Construction’s Movers and Shakers: Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction

by Pat O'Connor

April 21, 2017

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.

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 during the Great Recession. In 2007 the subsector’s annual employment was 12,300 in Oregon. In 2012, annual job count was down to 8,400, a drop of 3,900 jobs, or 32 percent, between 2007 and 2012. Oregon’s construction sector lost 34,400 jobs, or 33 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 5.2 percent from 2007 to 2012.

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 2012 with 8,400 jobs. Annual average employment grew to 9,300 jobs in 2016.


The statewide annual average wage for heavy and civil engineering construction was $68,971 in 2016, 23 percent higher than the construction sector as a whole, which had an average wage of $55,876 in 2016. Both construction and heavy and civil engineering construction outpaced the statewide average wage across all industries; which was $49,452 in 2016.
Heavy and civil engineering and construction wages show significant differences at the county level. Higher average annual wages are seen in the Portland and Salem areas. Multnomah County ($78,474), Polk County ($77,191) and Washington County ($72,158) had the highest average annual wages of Oregon’s 36 counties in 2016. 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.  


A large majority (84%) of the workers in heavy and civil engineering construction are male. The subsector is similar to 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 close to equal between men and women, with men comprising 51 percent of the workforce and women comprising 49 percent.
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. Heavy and civil engineering construction has a particularly high concentration of workers in the 45 to 54 and the 55 to 64 age groups. Nearly half (48%) of the workers in the subsector are 45 to 64 years old. The construction supersector has a relatively large share of young workers and only 39 percent of their workers are between the ages of 45 and 64. Workers ages 45 to 64 make up 37 percent of Oregon’s total workforce. With an older workforce within heavy and civil engineering construction, employers will face more retirements and they’ll need to recruit skilled replacement workers.

Future Trends     

Heavy and civil engineering construction is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 2024; half the growth rate forecast for Oregon’s total employment, which is forecast to grow 14 percent over the decade. However, construction as a whole is forecast to grow significantly faster, expanding employment 22 percent over the decade. The construction of buildings subsector and the specialty trade contractors subsector are where the strong employment growth is forecast to occur in construction, as residential construction continues to bounce back from the Great Recession.

Heavy and civil engineering construction’s 7 percent growth from 2014 to 2024 will not get back to its pre-recession employment level. The subsector’s employment is projected to grow from 8,800 in 2014 to 9,400 in 2024. The pre-recession employment high for heavy and civil engineering construction was 12,300 in 2007; 2,900 jobs short of where the subsector is forecast to be in 2024.

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