National construction employment edged up by 2,000 jobs between March and April as contractors scrambled to find workers in an increasingly tight labor market, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America of new government data.
Association leaders urged officials in Washington to address both short- and long-term worker shortages with expanded permits for foreign-born workers and support for career training and education to enable more workers to acquire the skills for high-paying construction careers.
Employment data table from the AGC
“The pause in employment gains last month most likely signifies a shortage of qualified workers, rather than any slowdown in demand for projects,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, based in the Washington DC area. “In fact, job openings in construction hit an all-time high at the end of March, while the industry’s unemployment rate was the lowest ever recorded for April.”
The unemployment rate among jobseekers with construction experience tumbled from 7.7 percent in April 2021 to 4.6 percent last month, the lowest April rate since the series began in 2000. The number of unemployed construction workers fell by 304,000 or 40 percent to 464,000, a 22-year low for April.
There were 415,000 construction-industry job openings at the end of March, a jump of 69,000 or 20 percent from March 2021. That was the largest total for any month since that series began in 2000, Simonson noted, citing government data released on Wednesday.
Total construction employment inched up by 2,000 employees to 7,628,000 in April. Employment in residential construction rose by 3,800 workers, including 2,500 employed by homebuilders and multifamily general contractors and 1,300 at residential specialty trade contractors.
Employment dipped by 2,000 at nonresidential construction firms, the first decline in eight months. The losses were limited to nonresidential specialty trade contractors, which shed 6,400 employees. General building contractors added 3,900 workers, while heavy and civil engineering construction firms added 500 employees.
Association officials said demand for construction workers remains strong and will grow further as funds are awarded from the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure law. To meet that demand, they called for an immediate expansion of work permits for foreign-born workers. To ensure more Americans have the skills for high-paying careers in construction, officials called on Congress and the Biden administration to add funding for career and technical education and to support a wider range of apprenticeship and training opportunities.
“With an overall unemployment rate approaching all-time lows, it is clear that employers in general–and construction firms in particular–need more foreign-born workers immediately,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “It is also vital to provide more opportunities for American students and workers to gain construction skills through a range of career education, training, and apprenticeship programs.”