Construction employment in July continued to trail pre-pandemic levels in 15 states as contractors struggled to find qualified workers to fill openings, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America on Aug 19. Association officials called on government officials to allow employers to sponsor more foreign-born workers and support more career and technical education to broaden opportunities for individuals to gain construction skills.
The data shows the DC experienced the greatest percentage construction employment decline in the nation in the month, declining by 3.2% or 500 jobs. The numbers are somewhat better statewide in Virginia and Maryland, with a gain of 200 jobs in Maryland, and a flat employment number figure in Virginia. (The state-wide figures however don’t focus on the Washington metropolitan area.)
The story in the rest of the nation is employment challenges caused by a lack of skilled labor, AGC reports.
“Although demand for projects is strong, there are too many states where contractors can’t find enough workers,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The high level of openings and low unemployment rate among experienced construction workers shows the industry needs more workers.”
Construction employment in July lagged the total in February 2020—the month before the coronavirus pandemic caused huge job losses—in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The biggest gap was in New York (-38,800 jobs, -9.5 percent), followed by Pennsylvania (-10,000 jobs, -3.7 percent), New Jersey (-8,800 jobs, -5.4 percent), Louisiana (-6,600 jobs, -4.8 percent), and Maryland (-5.8 percent, -2,200 jobs). New York had the largest percentage shortfall, followed by Hawaii (-6.6 percent, -2,500 jobs), New Jersey, and Louisiana.
July employment topped the February 2020 level in 33 states and matched it in Michigan and Ohio. Florida added the most jobs (18,200 jobs, 3.2 percent), followed by Utah (15,800 jobs, 13.9 percent) and Tennessee (15,500 jobs, 11.7 percent). The top percentage gains were in Utah, South Dakota (12.9 percent, 3,100 jobs), Idaho (12.9 percent, 7,100 jobs), and Tennessee.
In July, 32 states added construction jobs, 16 states and the District of Columbia lost jobs, and there was no change in Idaho and Rhode Island. California added the most construction jobs over the month (11,400 jobs, 1.3 percent), followed by Florida (7,700 jobs, 1.3 percent), Alabama (3,100 jobs, 3.1 percent) and Texas (3,100 jobs, 0.4 percent). North Dakota had the largest percentage gain (3.7 percent, 1,000 jobs), followed by Alabama, Wyoming (2.7 percent, 600 jobs) and Connecticut (2.5 percent, 1,500 jobs).
New York lost the most construction jobs in July (-2,000 jobs, -0.5 percent), followed by Louisiana (-1,500 jobs, -1.1 percent) and Illinois (-1,400 jobs, -0.6 percent). The largest percentage loss was in D.C. (-3.2 percent, -500 jobs), followed by Louisiana and West Virginia (-0.9 percent, -300 jobs).
Association officials said there is plenty of demand for construction, especially for infrastructure, manufacturing plants, and power and energy projects. They urged government officials to ease sponsorship of qualified foreign-born workers and increase training and education programs to widen job opportunities.
“The fastest way to ensure there are enough workers for urgently needed projects is to enable employers to sponsor qualified foreign-born workers,” said Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “In addition, all levels of government must invest more in career and technical education and training to provide individuals with the skills needed to qualify for rewarding, well-paying careers in construction.”