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Spotlight on Women in the Construction Industry

Job openings in the construction industry are near record levels.  Currently, there are about 450,000 job openings in construction, much higher than the average number of job openings in that industry in the last seven years (see Figure 1).  The demand for workers is attributable to a number of factors, including ongoing single-family home construction amid low existing home inventory, investment in building capacity for factories, and the normalization of supply chain disruptions (that began shortly after the start of the pandemic) alongside stabilizing input prices for construction materials.  

Looking at employment for workers with less than a bachelor’s degree across major industries,   construction shows the lowest share of women workers. As Figure 2 shows (horizontal axis), among workers with less than a BA, women’s share of industry employment ranges widely – women make up only 9 percent of employees in the construction industry but account for 80 percent of education and health services employees. The construction sector is a large employer of people without a BA, representing nearly 10 million workers or more than 10 percent of employment for those without a BA. Women account for a small percent of the workforce in the construction industry. Although women do comprise a relatively larger share of workers in some occupations within construction, those occupations are a small share of industry employment.  Most women are concentrated in office administration and support jobs, while a very small number hold jobs in construction/extraction occupations, which comprise the bulk of construction employment.

Construction is a high-paying industry. Construction has the highest industry average hourly earnings, at about $27, for all workers with less than a bachelor’s degree, as seen in Figure 2.  The education and health services industry, which is the largest employer of women without a BA, has average wages that are about 22 percent lower ($21 per hour).  However, an important limitation is that these are averages across the entire industry.  Certain occupations in construction – such as building and grounds cleaning occupations – tend to pay less. Other occupations like installation, maintenance and repair occupations tend to pay more. 

If more women entered and stayed in construction, there could be enough workers to fill existing job openings. If more women entered construction and raised their share of employment even incrementally to approach that in other industries, the corresponding number of additional workers in the construction industry would exceed the number of job openings, as seen in Figure 3. The bar on the left represents the current number of construction job openings.  The bar on the right indicates the number of additional women that would be in construction if their representation moved closer to that of transportation and utilities, which is the industry with the next higher representation.1 The right bar is higher than the left bar, meaning that the number of additional female workers would more than cover the existing job openings in construction.  (In fact, only a 4-percentage point increase in their share of construction employment is what is needed to fill the existing job openings). Of course, this is a hypothetical example, meant to illustrate the rough scale of the opportunities available in construction for women to fill job openings rather than to predict what would happen if more women entered construction. 

Raising women’s share of employment in construction and developing both a recruitment pipeline and retention strategies will likely require a variety of approaches. Recent data show women’s employment in construction has seen a slight increase, indicating that possibilities, despite barriers, exist for women in the industry. For example, the share of all women (across education levels) in construction increased from 12.5 percent in 2016 to 14.2 percent over the past 12 months. While construction jobs typically have low educational barriers to entry, becoming a skilled trades worker requires both technical training and access to a network, as construction often recruits by word-of-mouth. Some women also cite environmental conditions, such as job site culture, discrimination, harassment, and limited access to supportive services such as child care as barriers to entry and retention. Broadening access to pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship training programs, increasing child-care resources, improved jobsite culture, and improved marketing and outreach could all help ease entry barriers.

 

[1] This is excluding mining, which is a very small industry.  This increase in representation would entail raising the female share in construction, about 9 percent, halfway to the transportation and utilities share (of about 23 percent), to 16 percent.