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AASHTO Journal

Surveys Indicate Labor Market Continues to Tighten

​Private sector employment increased by 204,000 jobs from March to April, according to the most recent ADP National Employment Report, with the construction industry creating 27,000 jobs and the trade/transportation/utilities sector adding 14,000 positions.

According to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, at this pace unemployment will soon be "in the threes," meaning around 3 percent, which he explained is "rarified and risky territory, as the economy threatens to overheat."

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though, the U.S. economy added 164,000 jobs, which pushed the official unemployment rate down to 3.9% – a level last seen in December of 2000.

"The labor market continues to maintain a steady pace of strong job growth with little sign of a slowdown," added Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute.

construct-pause.jpg"However, as the labor pool tightens, it will become increasingly difficult for employers to find skilled talent. Job gains in the high-skilled professional and business services industry accounted for more than half of all jobs added this month [April]," he added. "The construction industry, which also relies on skilled labor, continued its six month trend of steady job gains as well."

Those trends are continuing to make it difficult for state departments of transportation to find the workers they need.

In a recent interview with AASHTO's Transportation TV, Jennifer Cohan, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation, noted that "we're competing with contractors in state, with engineering firms, from every different level. Finding qualified applicants is a real challenge."

She noted that while Delaware has a capital program that's three sizes larger than it was in 2009, DelDOT is handling it with a third less staff. "We're being efficient about it but workforce is a huge issue for us," she said. "I need at every level engineers, planners, finance people, and marketing specialists."

Thus, as labor markets continue to tighten, new strategies for recruiting talent and retaining it will be needed, noted the Conference Board in a new report. That group's research indicates U.S. businesses in particular are lowering educational requirements for some cohorts of workers while increasing the use of teleworking as means to increase their ability to fill open job positions.

Beyond the U.S., companies in some or all corners of the globe are hiring more women and mature workers, along with increasing automation of certain job functions., the Conference Board added.

The group's new Global Labor Market Outlook also indicates that in 2017 labor markets tightened in almost every country, spurred by two main factors: the acceleration in global economic activity, which led to strong hiring, and slow-to-negative growth in the labor supply.

In the U.S., a third factor continues to exacerbate workforce tightness, and that is the low labor force participation rate resulting, in part, from the ongoing opioid epidemic and a rising number of people not in the labor force due to disability, the Conference Board noted.

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