Recent government employment data suggest a pickup in construction sector job openings over the last half year. While consistent with the uptick in construction sector activity, particularly in home building, the data reflect only modest increases in employment thus far.
For the construction sector, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that hiring levels continue to be strong enough to create net jobs (hiring minus separations). Hiring in construction totaled 319,000 in January 2013. Hiring for the sector has exceed 300,000 per month for 22 of the last 24 months.
The number of open positions in the construction industry remained relatively high in the current report. At 98,000 open positions, the month of January had the second highest number of unfilled positions in the last 17 months. Successfully filling open positions with qualified workers is a top concern for home builders in 2013.
Measured as a three-month moving average, the openings rate (the blue line above) has been reflecting strength for the last six months. Combined with a declining sector layoff rate (nonseasonally adjusted), charted as a 12-month moving average in the graph above, these factors suggest good news for construction hiring in the months ahead.
Monthly employment data for February 2013 (the employment count data from the BLS establishment survey are published one month ahead of the JOLTS data) indicate that total employment in home building stands at 2.109 million, broken down as 578,000 builders and 1.531 million residential specialty trade contractors.
According to the BLS data, over the last 12 months, the home building sector has added only 64,000 jobs. Since the point of peak decline of home building employment, when total job losses for the industry stood at 1.466 million, 125,000 positions have been added to the residential construction sector.
An outstanding puzzle remains the fact that the increase in building has outpaced employment growth for the industry. This could be due to increased hours for existing workers, but if true, it is not a sustainable situation. Expected increases in building should lead to significant growth in home building employment in 2013.
For the economy as a whole, the December JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate remained at 3.1% of total employment. The hiring rate has been in the 3.1% to 3.4% range since January 2011. The job openings rate was also relatively unchanged at a rate of 2.7% in January. The openings rate has now been in the 2.5% to 2.7% range for more than one year.