Construction employers added 17,000 jobs in November as the sector’s employment hit the highest level since August 2009, and the industry unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that the new employment figures come as construction spending levels hit a four-year high in October.
“While these new employment figures are very encouraging, growth remains uneven by segment, region and time period,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. “There are likely to be continuing variations in growth between homebuilding, private nonresidential and public sector.”
Construction employment totaled 5.9 million in November, an increase of 178,000 from a year earlier, Simonson noted. But while employment grew by 3.1 percent during the past year, construction employment remains nearly 1.9 million below the sector’s April 2006 peak. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 12.2 percent in November 2012 to 8.6 percent last month.
Nonresidential construction firms added 7,900 new jobs in November while residential firms added 8,400 jobs. While every segment of the construction industry added jobs in November, heavy and civil engineering firms – which are most likely to perform federal construction work – added the least amount, only 200 jobs. Meanwhile residential specialty trade contractors added the most new jobs during the past month, 7,100.
The number of unemployed construction workers dropped from 988,000 in November 2012 to 706,000 in November 2013, a decline of 282,000. Yet the industry added only 178,000 new jobs during the same timeframe. Many unemployed construction workers appear to be leaving the sector’s workforce, either for jobs in other industries or to retire, Simonson noted. He added that the shrinking pool of available construction workers may be one reason so many firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers.
Association officials said that the new employment figures highlight a number of challenges facing the industry. As the sector expands, more firms are likely to struggle to find qualified workers amid declining investments in secondary career and technical education programs. In addition, the heavy and civil engineering construction sector continues to struggle amid uncertainty about federal investments in infrastructure and other construction programs.
“Many contractors are wondering if the sector will continue to expand and, if it does, how they are going to find enough qualified workers,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer.