US contractors group urges more immigration and training as vacancies soar

The pool of unemployed, experienced jobseekers keeps shrinking for the construction sector, says the AGC (Josh Olalde/Unsplash)
A US contractors group has urged government to reform immigration and boost training as the construction sector’s unemployment rate fell and the total number of job openings hit a near-record high.

The call came even as the sector shed 9,000 jobs in March, the first decrease in total employment since January 2022, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

“Despite a small dip in headcount, construction firms continued to post a high level of job openings and raised pay more than other industries – two signs they still want to hire more workers,” said Ken Simonson, the AGC’s chief economist.

“But the pool of unemployed, experienced jobseekers keeps shrinking for the construction sector,” he added.

Construction employment in March totalled 7,888,000, seasonally adjusted, a dip of 9,000 or 0.1% from the record high in February and the first decrease in 14 months.

Employment fell most among residential and specialty trade contractors, where the number of jobs slipped by 7,000 or 0.2% in March.

The unemployment rate among jobseekers with construction experience declined from 6% in March last year to 5.6% in March 2023, the second-lowest March rate in the 23-year history of the data.

19% wage premium

Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in construction—covering most onsite craft workers as well as many office workers—jumped by 6.6% over the year to $33.82 per hour.

Construction firms in March provided a wage “premium” of nearly 19% compared to the average hourly earnings for all private-sector production employees.

Training failure

AGC officials said federal officials have failed to boost investments in construction education and training even as they have boosted investments in a wide range of construction programmes.

They urged government at all levels to provide more construction apprenticeships and training programmes in schools.

And they urged Congress and the Biden administration to let more foreign workers with construction skills lawfully enter the country.

“Firms are struggling to fill high-paying construction positions while many schools continue to push students to go to college, amass student debt and hope for an office job,” said AGC chief executive Stephen E. Sandherr.

“Exposing students and other future workers to construction will signal that it should be among the career paths worth considering.”

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