Construction employers added 16,000 jobs and the sector's unemployment rate fell to 7 percent, the lowest rate for September in years, according to an analysis released Friday by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the construction employment gains come as more firms report having a hard time finding enough qualified workers to fill available positions, citing the lack of local vocational training programs, especially at the secondary level.
"While we are eager to see even more construction employment gains, there is no denying the fact that the industry has been in recovery mode for much of the past three years," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association's chief executive officer. "But the industry won't be able to keep filling positions if there aren't enough qualified workers available to fill them."
Construction employment totaled 6,079,000 in September, the highest total since May 2009, with a 12-month gain of 230,000 jobs or 3.9 percent, Sandherr noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 11,800 employees since August and 129,400 (5.9 percent) over 12 months.
Nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors hired a net of 3,700 workers for the month and 100,300 (2.7 percent) since September 2013. However, heavy and civil engineering contractors, which perform the majority of public-sector construction, increased their headcount by only 500 in September and 29,000 (3.3 percent) over the year amid tight government budget conditions.
The number of workers who said they looked for work in the past month and had last worked in construction fell to 604,000 in September. The last time the number of unemployed construction workers dropped that low was August 2007, a time when the construction industry was struggling with widespread construction worker shortages that prompted project delays and increased costs, Sandherr cautioned.
Association officials said many firms cite the lack of local, secondary-level vocational programs as one of the causes for the worker shortages. As a result, association officials continued to urge federal, state and local officials to enact the series of measures the association identified in its Workforce Development Plan that will make it easier for school districts, local associations and private firms to establish career and technical education and training programs.
"Labor shortages happen when a growing industry meets a stagnant pool of qualified workers," said Sandherr. "It is time to align our education and training systems with current economic conditions so more young people can benefit from the rebound in construction demand."