Should You Build or Should You Go? The Best States for a Construction Job


ERP Analyst, Software Advice

Finding a construction job may be getting easier–at least in some states. A June 2012 report by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) identified 20 states that are adding construction jobs. The map below (click to enlarge) shows the percentage of jobs lost/gained between May 2011 and May 2012.

State Construction Employment Change

Source: AGC of America, from Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

To help individuals in the construction industry understand what kinds of jobs are being created–and the skills needed to land them–I recently caught up with Ken Simonson, Chief Economist at AGC.

Three Drivers of Construction Jobs Growth

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons a particular state added construction jobs, Simonson said that he’s seeing three common drivers across growth states:

  1. Low vacancy rates are spurring investment in apartment complex construction.
  2. The acceleration of natural gas extraction is fueling related construction job growth.
  3. Manufacturing investment is leading to new manufacturing facility construction.

McGraw-Hill Construction’s recent report on workforce shortages sheds some light on the kinds of jobs these market drivers create. According to the survey of 2,223 construction industry professionals, fields such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, plumbing engineering, and others expect a skilled labor shortage in the near-future. Below, I detail how these positions (and others) play into the trends Simonson highlighted. Note that this is not an exhaustive list, nor are these the only relevant markets for these professions.

1. Apartment Complex Construction

One of the big differences between states that added construction jobs and states that lost them, according to Simonson, is the statewide apartment vacancy rate. States that have low apartment vacancy rates are seeing an uptick in apartment building construction. While these projects require most types of construction workers, here’s a sampling of the jobs and skills in highest demand for this industry.

Carpenter: Carpentry is a logical fit to capitalize on growth in apartment construction. Carpenters who are able to solve mathematical problems quickly and accurately as well as plan the sequence of construction are indispensable in efficiently building a complex.

Millwork: The millwork trade is in high demand to produce the doors, crown moldings, window casings, etc. needed to finish an apartment. In today’s millwork environment, skills with computerized machinery as well as strong mathematical (especially geometric) skills are a must.

Electrician: Electricians are needed to wire multi-family units and require an understanding of how to run standard power distribution systems to lights and other electrical outlets in apartments. This requires knowledge of computer systems, building management systems, fire alarms and standard power distribution systems.

2. Natural Gas Extraction

The growth of the natural gas industry is another major driver of growth in many states. It supports a variety of construction jobs because of a need for things like site prep, well digging and road construction. Many of these jobs involve heavy construction or engineering.

Civil engineering: On sites where natural gas is being extracted, civil engineers are needed to plan roads, highways and other infrastructure projects. Laurence Shatkin, author of 21st Century Jobs, believes that demand for civil engineers will spike 24.3 percent over the next few years. Of course, getting a job as a civil engineer requires an extensive educational background.

Plumbing engineers: Plumbing engineers are needed who understand how to manage the hydraulics required to extract natural gas thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface.

Earthwork and excavation: There is a need to excavate specific sands and minerals that are used in the natural gas extraction process. Individuals in these industries typically need to know how to operate mining equipment, such as scooptrams and drilling equipment.

3. Manufacturing Facilities

The need to build industrial facilities such as manufacturing plants can spur significant growth. In fact, Simonson credits the construction of the new five billion dollar Intel plant in Phoenix as the major factor in Arizona’s job boom.

Iron work: These people are needed to erect large steel frames for industrial facilities. They will need to have experience in industrial steel framing, fabrication and welding. Welding is one of the most sought after skill in this group, as it takes up to four years to become a certified welder.

Electrician: Electricians who want to land a industrial job need to be able to work with industrial equipment and understand how to work on large-scale commercial projects. These electricians need to know how to install power and controls to motors and HVAC systems, as well as run power distribution directly from an electrical grid.

Technology Can Help You Decide Whether to Move

Individuals who possess these in-demand skills may be tempted to relocate to one of the 20 growth states, though this can be risky. Fortunately, online plan rooms–forums where construction projects, plans and drawings are posted–have made it easier to decide whether it’s worth making the move.

Though designed to help contractors bid on jobs, these rooms can also help job seekers identify where there are currently projects requiring workers. You can browse by construction project type (e.g., commercial, multi-family residential and industrial), trade (HVAC, concrete and plumbing), and location. These listings are a great way to ensure that jobs exist before making a move.

If you’re in the industry, what jobs and skills would you recommend others to pursue? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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