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US jobs report shows hiring acceleration, but construction jobs lag

"The lack of skilled trade workers puts a major strain on the developments [...] in Austin," a construction company's senior vice president said.

AUSTIN, Texas — According to the U.S. Department of Labor's May jobs report, non-farm payroll employment rose by 559,000 last month. Much of the growth happened in the education, health care, social assistance and leisure & hospitality industries. However, the construction industry is not experiencing the same growth. 

Construction employment dropped by about 20,000 jobs in May, which the Department of Labor says reflects a job loss in nonresidential specialty trade contractors. Additionally, there are 225,000 fewer construction jobs now compared to February 2020.

Despite the high demand for commercial construction in Austin and other parts of the country, Chris Szeliga, senior vice president and Austin office lead for JE Dunn Construction, said there are several reasons why people are not taking construction jobs right now.

"Counselors and parents, they're not pushing their children to go into construction," Szeliga said. "They're pushing their kids to go to college and get degrees related to the tech industry. Everyone wants to program computers and whatnot. No one wants to go out when it's 110 degrees or when it's 50 degrees and raining and work in construction jobs."

Szeliga said JE Dunn Construction is working with companies like Skill Point Alliance to train more people to work as electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians. He also said he's working with Austin ISD and Women in Construction Week to teach students about opportunities working in construction. 

"However, without skilled trade academies, keeping pace with the demand, we believe will continue to see shortages in construction and labor," Szeliga said.

Several studies indicate that many Americans are considering changing their jobs post-pandemic, and Szeliga said that makes it difficult to recruit skilled trade workers.

"That is a concern, particularly in Austin, when we have so many phenomenal companies moving here in the tech industry and people can, frankly, go get jobs working for the technical companies in lieu of being out on a construction site where they have to be in the inclement weather, waking up early, working when it's hot, when it's cold, etc.," Szeliga said.

Szeliga said with all of the growth in Austin, the lack of construction workers is impacting new developments.

"The lack of skilled trade workers puts a major strain on the developments that are currently happening in Austin and what it's doing is causing the folks that are currently in our industry to work a lot of hours, to work a lot of overtime, to work weekends," Szeliga said. "We try to minimize that to the greatest extent that we can, mainly for the safety of our workers and secondarily so that they can have some work-life balance and still spend time at home and with their families."

Szeliga said that, generally, commercial construction jobs pay much higher than the minimum wage. He said people can start at $17 or $18 per hour and then work their way up. 

"Even in non-union jobs in Austin, up to $30, $35 an hour. So it's definitely a great opportunity to make a fantastic living for themselves and for their families," Szeliga said. "There's so much tremendous opportunity right now in all different trades across the board that really folks can find something that they're interested in and get a great career."


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