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Aug. 14, 2020

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Construction builds the bones of strong September jobs report

The sector is up about 13 percent through this year; 100 jobs added in the month

By , Columbian Business Editor
Published:

Clark County’s job-producing machine remained healthy in September, adding 200 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to Washington Employment Security Department data released Tuesday.

And perhaps the most vital cog — construction — positively hummed in September, as it has for all of this year.

Unemployment in the county was estimated at 4.1 percent in September, six tenths of a point below the 4.7 percent rate of last September. The rate was lower than it’s been since early 2000. Over the year, the estimated number of employed residents was up eight-tenths of a percentage point while the number of unemployed workers fell by 12 percent.

“We’ve had a pretty steady trend of job growth, and it looks as if it’s going to stay that way,” said Scott Bailey, regional economist for the Washington Employment Security Department.

In construction and mining — a job category that is lumped into one — 15,800 were employed in September in the county compared with 14,000 for the same month last year. Between August and September, the segment gained 100 jobs.

Bailey noted that it’s hard to see construction employment growing much more — not because there’s a shortage of projects, but because there’s a shortage of qualified workers.

Darcy Altizer, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, agreed.

“The hiring challenge has been a reoccurring theme within the past few years,” Altizer said via email. “Specialized workers are extremely difficult to find and retain in the construction industry.”

Altizer said the trend is expected to continue in the short term, but that her association and like-minded groups are working together on long-term strategies to attract more workers.

“The SWCA is working to increase interest in the trades across all age groups,” she said. “For example, we created a children’s coloring book, we are strengthening partnerships with local school districts, community colleges and trade schools. These are all important components in making sure we have skilled workers to replace the aging workforce.”

The skilled construction labor shortage is real, but there’s reason for hope, said Tracy Doriot, managing partner of Doriot Construction.

“We’re starting to see an upswing in people wanting to make things with their hands,” said Doriot, who is a member of the construction technology advisory board for Cascadia Technical Academy, formerly the Clark County Skills Center, at 12200 N.E. 28th St.

“During the recession it was hard to find enough kids to fill classes,” said Doriot, the past president of the Building Industry Association of Clark County, “and now we’re back to capacity. We’re finding kids who want to build things with their hands.”

But Doriot, whose Washougal-based company turned 40 this year, acknowledged that it will be at least a couple of years before the local construction industry sees the benefit of the newly trained workforce.

In the meantime, “Subs lack bandwidth in their own companies to do things in a timely manner,” he said of project subcontractors. “We’re having HVAC, framers, painters, you name it, who could use a half-dozen more people yesterday.”

Washington’s economy added 4,500 jobs in September, and the state’s seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate for September was 4.4 percent according to the Employment Security Department.

The September unemployment rate decreased slightly from the August 2018 unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, making it the lowest rate recorded based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data series dating back to 1976.

The national unemployment rate dropped slightly to 3.7 percent in September. In September 2017, the national unemployment rate was 4.2 percent.

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