Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Construction's Movers and Shakers: Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction
by Pat O'Connor
Published Jun-15-2012

Construction was among the hardest hit industries during the recession, and just as the broad sector lost jobs, so did the subsector focused on building the state's infrastructure - heavy and civil engineering construction. Job counts are still well below pre-recession levels, but the industry began to rebound a bit in 2011.

Heavy and civil engineering construction is comprised of companies whose primary activity is the construction of entire engineering projects, such as highways, dams, or landfills. The subsector also includes specialty trade contractors whose primary activity is producing a specific component for these types of projects. Specialty trade contractors in heavy and civil engineering construction generally perform activities that are specific to heavy and civil engineering projects and that are not normally performed on buildings. For example, painting lines on a highway requires specialized equipment that would not be used in a building application, so it would be included in heavy and civil engineering construction. However, installing traffic signals, which is specific to highways, uses the same skills and equipment that are needed to perform electrical work on buildings. Therefore, they would be classified within the specialty trade contractors industry, where contractors that normally work on buildings are classified.

Other activities in heavy and civil engineering include water resource projects, such as dredging and land drainage. Also included would be projects involving open space improvements of parks and trails. Businesses whose primary activity is the subdivision of land into individual building lots and performing additional site improvements such as road building and utility line installation are also included in this subsector.

Recent Employment Trends
Like the construction industry as a whole, heavy and civil engineering construction experienced significant job loss in recent years. In April 2007 the subsector employed 11,400 in Oregon. In April 2011, job counts were down to 8,100, a drop of 3,300 jobs, or 29 percent, between April 2007 and April 2011. Oregon's construction sector lost 34,200 jobs, or 34 percent, over the same period of time; that was the sharpest decline of all Oregon's supersectors over that period of time. Oregon's total nonfarm employment declined 5.8 percent from April 2007 to April 2011.

Although heavy and civil engineering construction employment is still down significantly from its pre-recession level, on an annual basis, the industry bottomed out in 2010 with 9,100 jobs. Annual average employment grew to 9,600 jobs in 2011.

The statewide annual average wage for heavy and civil engineering construction was $64,797 in 2011, 31 percent higher than the construction sector as a whole, which had an average wage of $49,105 in 2011. Both construction and heavy and civil engineering construction outpaced the statewide average wage across all industries; which was $43,091 in 2011.

Looking at heavy and civil engineering and construction wages by county shows us significant differences at the county level. Higher average annual wages are seen in the Portland area. Clackamas County ($70,014), Multnomah County ($73,866), and Washington County ($80,331) had the highest average annual wages of Oregon's 36 counties in 2011. The counties in the Willamette Valley and the coast were mostly in the middle of the pack in terms of wages and the lowest annual wages within the industry were seen in Eastern Oregon, where most counties annual wages were less than $40,000 within this industry.

As shown in Table 1, a large majority (77%) of the workers in heavy and civil engineering construction are male. The subsector is not quite as male-dominated as the overall construction industry, where more than four out of five workers (82%) are male. When looking at Oregon's workforce across all industries, employment is equal between men and women, both comprising 50 percent of the workforce.

Workers in heavy and civil engineering construction are also older as a group compared with Oregon's total workforce, and also compared with the whole construction sector (Graph 1). Heavy and civil engineering construction has a particularly high concentration of workers in the 45 to 54 and the 55 to 64 age groups. Half (49.3%) of the workers in the subsector are 45 to 64 years old. The construction supersector has a relatively larger share of young workers and only 38 percent of their workers are between the ages of 45 and 64. Oregon's total workforce has four in 10 (39.7%) workers in that age group. With an older workforce, employers will face many retirements and they'll need to recruit skilled replacement workers.

Table 1
Percent Employed in Oregon by Gender: 2010
  Male Female
Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction 77% 23%
Construction 82% 18%
All Industries  50% 50%
Source: Quarterly Workforce Indicators, QWI
Graph 1
Employment by age and industry 2010
Future Trends
Heavy and civil engineering construction is projected to grow 21 percent from 2010 to 2020. Construction as a whole is forecast to grow more quickly, expanding employment 27 percent over the decade. Both will outpace Oregon's overall employment growth, which is forecast to expand 18 percent over the decade.

Normally, employment growth of 21 percent over a decade would be considered quite healthy growth. However, for a sector that lost three out of 10 jobs over the past five years, the growth from 2010 to 2020 will not get heavy and civil engineering construction back to its pre-recession employment level. The subsector's employment is projected to grow from 9,100 in 2010 to 11,000 in 2020. The pre-recession employment high for heavy and civil engineering construction was 12,300 in 2007; 1,300 additional jobs or 12 percent higher than where the subsector is forecast to be in 2020.