The number of open, unfilled construction sector jobs increased 38% from 113,000 in January of 2013 to 156,000 in January of 2014, according to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). The January count of open jobs in the sector is the second highest since May 2008.
While the recent increase in unfilled positions is consistent with the increase in construction sector activity, particularly for home building, the data continue to reflect only modest growth in total employment. The rise in the count of open positions thus matches reports of local labor shortages.
For the construction sector, monthly gross hiring increased somewhat, rising on a seasonally adjusted basis from 251,000 to 285,000 from December to January. Over the same period, the hiring rate, as measured on a 3-month moving average basis, fell from 5.1% to 4.7%. The pace of construction hiring slowed during 2013 compared to 2012 levels and this trend continued at the start of 2014.
Measured as a three-month moving average, the openings rate (the blue line above) has staged a noticeable rise since September 2012, with a brief pause during the middle of 2013. As of January 2014, the three-month moving average stood at 2.5%, a post-recession high. This recent increase in open positions occurred at the same time as the hiring rate began to fall.
Combined with a declining sector layoff rate (non-seasonally adjusted), charted as a 12-month moving average in the graph above, the uptick in open positions since 2012 suggests more, if modest, construction hiring in the months ahead – if firms can find workers with the right skills.
Monthly employment data for February 2014 (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 2.227 million, broken down as 648,000 builders and 1.579 million residential specialty trade contractors.
According to the BLS data, over the last year the home building sector has added 101,000 jobs. Since the point of peak decline of home building employment, when total job losses for the industry stood at 1.466 million, 243,000 positions have been added to the residential construction sector. As of February, over the last six months the home building and remodeling industry has added on average more than 8,000 jobs per month.
For the economy as a whole, the January JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate was constant at 3.3% of total employment. The hiring rate has been in the 3.1% to 3.4% range since January 2011. The current overall job openings rate (2.8%) has been in the 2.7% to 2.9% range since the start of 2013.