Industry Employment Outlook – Construction

Build Your Career  |  Construction Jobs Are Poised to Come Back Strong

Published in the September/October 2010 issue of print Search & Employ®

Keep your hardhat on. Even though the construction industry isn’t exactly going gangbusters in 2010, there is reason for optimism. True, tracts of land that were supposed to be brimming with suburban homes remain vacant, and some office buildings that were supposed to be built are either partially done, or haven’t been started at all. The federal stimulus package managed to keep construction afloat during the recent economic decline, but  the job-creating goldmine many expected has not come to pass.

But that doesn’t mean you should be glum if you feel that a career in construction is your calling. It’s true that most construction companies are hiring very little, if at all in 2010, but this year is nearly over.

Here’s the good news: Unlike some careers – such as elevator operators and lamplighters – jobs in construction will come back strong. Global construction activity is expected to remain flat during 2010 and then grow nearly five percent in 2011 according to the latest report from IHS Global Insight, a global leader in economic and financial analysis, forecasting and market intelligence for more than 40 years.

Also, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) expects U.S. nonresidential commercial projects to have a slight recovery next year. Their forecast distributed in mid-July projects 3.1 percent growth in total nonresidential construction in 2011. Typically, architects work on their plans 6-12 months prior to the beginning of construction projects, so this is a good indicator of future work for this portion of the industry. The AIA indicated that more requests for proposal (RFPs) are coming out, which is leading to this guarded optimism. The survey is based on forecasts by McGraw Hill Construction, Global Insight, Moody’s and others.

The economic conditions in 2010 didn’t catch many contractors by surprise.  Back in January, nearly nine out of 10 contractors said there would be no recovery in 2010 as part of a national construction and business outlook forecast released by the Associated General Contractors of America. The good news is that 88 percent of those surveyed expect things will be better in 2011. The survey was based on responses from nearly 700 construction firms submitted in last December and early January 2010. They weren’t predicting a 2010 turnaround because few contractors expect privately funded construction projects, which typically account for the bulk of annual construction activity, to increase this year.

One of the bright spots cited for the industry was the federal stimulus. The approximately $135 billion in construction funds included in last year’s package were having a measurable, but limited, impact on the construction industry. The survey found that 31 percent of contractors were awarded stimulus funded projects. Of these, 46 percent say the stimulus helped them retain an average of 24 employees each. Another 15 percent say the stimulus helped them to add an average of ten new employees per company, while 12 percent cite the stimulus as driving new equipment purchases. Further good news is that more than half of the contractors say work on public buildings will improve or remain stable in 2010. Also, construction costs remain low, which should encourage some new construction jobs for the rest of 2010 and into 2011.

While we sigh with relief since construction jobs will eventually return with a vengeance, here’s a look at a two of the most common occupations that fall in the construction category, and their outlook for 2010 and beyond. The information comes from the Bureau of Labor Services (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 edition.

Construction Managers

Employment of construction managers is projected to increase by 17 percent during the 2008-18 decade, faster than average for all occupations. Construction managers will be needed as the level and variety of construction activity expands. A growing emphasis on making buildings more energy efficient should create additional jobs for construction managers involved in retrofitting buildings. In addition, the need to replace portions of the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water and sewer pipes, along with the need to increase energy supply lines, will further increase demand for construction managers.

Prospects should be best for people who have a bachelor’s degree or higher in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering, plus practical work experience in construction. A strong background in building technology is beneficial as well.

Wages of salaried construction managers and self-employed independent construction contractors vary with the size and nature of the construction project, its geographic location, and economic conditions. It is important to note that in addition to receiving typical benefits, many salaried construction managers earn bonuses and are allowed the use of company motor vehicles.

Median annual wages of salaried construction managers in May 2008 were $79,860. The middle 50 percent earned between $60,650 and $107,140. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $47,000, and the highest paid ten percent earned more than $145,920.

Construction managers plan, direct, coordinate, and budget a wide variety of construction projects, including the building of all types of residential, commercial, and industrial structures, roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants, schools, and hospitals. Construction managers may supervise an entire project or just part of one. They schedule and coordinate all design and construction processes, including the selection, hiring, and oversight of specialty trade contractors, such as carpentry, plumbing, or electrical.

About 61 percent of construction managers are self-employed. Job seekers who combine construction work experience with a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related industry should enjoy the best prospects as construction managers. Certification, although not required, is increasingly important in this field.

Practical construction experience is very important for entering this occupation, whether earned through an internship, a cooperative education program, a job in the construction trades, or another job in the industry. Some people advance to construction management positions after having substantial experience as construction craft workers — carpenters, masons, plumbers, or electricians, for example — or after having worked as construction supervisors or as owners of independent specialty contracting firms.

Construction managers should be flexible and work effectively in a fast-paced environment. They should be decisive and work well under pressure, particularly when faced with unexpected events or delays. The ability to manage several major activities at once while analyzing and resolving specific problems is essential, as is an understanding of engineering, architectural, and other construction drawings. Familiarity with computers and software programs for job costing, online collaboration, scheduling, and estimating is critical.

Good oral and written communication skills are important as well, as are leadership skills. Managers must be able to establish a good working relationship with many different people, including owners, other managers, designers, supervisors, and craft workers. The ability to converse fluently in Spanish is increasingly becoming an asset, because Spanish is the first language of many workers in the construction industry.

There is a growing movement toward certification of construction managers. Although not required, it can be valuable because it provides evidence of competence and experience. Both the American Institute of Constructors and the Construction Management Association of America have established voluntary certification programs for construction managers. Requirements combine written examinations with verification of education and professional experience.

Advancement opportunities for construction managers vary with the individual’s performance as well as the size and type of company for which the person works. Within large firms, managers may eventually become top-level managers or executives. Highly experienced individuals may become independent consultants; some serve as expert witnesses in court or as arbitrators in disputes. Those with the required capital may establish their own construction management services, specialty contracting, or general contracting firms.

Construction managers held 551,000 jobs in 2008. About 61 percent were self-employed, many as owners of general or specialty trade construction firms. Most salaried construction managers were employed in the construction industry — 11 percent by specialty trade contractor businesses (for example, plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, and electrical contractors), ten percent in nonresidential building construction, and seven percent in residential building construction. Others were employed by architectural, engineering, and related services firms.

Construction Laborers

Employment of construction laborers is expected to grow 20 percent by 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Because of the large variety of tasks that laborers perform, demand for laborers will mirror the level of overall construction activity.

Increasing job prospects for construction laborers, however, is the expected additional government funding for the repair and reconstruction of the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, public buildings, and water lines. The occupation should have a spike in demand as laborers make up a significant portion of workers on these types of projects.

New emphasis on green construction also should help lead to better employment prospects, as many green practices require more labor on construction sites. Additional duties resulting from practicing green construction include having to segregate materials that can be used again from those which cannot, and the actual reuse of such materials. In addition, these workers will be needed for the construction of any new projects to harness wind or solar power.

Median hourly wage of wage and salary construction laborers in May 2008 was $13.71. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.74 and $18.57. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.67, and the highest ten percent earned more than $25.98.

Many construction laborer jobs require a variety of basic skills, but others require specialized training and experience. Most construction laborers learn on the job, but formal apprenticeship programs provide the most thorough preparation. Job opportunities vary by locality, but in many areas there will be competition, especially for jobs requiring limited skills. Laborers who have specialized skills or who can relocate near new construction projects should have the best opportunities.

Construction laborers can be found on almost all construction sites, performing a wide range of tasks from the very easy to the hazardous. They can be found at building, highway, and heavy construction sites; residential and commercial sites; tunnel and shaft excavations; and demolition sites. Many of the jobs they perform require physical strength, training, and experience. Other jobs require little skill and can be learned quickly. Although most construction laborers specialize in a type of construction, such as highway or tunnel construction, some are generalists who perform many different tasks during all stages of construction.

Construction laborers operate a variety of equipment, including pavement breakers; jackhammers; earth tampers; concrete, mortar, and plaster mixers; electric and hydraulic boring machines; torches; small mechanical hoists; laser beam equipment; and surveying and measuring equipment. They may use computers and other high-tech input devices to control robotic pipe cutters and cleaners. To perform their jobs effectively, construction laborers must be familiar with the duties of other craft workers and with the materials, tools, and machinery they use, as all of these workers work as part of a team, jointly carrying out assigned construction tasks.

Most construction laborers do physically demanding work. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions. Some jobs expose workers to harmful materials or chemicals, fumes, odors, loud noises, or dangerous machinery. Some laborers may be exposed to lead-based paint, asbestos, or other hazardous substances during their work, especially when they work in confined spaces. Workers in this occupation experience one of the highest rates of nonfatal injuries and illnesses; consequently, the work requires constant attention to safety on the job.

Although some construction laborer jobs have no specific educational qualifications or entry-level training, apprenticeships for laborers usually require a high school diploma or the equivalent. High school classes in English, mathematics, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, welding, and general shop can be helpful.

Most workers start by getting a job with a contractor who provides on-the-job training. Increasingly, construction laborers are finding work through temporary-help agencies that send laborers to construction sites for short-term work. Entry-level workers generally help more experienced workers, by performing routine tasks such as cleaning and preparing the worksite and unloading materials.

Some laborers receive more formal training in the form of an apprenticeship. These programs include between two and four years of classroom and on-the-job training. In the first 200 hours, workers learn basic construction skills, such as blueprint reading, the correct use of tools and equipment, and safety and health procedures. Training in “green,” energy-efficient construction, an area of growth in the construction industry, is now available and can help workers find employment.

Laborers need manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, good physical fitness, a good sense of balance, and an ability to work as a member of a team. The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly and accurately may be required. In addition, military service or a good work history is viewed favorably by contractors.

About the Author

This article was written by Jay Myers