Biden urged to prioritise construction training and legal immigration as vacancies soar

February saw the highest number of construction vacancies ever recorded for the month (Scott Blake/Unsplash)
Amid ongoing labour shortages in the booming US construction market, employers body the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has urged the federal government to “narrow the substantial gap” between what it spends on training for construction and what it spends “urging most students to go to college and work in an office environment”.

The AGC also urged Congress and the Biden administration to find ways to allow more people to enter the country legally who are qualified to work in construction.

“Based on funding levels and immigration policy, the federal government is discouraging American workers from pursuing construction careers while refusing to welcome those born elsewhere,” said Jeffrey Shoaf, the association’s chief executive officer.

“We need an all-of-the-above instead of a none-of-the-above approach when it comes to encouraging more people to pursue the many high-paying construction career opportunities that are available today.”

Shortages ‘undermining growth’

The construction industry added 39,000 jobs in March, the most since January 2023, according to AGC’s analysis of government data.

The gains were in all five types of residential and nonresidential construction the AGC tracks.

The association noted that a federal report released earlier showed there were 414,000 job openings at the end of February, the highest number of open positions ever recorded for the month.

It said “significant” labour shortages were undermining broader growth in the sector and making it harder for firms to take on new projects and complete existing ones on schedule.

“All types of construction firms were hiring in March,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But the record number of construction job openings at the end of February indicates contractors would have hired even more workers if they were available to keep pace with demand.”

414,000 vacancies in February

Construction employment in March totalled 8,211,000, seasonally adjusted, a gain of 39,000 from the upwardly revised February total, the AGC said.

The sector has added 270,000 jobs during the past 12 months, a 3.4 percent increase.

Residential builders added 5,500 employees in March, while residential specialty trade contractors added 8,900.

Employment rose as well among nonresidential construction firms, by 2,300 at building construction firms, 16,300 at specialty trade contractors, and 6,000 at heavy and civil engineering construction firms.

Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in construction climbed by 4.9% over the year to $35.42 per hour.

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