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Industry Overview
Houses, apartments, factories, offices, schools, roads, and bridges are only some of the products of the construction industry. This industry's activities include the building of new structures as well as additions and modifications to existing ones. The industry also includes maintenance, repair, and improvements on these structures.

Industry Organization
The construction industry is divided into three major segments. The construction of buildings segment includes contractors, usually called general contractors, who build residential, industrial, commercial, and other buildings. Heavy and civil engineering construction contractors build sewers, roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, and other projects related to our Nation’s infrastructure. Specialty trade contractors perform specialized activities related to all types of construction such as carpentry, painting, plumbing, and electrical work.

Construction usually is done or coordinated by general contractors, who specialize in one type of construction such as residential or commercial building. They take full responsibility for the complete job, except for specified portions of the work that may be omitted from the general contract. Although general contractors may do a portion of the work with their own crews, they often subcontract most of the work to heavy construction or specialty trade contractors.

Specialty trade contractors usually do the work of only one trade, such as painting, carpentry, or electrical work, or of two or more closely related trades, such as plumbing and heating. Beyond fitting their work to that of the other trades, specialty trade contractors have no responsibility for the structure as a whole. They obtain orders for their work from general contractors, architects, or property owners. Repair work is almost always done on direct order from owners, occupants, architects, or rental agents.

Recent Developments
The construction industry has been strongly affected by the credit crisis and recession that began in December 2007. Housing prices fell and foreclosures of homes rose sharply, particularly in overbuilt areas of the country. New housing construction, while still ongoing, dropped significantly. The recession is expected to impact other types of construction as well. Retailers are refraining from building new stores and State and local governments are reducing spending. However, as energy costs have risen, some companies are finding it necessary to build or renovate buildings that are not energy efficient. "Green construction" is an area that is increasingly popular and involves making buildings as environmentally friendly and energy efficient as possible by using more recyclable and earth-friendly products.

Construction, with 7.2 million wage and salary jobs and 1.8 million self-employed and unpaid family workers, is one of the nation's largest industries. About 64 percent of wage and salary jobs in construction were in the specialty trade contractors sector, primarily plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning; electrical; and masonry. Around 23 percent of jobs were in residential and nonresidential building construction. The rest were in heavy and civil engineering construction.

Employment in this industry is distributed geographically in much the same way as the Nation's population. There were about 884,300 construction establishments in the United States in 2008: 269,700 were building construction contractors; 57,600 were heavy and civil engineering construction or highway contractors; and 557,000 were specialty trade contractors. Most of these establishments tend to be small; 68 percent employed fewer than 5 workers. About 12 percent of workers are employed by these very small contractors.

Working Environment 
Most employees in this industry work full time, and many work over 40 hours a week. The working environment for civil engineers working in the field of construction may vary between a typical office setting, and spending time on building sites planning or overseeing aspects of construction.

STEM Degree Paths into this Industry
There are many career paths into every industry...within the Career Cornerstone Center we focus on describing the STEM and Medicine (STEM) career paths that may be prevalent in a given industry. Construction offers a great variety of career opportunities. This website focuses primarily on career paths for those with degrees in science, engineering, mathematics, computing, technology, and medicine, which represent a small portion of the many people involved in construction. 

Industry Forecast
The number of wage and salary jobs in the construction industry is expected to grow 19 percent through the year 2018, compared with the 11 percent projected for all industries combined. Employment in this industry depends primarily on the level of new construction as well as renovation activity on older buildings, which is expected to increase modestly over the coming decade.

Residential construction is expected to grow moderately over the decade to meet the needs of a growing population. Particularly, as the oldest children of the baby boomers reach their peak house-buying years in the coming decade, demand for housing by them is expected to grow to meet their needs. Demand by an expanding older population for senior housing and healthcare residences will lead to growth in these areas. The renovation and expansion of older homes should prove relatively constant over the projection period.

Employment is expected to grow in the nonresidential construction sector over the decade as well. Replacement of many industrial plants has been delayed for years, and a large number of structures will have to be replaced or remodeled. There will also be a need for all types of medical treatment facilities to meet the demands of the growing elderly population. Construction of schools will continue to be needed, especially in the South and West, where the population is growing the fastest. However, the stress on many State and local governments’ budgets may be such that new construction for schools will be postponed for several years until the economy recovers.

Employment in heavy and civil engineering construction is projected to increase due to growth in new highway, bridge, and street construction, as well as in maintenance and repairs to prevent further deterioration of the Nation's existing highways and bridges. Voters and legislators in most States and localities continue to approve spending on road construction, which will create jobs over the next decade. Another area of expected growth is in power line and related construction. Even with increased conservation and more efficient appliances, there is an increasing demand for power. Increase demand for workers will likely result from new power plant construction and connecting these new facilities to the current power grids.

The largest number of new jobs is expected to be created in specialty trades contracting because it is the largest segment of the industry and because it is expected to grow about as fast as the rest of the construction industry. The number of jobs will grow as demand increases for subcontractors in new building and heavy construction, and as more workers are needed to repair and remodel existing homes, which specialty trade contractors are more likely to perform. Home improvement and repair construction is expected to continue even as new home construction slows. Remodeling should provide many new jobs because of a growing stock of old residential and nonresidential buildings. Many older, smaller homes will be remodeled to appeal to more affluent buyers interested in more space and amenities. Remodeling tends to be more labor-intensive than new construction. In addition, the construction industry, as well as all types of businesses and institutions, is increasingly contracting out the services of specialty trades workers instead of keeping these workers on their own payrolls.

Despite 19 percent overall employment growth of the construction industry, construction trades growth is expected to vary. For example, employment of rail-track laying and maintenance equipment operators; first line supervisors of construction trades; and pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow faster than the industry average because their specialized services will be in greater demand. On the other hand, employment of structural iron and steel workers is expected to grow more slowly than the construction industry as a whole as workers become more productive. Nonetheless, nearly all construction trades are projected to experience some growth. Only helpers of roofers and of painters, paperhangers, plasterers and stucco masons are expected to experience a decline.

Employment of construction managers is expected to grow as a result of the increasing complexity of construction work that needs to be managed, including the need to deal with the proliferation of laws dealing with building construction, worker safety, and environmental issues.

Related Degree Fields

Professional Associations/Other Resources

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.



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