Net employment growth in construction is employment gained or lost from 
workers moving in and out of construction (black line) due 
to workers switching industries (blue dashed line) and 
workers moving in and out of employment (red dotted line).
U.S. Census Bureau Net employment growth in construction is employment gained or lost from workers moving in and out of construction (black line) due to workers switching industries (blue dashed line) and workers moving in and out of employment (red dotted line).

Much has been made of the lack of skilled labor in the construction workforce of late. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it still remains to be seen whether the latest data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey "necessarily" constitutes a labor shortage.

However, the Bureau does acknowledge that "it is possible that tightening labor markets in construction are a drag on employment recovery in this sector."

What is evident to the Bureau (and remarkable) is that over 60% of the workers displaced by the housing bust of 2008-09 have left the industry altogether, and a "persistent drop in hiring of younger workers into construction jobs over the last decade is likely contributing to the current shortage of skilled workers in construction."

With regards to the displacement of workers from construction, the Bureau provides a little background: "Workers moving from manufacturing, mining and especially leisure/hospitality jobs fueled much of the employment growth in construction between 2003 and 2005 ... about half of employment growth during the construction boom came from workers moving from leisure/hospitality into construction." The reason suggested is obvious: construction paid more.

But the after-party for the "Great Recession" paints an entirely different picture: Few workers were willing to take a backward step in terms of pay and job security to return to leisure/hospitality jobs. And who can blame them?

According to the Bureau, most former construction workers remained in "the unemployment category." Only about 40% of those who lost their jobs in the recession eventually found their way back to construction. Most workers migrated to the "transportation and business services" sectors.  Translation (found further in the Bureau's report): "A look at destination jobs by detailed industry suggests many became general laborers, some landscapers, and some truck drivers."

Noteworthy (based on the previous migration during the housing boom) : "Despite the boom in mining during this period, mining accounts for less than 5 percent of new jobs for former construction workers ..." (Working conditions for miners may be a factor.)

And the other 60% who did not return to construction? The U.S. Census Bureau is always a little delayed in its data: "Approximately one-quarter of displaced construction workers have no observed subsequent employment by the end of 2013, five to seven years after displacement. These individuals presumably have left the labor market, although they could be working informally or be self-employed."

While it's a lamentable report on the displaced workers, the second part of the Bureau's findings seems like an issue the industry could correct: Construction could get over its  apparent prejudice of younger workers.

The report concludes: "Although some former construction workers transitioned quickly to other sectors, for most, a move into another industry occurred after a long spell of non-employment. Also likely contributing to a shortage of experienced workers is a shift in hiring preferences — during the downturn construction firms hired fewer young workers, fewer young workers gained experience in the industry, and the share of older workers grew faster than in other industries."

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