According to the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America), the construction industry added 11,000 jobs in September as unemployment rates for the sector remained at historically low levels. This, in turn, prompted contractors to raise pay faster than for other jobs. Association officials noted the number of people working on nonresidential construction projects declined for the month as firms struggle to find enough workers to hire amid tight labor conditions, and now the concerns of global unrest.
Construction firms have plenty of projects, it seems, but a dip in nonresidential employment shows how hard it has been to find enough skilled workers. Job openings remain stubbornly high, even though the industry has been raising hourly pay at an elevated rate.
The industry has added 217,000 jobs during the past 12 months, an increase of 2.8%. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 12,600 employees in September and 55,300 (1.7%) over 12 months. Employment at nonresidential construction firms—nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors along with heavy and civil engineering construction firms—declined by 1,300 positions for the month but increased by 161,600 (3.5%) since September 2022.
Success in finding experienced workers, as well as those with training in specialized skills, depends on the market’s unemployment rate among other elements. The unemployment rate among jobseekers with construction experience was 3.8% in September, one of the lowest September rates in the 24-year history of the AGC’s data. The government reported there were 360,00 job openings in construction at the end of August, the second-highest August total in series history, and a further sign of contractors’ difficulty in finding qualified workers.
Using the standard recruiting method of raising pay scales, the average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in construction—covering most onsite craft workers as well as many office workers—climbed by 5.5% over the year to $34.54 per hour. Construction firms in August provided a wage “premium” of nearly 19% compared to the average hourly earnings for all private-sector production employees.
AGC officials believe too few future workers are exposed to construction as a possible career opportunity, despite the fact the profession pays very well and typically does not require workers to have a college degree. They urged public officials to boost investments in programs that expose workers to construction as a career opportunity. And they also called on Congress and the Biden administration to find ways to allow more people with construction skills to lawfully enter the country and work in the profession.
The response? The U.S. Dept. of Labor announced the award of $5 million to organizations in seven states to increase the numbers of women in Registered Apprenticeship programs. The announcement of the WANTO (Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations) grants was made at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. Dept. leaders joined AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler to showcase the work of the labor organization’s Working for America Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. The institute received a $713,892 grant to support its pre-apprenticeship program’s effort to recruit women of color in the region.
Women make up nearly half of the nation’s workforce but remain vastly underrepresented in industries like construction. The WANTO program prepares women for such careers and provides the technical assistance to employers and unions to recruit and retain more women effectively.
The WANTO program seeks to increase employment of women in apprenticeships by supporting community-based organizations that develop pre-apprenticeship programs to help women succeed in industries where they are typically underrepresented, including construction. A portion of the grants awarded can be used to provide participants with support services such as childcare, transportation, tuition, and work-related gear.
Meanwhile, the OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) announced it is scaling up its Mega Construction Project (Megaproject) Program by designating 12 additional federally funded construction projects as Megaprojects. OFCCP launched the Megaproject Program in March 2023 to foster equal opportunity in the construction trades workforce, helping to expand access to the millions of jobs being created by the $2 trillion “Investing in America” agenda.
The Mega project Program brings the public and private sectors together on a select group of projects known as “Megaprojects,” where OFCCP provides contractors and subcontractors compliance assistance to strengthen recruitment, hiring, and employment practices, with a particular focus on removing barriers to opportunity for underrepresented communities including women, people of color, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. Megaprojects are large federal construction projects valued at $35 million or more—some part of which must be federal funding—and that last more than one year.
For the 12 newly designated Megaprojects, OFCCP partnered with the Dept. of Transportation, Dept. of Energy, General Services Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency. OFCCP applied a set of neutral criteria to designate Megaprojects from a wider pool of eligible projects. These newly designated projects build on OFCCP’s designation of 12 DOT-funded and GSA-funded Megaprojects earlier this year.
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