Capitol Update – 10/24/2021
Construction’s career crisis: How did we get here?
Experts weigh in on the factors that made construction a profession for “someone else’s kid,” and the long road ahead to fix it.
A four-decade veteran of the construction industry, Greg Sizemore says he doesn’t remember a time when there wasn’t a “Help Wanted” sign on most jobsites. When Sizemore — now the vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development at Associated Builders and Contractors — started out as a laborer, he thought construction would just be a summer job. He recalls contractors looking for skilled and unskilled workers. Fast forward to today and the problem has only increased. The issue is widespread: 92% of contractors have reported difficulty finding construction workers and of those, 42% said they have turned down work because of it, according to the most recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index.
The construction careers crisis is one that has worsened for decades, but, like so much else, has also been worsened by the pandemic. The number of construction workers in the U.S. hit an all-time high at 7.7 million workers in April 2006, until the Great Recession caused the number of workers to plummet. 2011 marked the low point of construction employment, with 2.1 million fewer workers than April 2006, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors of America. Beginning with 2011, however, employment numbers began steadily increasing. Total nonfarm payroll employment set records every month for five years through February 2020, Simonson said, until March of that year. The number of workers, seasonally adjusted, dropped from 7.6 million in February 2020 to 6.6 million in March 2020, a roughly 14% decline at the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction has begun to climb out of that hole, but it still has yet to reach pre-pandemic employment numbers, while still seeing high demand for skilled labor that hasn’t been met.
Nonresidential construction starts up 12.7% in Sept.
September construction starts minus the residential category rose 12.7% from the previous month to $38 billion, ConstructConnect reported. Starts a year-to-year basis were up 31.1%, largely due to three projects valued at more than $1 billion apiece, including an $8 billion Intel plant in Arizona. Full Story: Daily Commercial News (Ontario)
Housing starts down 1.6% month to month in Sept.
Housing starts increased 7.4% in September from a year before but eased 1.6% from August’s pace, according to the US Census Bureau. The biggest drop occurred in multifamily permitting, down 21% from August, with much of the overall decline attributed to ongoing shortages of materials and labor. Full Story: MarketWatch (tiered subscription model)
Backlog inches lower as material, labor worries weigh on contractors
The amount of future work in the pipeline for U.S. commercial contractors fell slightly last month, even as proposals for new projects remained strong. Associated Builders and Contractors’ Construction Backlog Indicator declined to 7.6 months in September. While it decreased 0.1 months from August, it was up 0.1 months from September 2020. In addition, ABC’s Construction Confidence Index readings for sales, profit margins and staffing levels also declined in September, but remain above 50, indicating growth expectations over the next six months.
Sept. jobless rates down in 27 states, up in 1; payroll jobs up in 11 states, down in 3
In September, unemployment rates were lower in 27 states and the District of Columbia, higher in 1 state, and stable in 22 states. Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 11 states, decreased in 3 states, and was essentially unchanged in 36 states and the District.
Architecture billings continued going up in Sept.
Architecture billings marked eight straight months of gains in September as the Architecture Billings Index rose to 56.6 from 55.6 in August. However, new project inquiry and design contract numbers were down slightly. Full Story: Archinect
9 social media influencers to watch in construction
Construction is no exception to the phenomenon of rising influencers across social media. Matthew Thibault profiles nine making a big impression with postings about their thoughts across a range of issues in the industry. Full Story: Construction Dive
Funds designated for Calif. 55 Freeway widening
The California Transportation Commission will distribute $2.1 billion among various statewide transportation projects, including nearly half of the roughly $474 million needed to widen a 4-mile section of the 55 Freeway. The Orange County Transportation Authority is expected to name a contractor for the project in April. Full Story: The Orange County Register (Anaheim, Calif.) (tiered subscription model)
7 developing trends in structural engineering
There’s no lack of examples of experimentation and adoption of new technologies in the construction industry. Mark Larsen and Blair Hanuschak review seven notable trends in structural engineering, beginning with integration of the different digital platforms used by contractors and subcontractors on a given project. Full Story: Building Design + Construction (free registration)
Report sounds alarm on flood risk to US infrastructure
Flooding exacerbated by climate change puts about one-fourth of critical US infrastructure at risk, and 17 of the 20 counties at greatest risk are in Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia, according to a report by the First Street Foundation. The report assesses all flood events, including flash floods, rivers topping their banks, storm surge and coastal flooding. Full Story: Axios USA Today
Method passes test to halt sink of San Francisco tower
A new and less intrusive method to halt the sinking of San Francisco’s Millennium Tower has passed its initial test. Shimmick Construction managed to position a 36-inch-diameter pilot pile casing as part of a plan to counter the 17 inches the building has sunk so far. Full Story: Engineering News-Record (tiered subscription model)
Plans revealed for Fresno, Calif., terminal expansion
Construction is expected to begin in the spring on an expansion of the Fresno Yosemite International Airport terminal in California. Officials have presented a rendering of the $100.73 million plan, which is designed to allow for further expansion in the future. Full Story: The San Joaquin Valley Sun (Fresno, Calif.)
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