Construction firms added 45,000 workers in December as the industry’s unemployment rate declined to 7.5 percent from 8.3 a year ago, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America. Association officials noted that the robust job gains come as a new industry outlook shows most firms expect to expand their headcount in 2016 amid growing private and public sector demand.
“Based on what most contractors have reported, the robust hiring the industry has experienced during the past few months should continue through 2016,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “While contractors continue to be worried about labor shortages, regulatory burdens and health care costs, most expect growing demand for many types of construction will allow them to expand this year.”
Construction employment totaled 6,538,000 in December, the most since January 2009, and is up by 263,000 jobs compared to a year ago, a 4.2 percent increase. Residential construction increased by 23,100 in December and by 137,200, or 5.7 percent, compared to a year ago. Nonresidential construction employers added 21,200 jobs for the month and 125,400 jobs compared to last December, a 3.2 percent increase.
Within the nonresidential construction sector, nonresidential specialty trade contractors added 11,300 employees in December and 95,300 for the year. Nonresidential building contractors added 5,100 jobs for the month and 9,900 jobs since December 2014. And heavy and civil engineering construction firms added 4,800 jobs in December and 20,200 jobs during the past year.
December marks the third month of large increases in construction employment, the economist noted. The growth in construction employment comes as 71 percent of firms report they plan to expand their total headcount in 2016, according to the association’s 2016 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook. Simonson noted that more contractors report they expect spending on most market public and private segments to expand this year than contract.
Association officials noted that most contractors remain concerned about shortages of available construction workers, noting that 70 percent of contractors report having a hard time finding workers. They urged federal, state and local officials to act on measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to support new career and technical education programs. In particular, they called on Congress to enact needed reforms and increase funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
“With the construction industry expanding at rates not seen since the downturn, public officials need to make sure we are encouraging and preparing students to consider high-paying careers in construction,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “As our Outlook makes clear, the industry is likely to continue expanding this year, as long as there are enough workers available for firms to hire.”