State’s Diversifying Construction Workforce To Surpass Pre-Pandemic Levels Soon: Report
By JOHN JORDAN – August 22, 2023
NEW YORK—A recently released report by the New York Building Congress paints a very positive outlook for the state’s construction sector as the industry becomes markedly more diverse and is expected to surpass workforce levels last seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York State’s construction workforce increased by 11% in 2021 compared to the previous year, and by 17% in New York City, according to The Building Congress’ latest ‘Construction Outlook Update – Workforce Snapshot,” released on Aug. 9
Despite being one of the hardest-hit industries by COVID-19 stop work orders, construction is the state’s seventh-highest employing industry, the report noted. The construction labor force grew sharply in New York State and New York City during 2021 after the shutdowns of COVID in 2020. In 2021 more than 545,000 workers were employed in the industry statewide, just under 246,000 (or about 45%) of whom worked in New York City. This reflects a 10.5% increase from roughly 493,000 workers statewide in 2020, with 17% growth in New York City, up from 210,000.
Based on analysis of more recent data by The Building Congress, the statewide construction labor force is expected to exceed levels reached prior to the onset of COVID-19.
“Though limited, BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data on workers employed in the ‘Construction of Buildings, Specialty Trade Contractors and Building Equipment Contractors’ largely tracks in the same direction as American Community Survey data—allowing us to make a reasonable projection that, through May 2023, the construction workforce is estimated to comprise about 575,000 workers.” These projections were “before we consider factors such as federal infrastructure spending toward workforce development, and the influx of migrants into the construction industry as legal employment becomes possible for these individuals. It is conceivable that by the end of this year, our industry will finally be back to pre-pandemic levels of employment, a major milestone in our recovery,” the report stated.
With increased infrastructure spending by New York State and massive funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and a strong private investment climate, the industry is poised for growth in the years to come.
“The construction industry’s labor force is the bedrock of progress in New York state,” commented Carlo A. Scissura, president & CEO of the New York Building Congress. “With skill, dedication and unwavering commitment, these hardworking individuals literally shape the skyline, build our communities and propel our economy forward. From towering skyscrapers to vital transportation and infrastructure projects, their expertise ensures the realization of our boldest visions. As we forge ahead, let’s recognize and celebrate the immense importance of the construction industry workforce as they build the structures and the prosperity of our great state for future generations.”
Gary LaBarbera, president of the New York State Building Trades, added, “With the state continuing to invest in a number of critical infrastructure projects that are set to create thousands of family sustaining careers for working class New Yorkers, it is encouraging to see that our construction labor force is growing and diversifying in tandem with our economic recovery. As we look to get these important initiatives completed efficiently and masterfully, we must maintain a commitment to expanding our construction workforce development and providing more accessible pathways to the middle class for tradesmen and tradeswomen of all backgrounds. A more diverse and growing union construction industry strengthens our overall economy, and we look forward to continuing to offer these opportunities to hard working New Yorkers through our pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs.”
The industry across the state remains diverse, with an uptick over the last year. Recent data shows that the state’s workforce identified as 43% non-white, while 66% of New York City workforce members identified as non-white—both figures represent a 3% increase from the previous year. In New York City, the workforce is getting younger. The percent of professionals under 25 increased from 4.9% to 5.7%, a testament to the professional development and workforce training programs available to young people, the Building Congress stated in its report.
Other key data points from the report that examined data from the latest U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which represents the construction workforce in 2021, include:
- 43% of statewide workers identify as nonwhite, up from 40% in 2020. Comparatively, the workforce in NYC is 66% nonwhite, up from 63% in 2020.
- Statewide, 9.4% of all construction industry workers are women, slightly down from 10% in 2020. The decline within New York City was steeper, going from 8.7% in 2020 to 7.9% in 2021.
- 66% of women in the industry across the state have some college education or higher, compared to 37% of men in the industry. Within NYC, 64% of women have some college education or higher,
- Within New York City, 64% of women have some college education or higher, the same percentage as men.
- 37% of statewide workers indicated English was not their primary language; 25% of the workforce speaks Spanish as their primary language.
- Within New York City, 58% indicated that English was not their primary language, with 40% speaking Spanish. That was up nearly 2% from 2020.
The report noted that the construction industry continues to be “a path to the middle class for workers of all walks of life, speaking a variety of different languages, and hailing from all around the globe. The construction workforce prides itself on this growing diversity, continuing a long history of employment opportunity for New York’s immigrant community.”
- In 2021, 52% of the state’s construction labor force reported a household income of $100,000 or above, with 39% having annual incomes above $125,000. Within New York City, the percentages were 50% and 37%, respectively.
- For households with female construction workers, the average household income was even higher, as 42% had annual incomes above $125,000. Within New York City, 44% of such households had incomes above $125,000.
Recommendations And Insights
Facilitate Work Authorization for Migrant Construction Workers: The report found that only 21% of the statewide workforce, and 35% of New York City’s workforce did not have full citizenship status. To support migrant workers and the workers that left their citizenship status unreported, expedited paths to work authorization should be explored. Streaming work permits for asylum seekers and decreasing fees for federal certification and required training courses would help recent immigrants overcome barriers to work. Adequate support and resources must be available for the 37% of statewide and 58% of citywide workers that indicated that English is not their primary language.
Ensure New York is a Functional and Livable Place for the Construction Workforce: 41% of the construction workforce in New York City travels to work via public transportation and more than half (53%) commute 45 minutes or more to work. Statewide, 35% of workers commute 45 minutes or more to work. New York City and New York State must invest in the infrastructure, including increased transit connectivity and housing that is affordable and accessible to job sites, to support the construction workforce.
Support and Enhance Professional Development for Young Employees: Forty-six percent of construction workers in New York are between the ages of 25 and 45 years old. Just 6.6% of the workforce is under 25, signaling a need to invest in professional development programs across the state. A successful example is the Building and Construction Trades Union’s apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, known as the Apprenticeship Readiness Collective (ARC), which shows high retention rates and placement levels. High school and college programming to recruit young people to careers in the building industry should be expanded nationwide. In addition, the Building Congress encourages state lawmakers to maximize the amount of funding available under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) for workforce development.
Create a Centralized Platform to Support Minority and Women-Owned Businesses: Statewide, only 9.4% of all construction industry workers are women. Investing in minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs). To foster a positive and significant improvement in construction workforce diversity, there should be one centralized platform for MWBEs to bid on state, city, and public authority projects. The New York State Legislature took the first step by passing nation-leading legislation to help MWBEs do business in New York—now it’s time to streamline and ensure this process is as smooth as possible, the Building Congress stated in the report.
Maintain Reliable Pathways to the Middle Class: The construction industry takes pride in being a gateway to the middle class. A total of 52% of the state’s construction labor force reported a household income of $100,000 or above, with 39% having annual household incomes above $125,000. This figure is even higher for households with female construction workers, where 42% reported annual household incomes over $125,000. The Building Congress calls on the city, state and federal government to maintain a steady stream of projects through the IIJA and Inflation Reduction Act by coordinating program applications, expediting approvals, and getting funding to job sites as soon as possible.