An analysis of new government employment data by the Associated General Contractors of America shows construction employment increased in three-fourths of U.S. metro areas between March 2021 and March 2022. Association officials noted that labor shortages likely kept many firms from adding even more workers during the past year.

“It is heartening to see construction employment come back from the depths of pandemic-induced job losses in most areas,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But the skyrocketing number of job openings shows the industry needs far more workers than are available in many parts of the country.”

The government’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey shows that there were 364,000 job openings in construction going into March–a 52 percent jump from a year earlier, Simonson noted. Openings exceeded the 342,000 employees hired in February, implying that construction firms would have added twice as many employees if they had been available, the economist asserted.

Construction employment rose in 268 or 75% of 358 metro areas over the 12-month period. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas added the most construction jobs (9,300 jobs, 4%), followed by St. Louis, Mo.-Ill. (6,300 jobs, 10%); Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. (6,000 jobs, 4%); and Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (5,300 jobs, 4%). Cheyenne, Wyo. had the highest percentage gain with 42% (1,300 jobs), followed by Bay City, Mich. (27%, 300 jobs); Lake Charles, La. (24%, 3,700 jobs); and Gary, Ind. (18%, 2,600 jobs).

Construction employment declined in 48 metro areas from March 2021 and was stagnant in 42 areas. New York City lost the most jobs (-3,400 or -2%), followed by Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (-2,400 jobs, -3%) and Pittsburgh, Pa. (-1,900 jobs, -3%). The largest percentage declines were in Danville, Ill. (-17 percent, -100%); Charleston, W.Va. (-10 percent, -700%); San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, Calif. (-8 percent, -800%); and Tuscaloosa, Ala. (-8 percent, -500%).

Association officials said that too few young adults and high school students are exposed to the high-paying opportunities that exist within the construction industry. The association has launched a range of efforts, including a digital advertising recruiting campaign, to reach more potential workers. They also urged federal officials to boost funding for career and technical education programs to expose more future workers to construction career opportunities.

“Many people out there would love to make a good living while working with their hands and technology to build amazing projects,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “But too few schools are willing to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that the only path to success is college.”