National – Construction employers added 48,000 jobs in December and 290,000 for the year, the largest annual increase since 2005, as the sector’s unemployment rate fell to 8.3%, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said many firms are expanding payrolls to keep pace with growing construction demand, but are having a hard time finding qualified workers to fill key positions.
“Construction firms are clearly ramping up their hiring to keep up with swelling demand for construction,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Demand for workers to construct apartments, pipelines, and huge industrial projects is likely to remain robust in 2015.”
Construction employment totaled 6,166,000 in December, the highest level since March 2009, with a 12-month gain of 290,000 jobs or 4.9%, Simonson noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 13,500 employees since November and 132,100 (6%) over 12 months. Nonresidential contractors hired a net of 34,400 workers for the month and 158,200 (4.3%) since December 2013. The heavy and civil engineering construction segment, which includes pipelines, petrochemical and power plants, and public works construction, added 11,600 jobs in December and 57,900 (6.6%) over the year.
The number of workers who said they looked for work in the past month and had last worked in construction fell to 680,000 from 958,000 a year earlier. The latest total was lower than in any December since 2000. In addition, the average workweek for craft workers (“production and nonsupervisory employees”) lengthened to 40.1 hours, the most since the series began in 1947, as firms ask employees to work more overtime to make up for the difficulty in finding additional workers.
Association officials said the construction employment gains come as more contractors report having a hard time finding enough qualified workers to fill available positions. They urged Congress to act quickly to reform and increase funding for the Perkins Act, which funds most career and technical education programs in the country.
“We need to make sure our education system is giving students an opportunity to qualify for the high-paying opportunities that the construction industry is creating,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “The more paths to success we give students, the more likely they are to succeed.”