After significant data revisions for 2018, new data from the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) indicate that construction job openings remained near a cycle high as of January, an indication that the skilled labor shortage continues into 2019.
The open position rate (job openings as a percentage of total employment plus current job openings) held steady at 3.9%. The rate was just 3.3% a year ago. On a smoothed, twelve-month moving average basis, the open position rate for the construction sector increased to 3.7%, a post-recession high. The peak (smoothed) rate during the building boom prior to the recession was just below 2.7%. For the current cycle, the sector has been above that rate since October 2016.
The overall trend for open construction jobs has been increasing since the end of the Great Recession. This is consistent with survey data indicating that access to labor remains a top business challenge for builders. However, more modest growth rates for housing construction going into 2019 are likely to place downward pressure on construction job openings in future data releases. That is, 2019 may be the year in which the job openings rate for construction levels off, albeit at elevated levels. This would nonetheless be a continuing sign for the need for additional worker recruitment into the industry.
The construction sector hiring rate, as measured on a twelve-month moving average basis, inched up to 5.3% in January. The twelve-month moving average for layoffs remained at 2.3%. However, as a sign of increasing labor market churn, the quits rate for construction sector jobs increased to 2.5% in January, up from 2.2% a year ago.