US construction wages soar as contractors struggle to keep pace with the boom

American construction workers’ average wage has risen above $30 per hour for the first time, and the numbers employed have hit nearly 7.3 million, a level not seen since before the financial crisis, official statistics show.

Latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the numbers employed rose 315,000 in the past year to reach 7,286,000, the level it was at in May 2008, before the crash.

The construction boom reflects the buoyant state of the US economy, which congressional researchers predict will grow at a rate of more than 3% thanks to lower income tax and increased investment from the public and private sectors.

Growth could lead to a choke-chain effect, however, as firms fish in a shrinking pool of skilled labour.

That pool is quickly evaporating, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist of employers’ organisation the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

"The construction industry added workers and increased pay in the past year at rates higher than the overall economy," he said.

"However, the pool of unemployed workers with construction experience has nearly evaporated, pushing up contractors’ costs and adding to project completion times."

The AGC estimates that hourly earnings in construction are now almost 11% above the average for all non-agricultural private-sector jobs. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for workers with construction experience in September was 4.1%, the lowest level since records began in 2000.

The tightening labour market poses a problem for companies looking to expand their headcount. In a recent AGC-Autodesk Workforce survey, 76% of respondents said their firms planned to hire more craft workers in the next year. However, 80% said they were having trouble filling hourly positions, and that the difficulty has risen in the past year.

The CGA is advocating greater training efforts as well as reform of immigration rules and increased funding for federal career and technical education programmes.

AGC chief executive Stephen Sandherr said: "Despite stellar growth, the construction workforce shortage is hurting contractors and others who depend on our industry. Reforming current career educational programs can provide real choice to students and encourage the development of high-reward, high-skill jobs."

Meanwhile, the Construction Dive website notes that executive and managerial-level pay is also rising, with high-demand professionals such as estimators able to secure pay raises of up to 27% by switching employers.

Vice presidents of construction and managers experienced in alternate delivery methods were reportedly the most in demand.

Image: Construction workers on a break in New Orleans (Valentin Armianu/Dreamstime)

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