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Construction Jobs Hit High, Labor Shortage Still Hampering Growth: Trade Groups

Construction employment hit a 10-year high in 2018, adding 19,000 jobs last month, according to information from the Associated General Contractors of America.

An analysis from the organization found firms would have hired additional workers had they been able to locate more qualified candidates. The labor shortage, though, has hampered the industry's growth, with some calling for an extra emphasis on vocational training.

“The construction industry has added workers at nearly three times the rate of the economy as a whole, and the job gains are showing up in both residential and non-residential construction,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But it is getting ever harder for contractors to find workers despite offering above-average pay and good career advancement opportunities.”

According to data from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), construction employment was up by 303,000 jobs this year, with the unemployment rate for the industry at an all-time low. Construction employment totaled 7,242,000, which is the highest total since May of 2008 and up 4.4% year-over-year.

In hopes it can address the shortage in qualified workers, Congress recently reauthorized a federal program aimed at supporting vocational training. Greg Sizemore, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) vice president of environment, health, safety and workforce development, praised the passage of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in a recent statement.

“With strong support from the Trump administration, Congress has modernized and improved its flagship career education grant program to meet the evolving needs of our workforce and marketplace,” said Sizemore. “There are 500,000 jobs ready to be filled in the construction industry alone, a number which will continue to grow if we don’t join forces to expand collaboration between industry and educators and focus on effective work-based learning.”

According to information from the ABC, the organization supports the legislation's emphasis on "employer engagement in career education." Specifically, it will give businesses the chance to have input in the job development curricula, and give local and state education officials, and educators, a chance to consult with employers "at virtually every state of planning, launching, implementing and evaluating a career education program or pathway.

It also supports "funding work-based learning at the state and local levels and through the innovation and modernization grant program." AGC Chief Executive Officer Stephen E. Sandherr said, to address the labor shortage, education officials should highlight the benefits of working in construction, such as the competitive pay and opportunities for growth.

“Making it easier to set up construction-focused school programs will help expose more students to construction as a possible career path,” said Sandherr. “Education officials can also do more to explain to students that construction pays better than most jobs, typically doesn’t require an expensive four-year degree and offers significant opportunities for advancement.”

According to information from the AGC, hourly earnings averaged $29.86 in July, up 3.2% from July of last year. As such, hourly construction earnings are 10.4% higher than the average non-farm private sector jobs.

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