Construction Job Openings Steady, Hiring Slowing

The count of construction job openings held steady in July, as hiring in the home building sector slowed.

According to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and NAHB analysis, the number of open construction sector jobs (on a seasonally adjusted basis) remained constant at 137,000 for July. This is somewhat lower than the cycle high of 168,000 set during March.

On a three-month moving average basis, the open position rate (jobs openings as a percent of total employment) for the construction sector held constant at 2.1% for July. The open rate has been trending upward since 2012, with the current three-month moving average near the cycle high set during May (2.4%).

constr JOLTS

The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a three-month moving average basis, declined to 4.9% in July, continuing decreases in the rate of hiring that began in March. The quits rate for construction held at 1.7% in July.

Monthly employment data for August 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 2.46 million, broken down as 694,000 builders and 1.761 million residential specialty trade contractors.

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In August, the number of jobs in home building and remodeling (seasonally adjusted) increased by only 2,400. The pace of hiring for the industry has slowed over 2015, with the average monthly employment gain standing at just over 4,200 over the last six months.

Over the last 12 months home builders and remodelers have added 111,000 jobs on a net basis. Since the low point of industry employment following the Great Recession, residential construction has gained 469,400 positions.

In August, the unemployment rate for construction workers increased to 7.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis, up from the cycle low of 6.5% set during July. The unemployment rate for the construction occupation has been on a general decline since reaching a peak rate of 22% in February 2010.

Many builders continue to cite access to labor as a top business challenge as the market recovers (for example, see this NAHB survey on the issue, focusing on builder and subcontractor workers).

For the economy as a whole, the July JOLTS data indicate that current trends for construction are also at play for most other sectors of the economy. The hiring rate fell to 3.5% of total employment. More importantly, the overall job openings rate jumped to a 3.9% rate, a series high (the JOLTS data go back to December 2000).

Rising job openings for the overall economy are affecting many business sectors as the unemployment rate falls, with employers wanting new workers but holding greater numbers of unfilled positions. This could bode well for future hiring, but it might also signal that labor shortages are becoming a more general concern.

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