The number of open, unfilled construction sector positions increased noticeably in February. Overall, the construction labor market has been characterized by relatively higher levels of turnover over the last few months, with an increase in hiring and quits at the end of 2014 and an upward trend in job openings.
According to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and NAHB analysis, the number of open construction sector jobs for February (on a seasonally adjusted basis) increased to 166,000 from an upwardly revised count of 137,000 in January.
The February 2015 estimate of unfilled construction jobs is the highest total since July of 2007.
On a three-month moving average basis, the open position rate for the construction sector increased slightly to 2.27% in February. Over the last year, the open construction jobs rate has typically been higher than the rates that were experienced during the 2001-2003 period prior to the building boom. The open rate has been trending upward since 2012.
The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a three-month moving average basis, declined in February to 5.77%, which is still elevated compared to a soft parch for job hiring in 2014.
The February number of job quits in construction fell to 96,000, off a significantly downwardly revised level for January (105,000). This change returns the levels of quits in construction back to trend, after a surge in December.
Monthly employment data for March 2015 (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/remodeling stands at 2.418 million, broken down as 692,000 builders and 1.726 million residential specialty trade contractors.
In March, home builders and remodelers lost 2,800 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, the first monthly drop since May 2012. However, over the last 12 months, the industry has created 136,000 jobs.
Since the low point of industry employment following the Great Recession, the residential construction industry has gained 431,700 positions, although employment remains 1.032 million lower than the peak level seen in early 2006. The industry has been adding on average just under 10,000 jobs per month over the last six months. However, many builders continue to cite access to labor as a business challenge as the market recovers (see this Builder/Metrostudy labor market analysis for recent industry survey data).
In March, the unemployment rate for construction workers fell to 7.9%. The unemployment rate for the construction occupation has been on a general decline since reaching a peak rate of 22% in February 2010.
For the economy as a whole, the February JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate held steady at 3.5% of total employment. The hiring rate had been in the 3.1% to 3.5% range since January 2011 but rose above 3.5% for the first time in September as job creation accelerated at the end of 2014. The rate stayed above 3.5% through December. The overall job openings rate ticked up to 3.5% in February.