in more than two-thirds of the nation’s metro areas,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “However, the record number of construction job openings at the end of June and the near-record low for construction unemployment, as well as our own survey, indicate industry employment would have been even higher if there were enough qualified workers.”

The unemployment rate for jobseekers with construction experience plunged to 3.5 percent in July from 6.1 percent a year earlier, Simonson noted. He added that there were 330,000 job openings in construction at the end of June, the highest June total in the 22-year history of the government data.

Construction jobs declined over the year in 59 metro areas and were unchanged in 49 areas. The largest loss occurred in Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (-6,300 jobs, -8 percent), followed by Bergen-Hudson-Passaic, N.J. (-3,400 jobs, -11 percent); Richmond, Va. (-2,500 jobs, -6 percent) and Baton Rouge, La. (-2,300 jobs, -6 percent).

The largest percentage decline was in Bergen-Hudson-Passaic, followed by Monroe, Mich. (-10 percent, -200 jobs); Ithaca, N.Y. (-8 percent, -100 jobs); Charleston, W. Va.; and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford.

Association officials said workforce shortages may undermine the potential benefits of new federal investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, and energy production. They urged public leaders to boost investments in construction-focused career and technical education programs to expose more current and future workers to construction career opportunities. They also called for allowing more workers with construction skills to lawfully enter the country to help firms keep pace with demand.

“In much of the country demand is beginning to outpace the supply of available workers,” association Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Getting more people into high-paying construction careers will help modernize infrastructure, expand manufacturing and deliver greener, more reliable energy.”

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