Worker Shortage Possible as Construction Employment Soars

Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) warned that the combination of record-low numbers of unemployed job seekers and high weekly hour averages could point to a potential shortage of skilled workers. The group analyzed government employment data from March 2019.

"The data suggests that contractors are having a hard time finding qualified workers even though the industry pays better than the private sector as a whole," said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist.

AGC officials noted the lack of qualified construction workers could have an impact on future business and infrastructure projects, and have called on government officials to double funding for training programs and facilitate immigration for skilled workers before a shortage stalls infrastructure projects.

"Our member firms continue to worry about finding enough workers to fulfill the demand for construction," said Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC's CEO. "The only way to ensure that the construction industry continues to grow is to develop more skilled domestic workers that contractors need and to allow construction firms to seek qualified workers from outside the United States."

According to the group's analysis, total construction employment reached 7,447,000 in March 2019, rebounding from losses in February that Simonson attributed to extreme weather conditions.

Construction industry employees worked an average of 39.9 hours a week last month, which is the highest March rate in the 14-year history of the series. Average hourly earnings have increased by 3.3% since the same time last year, to $30.45.

The number of unemployed jobseekers whose last job was in construction set a record, as well. The 490,000 jobseekers last month constitute a record low since the series began in 2000; that number is also a steep decline from March 2016's 696,000 unemployed job seekers whose last job was in construction.