New York Construction Report staff writer
You might describe the story about construction employment opportunities in the past year in the metropolitan New York area as a tale of two states.
According to data gathered by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA), Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island, and New York City reported the ninth and tenth most new jobs added across the nation between September 2017 and 2018, with a total of 13,700 new jobs created.
Meanwhile, Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean, Newark and Camden, New Jersey recorded the greatest jobs lost among 358 metropolitan areas in all 50 states, with an overall decline of 9,500 in the year.
The percentage losses in Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean and Camden NJ also were among the nation’s largest. The 11 percent decline in Camden and 10 percent loss in Middlesex-Monmouth-Ocean ranked those regions as having the second and third highest job losses, only exceeded by Spokane, Washington, which recorded a 14 percent employment decline.
On the other hand, the Long Island Nassau and Suffolk counties gained about 7,000 construction jobs – an eight percent rise for a total of about 89,700 people employed in construction.
New York City saw a four percent rise in construction employment, gaining about 6,700 jobs from September 2017. Construction employment in the Orange-Rockland-Westchester area was also up five percent, adding about 1,900 jobs from September 2017 and September 2018, according to the AGCA. However, Elmira recorded a six per cent decline, but the net job loss in this smaller community was only 100.
Nationally, the AGCA says construction employment increased by 30,000 jobs in October and by 330,000 jobs over the past year, topping 7.3 million for the first time since April 2008, while the industry’s average pay jumped and unemployment decreased to a historic low.
Despite the steep gains in employment and pay, a recent AGCA survey finds contractors continue to struggle to find qualified workers.
“Job gains remain strong and well balanced between residential and nonresidential construction,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Contractors are raising pay faster than at any time since the recession to attract workers from other industries as well as new entrants, yet many firms report they continue to have difficulty filling positions.”
National construction employment totalled 7,318,000 in October, a gain of 4.7 percent over the past 12 months. Employment in residential construction—comprising residential building and specialty trade contractors—grew by 16,600 jobs for the month and 143,500 jobs over the past 12 months, a 5.3 percent increase. Employment in nonresidential construction—including building, specialty trades, and heavy and civil engineering construction—grew by 13,500 jobs in October and 187,200 jobs during the past year, a 4.4 percent increase, Simonson said.
Hourly earnings in the industry averaged $30.21 in October, an increase of 3.9 percent from a year earlier—the steepest one-year rise since June 2009. Average hourly earnings in construction are now 10.7 percent higher than the average for all non-farm private-sector jobs, which rose 3.1 percent in the past year, to $27.30. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for jobseekers with construction experience in October was 3.6 percent, down from 4.5 percent in October 2017. The number of such workers fell to 352,000 from 418,000 a year earlier. Both figures were the lowest for October since the series began in 2000, the economist said.
In the recent AGC-Autodesk Workforce survey, 76 percent of respondents said their firms plan to increase their headcount of hourly craft workers in the next year. However, 80 percent of the firms said they are having trouble filling hourly positions. For all but one of 20 specific crafts included in the survey, a majority of respondents reported that they were having more trouble hiring craft personnel this year compared to last year. Furthermore, over three-quarters of respondents replied that the local programs for supplying well-trained, skilled craft personnel were poor or only fair.
“Construction workers continue to benefit from positive economic conditions that are leading firms to boost pay and expand opportunities for their workforce,” Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer, said. “We need more public officials to understand that the path to a good, middle-class life doesn’t always include attending a four-year college and spending a lifetime behind a desk.”