State sees strong construction job growth in next decade
by Justin Carinci
Published: November 20th, 2009
State economists expect construction employment to grow slightly, compared to 2008 levels, over the next decade. Compared to 2009 levels, that’s a big jump in jobs.
The looming wave of retirements by baby boomers is not the only factor, although the numbers reflect that as well. Projections show the construction industry adding 700 jobs above that replacement rate.
Statewide, the number of construction jobs has generally risen over the last 20 years. From 2003 to 2007, the industry boomed, adding nearly 30,000 jobs.
The bust came even more quickly, with about as many jobs disappearing in two years.
On a monthly chart, 2008 didn’t look good, said Nick Beleiciks, a state employment economist. It’s a steep downward slope.
The yearly average of those months, however, looks fairly good by historical standards: 94,300 people working in construction, more than any other year (except 2007) in decades.
So what does a slight increase from that level mean?
“That would be a lot of growth compared to where we are in 2009,” Beleiciks said. The most recent count, for October, showed 79,800 people working in construction.
The state’s projections, released last week, show residential building construction up 4 percent and nonresidential building construction down 1 percent by 2018. Heavy and civil construction would return to 2008 levels.
Specialty trade contractors, the biggest sector of construction employment, would see a 1-percent rise above 2008 levels, adding 300 jobs. Much of that growth comes from energy-efficiency improvements to existing homes and buildings, Beleiciks said.
The projections aren’t meant to account for events such as the recent housing boom and bust affecting residential construction, or the stimulus packages that boosted civil construction, Beleiciks said. And they show that economists don’t expect the current slump to last.
“It looks past any continued downturns,” Beleiciks said. “Things are worse this year with construction, but we expect it to go back to a normal percentage of total employment.
“Back to normal would be good news for the construction industry on the whole.”
Although the state further breaks out employment by region and job title, those numbers can get confusing, especially at the local level, where there are fewer jobs. In the region comprising Multnomah and Washington counties, for example, the state lists just one pile-driver operator.
That’s a puzzling statistic, said Nelda Wilson of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701. “You have to have two people operating that machine,” she said.
A quick database check turned up at least 19 pile-driver operators working for companies based in Multnomah or Washington counties, Wilson said. That doesn’t include oilers, the operators’ partners on the machine.
“It’s hard to categorize something and box it into one occupation,” Beleiciks said, by way of explanation. Jobs might be counted in a different region or under a different classification.
US Foundations is based in Portland, and does plenty of pile-driving work in the metro area, said Randy Burg, the company’s general manager. But US Foundations is a division of Springfield-based Hamilton Construction, so the jobs are counted under Lane County statistics.
DeWitt Construction also works around the Portland area. But that company is based in Clark County, in Washington state.
The projections are most useful on a broader view, Beleiciks said. “Their primary purpose is for job seekers and students, when they’re planning out their careers.”
Talk of industry growth is good news at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center in Northeast Portland. The center’s four training programs take two to five years to complete, providing a predictor of the future labor force.
“Right now, we don’t have enough jobs to put people in,” said Ron Umali, the center’s assistant training director. “But our number of applicants haven’t changed that much.”
Training-program enrollment remains high, Umali said. The most popular program, the five-year inside-electrician program, has more than 400 apprentices.
That’s enough to provide a cushion to replace retiring baby boomers and still allow for industry growth, Umali said. “We don’t think we’ll have a problem of finding qualified applicants,” he said.