The US construction industry, like that of several other countries, has been suffering for a few years now, a situation made worse by the pandemic and a lack of workers, and not just the skilled ones. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, after a drop in January, last February 45 states, led by Texas, New York, Florida, Nevada and Georgia, posted an increase in job offers.
But there was another chill in March when the number of workers fell by 9,000 nationwide. It was the first drop since January 2022, even though the unemployment level in the sector has decreased. The number of available, unfilled positions in the industry has reached almost record level, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). According to the association, the industry is unable to replace older workers, who are also the ones with more expertise, and the training and support for the education of new workers is too slow. There are calls, according to the ACG, for an immigration reform to encourage the entrance of new workers.
New investments to support employment of construction workers on large projects
The number of workers in the sector totaled 7,888,000 in March, a seasonally adjusted drop of 0.1 percent from February. Meanwhile, the unemployment level among people with construction experience seeking work has dropped to 5.6% from 6% in March last year, the second lowest level in 23 years. According to the ACG, some companies are not bidding for contracts because they would not be able to find the necessary staff to carry out the project.
The Biden administration and Congress, which have approved a $1 trillion plan to improve US infrastructure, are now being asked to increase spending for the careers and technical training or construction workers, and to allow more qualified workers to enter the country legally.
The Webuild Group is very active on this front and has been launching personnel training programs for years, mainly dedicated to young people. These are programs that train qualified personnel who are involved in Webuild’s major projects in the United States
“It doesn’t help that federal officials are spending far more to encourage new workers to go to college instead of pursuing rewarding careers in construction,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, ACG’s chief executive officer. “Infrastructure, the new green economy and semiconductor plants don’t build themselves, they need people,” Sandherr added. “If federal officials are so eager to build these kinds of facilities, they should be willing to invest in the people needed to build them.”
According to the online recruitment company Zip Recruiter, between 2019 and 2020 the number of people searching for construction jobs online fell by 40%, and remained flat since, because there are more offers for off-site, online jobs.
The future of training: the proof in Webuild's great projects
Online, stay at home work has impacted the construction sector as well, along with restaurants and hotels, stores and airlines. The abandonment of jobs in which one had matured considerable experience in favor of work that can be done on a computer at home is creating difficulties for a number of American industries, especially for many small contractors. During emergencies, such as the recent hurricane Ian in Florida, home owners had long waiting times before they could have a crew fix their roof. Demand was extremely high but the number of companies able to do the work was small and had a limited amount of workers.
Historically the job market in the construction sector is the canary in the coal mine for the state of the overall economy. A fall in construction employment usually comes before a recession. But in this case, according to Wall Street analysts, it’s the workers that are missing, not flagging demand.
To be sure, large companies like Webuild, and its US unit Lane Construction, have leveraged their experience on work sites around the world and their recruitment of young technicians and engineers to create a virtuous productive cycle allowing them to complete iconic projects like the new Long Beach International Gateway bridge in California, working, in safety, even during the pandemic emergency.