The unemployment rate for construction is down to 4.5%, a rate that sociologists consider to be a healthy rate for any economy, the 4.5% representing the regular shuffling of workers from one job to another. Even at that, it’s down .1% from the same time period last year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBL).
It is therefore apparent that almost anyone who wants a construction job can have one.
So why are there so many job openings? Many workers who were laid off in the housing crisis of 2008 left the construction field when their jobs dried up: they found other industries to work in, or they retired completely, falling out of the workforce. When the pace of construction returned, approximately 30% of the previous workers chose not to return.
While this is a tantalizing opportunity for some—tech start-ups are popping up all over the industry to tackle the lack of workers with virtual reality, robotics, drones, and 3D printing—the industry is still looking for people who can simply swing a hammer and drive a forklift.
There are possible lights at the end of the tunnel. President Trump signed an executive order on June 15th paving the way for blue collar apprenticeship programs. And places like Michigan are deregulating as a way of encouraging more workers to rejoin the workforce.
At this point, many of the tech solutions—such as drone mapping—are solving problems that a worker with tool belts and hard hats wouldn’t be able to replace anyway.
We are at a turning point. We can either find more workers, replace them with machines, or let the construction industry continue to boom without the workers in place and just cross our fingers—or await some other, unforeseen disruptive technology. Buckle up; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.