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Construction hiring is booming — and there still are plenty of available jobs

The U.S. shed 2.3 million construction jobs as the housing bubble burst, and has only regained about 1.85 million

One of the brightest spots in recent employment reports has been construction hiring.

Employers added a net new 23,000 construction jobs in September, the Labor Department said Friday, and the number of people working in the industry was 315,000 higher compared to a year earlier.

But there are still construction jobs open – and the pay and perks aren’t bad. At the end of July, there were 273,000 open construction jobs, according to a separate Labor Department report.

“The construction industry added workers and increased pay in the past year at rates higher than the overall economy,” said Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade group. “However, the pool of unemployed workers with construction experience has nearly evaporated.”

In September, average hourly earnings for construction workers was $30.18, higher than the $27.24 earned by all workers.

The construction hiring spree of the last five years marks the second-strongest such stretch on record, economist Ed Zarenski wrote on Twitter Friday.

The numbers for residential construction are smaller – but that trajectory is roughly the same. Still, industry groups continue to say it’s hard to find help, and qualified workers can name their price.

At the School of Concrete and Construction Management at Nashville-based Middle Tennessee State University, there were nearly six jobs open for each graduate of the program, and the average starting salary for graduates was $52,000. For all workers at all stages of professional life, the average pay in the area is $58,000 in the Nashville metro area, according to government data. While most graduates of the program take jobs in large construction firms, many choose to start their own companies, according to a spokesperson.

The Nashville housing market is one of the hottest in the country – but it’s not the only place where there’s a great need for workers – and residential construction is just one piece of the industry.

What’s more, despite the recent hiring boom, the industry still hasn’t gotten back to pre-recession levels, Zarenski noted. Only 1.85 million construction jobs have been gained since 2011 – but 2.3 million were lost as the bubble burst.

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