Data from the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) indicate that construction job openings posted a monthly decline in October but remain higher on a year-over-year basis. The estimated number of job openings declined from the September total (327,000) to 311,000 in October, after reaching a post-Great Recession high of 434,000 in April. The October 2019 count of unfilled jobs represents a year-over-year gain relative to the 278,000 estimated unfilled construction jobs in October 2018.
The open positions rate (job openings as a percentage of total employment plus current job openings) dipped to 4% in October, after reaching a cycle high of 5.5% in April. On a smoothed, twelve-month moving average basis, the open position rate for the construction sector held steady at 4.3%. 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 matches NAHB and other survey data revealing that access to skilled labor remains a top business challenge for builders, affecting a broad set of occupations. However, ongoing modest growth rates for housing construction are likely to place downward pressure on construction job openings in future data releases. Recent data suggest that the count of open, unfilled jobs is nearing a cycle peak, while nonetheless remaining elevated. 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, did increase to 5.5% in October as the housing rebound continued. The twelve-month moving average for layoffs ticked up to 2.7%, continuing a rising trend in recent months, likely connected to some market churn associated with housing affordability headwinds.