Specialty Trade Contractors: The “Trades” Rebound from Recession

by Brian Rooney

August 21, 2018

Oregon’s construction sector took a beating during the Great Recession and along with it, the sector’s largest subsector, specialty trade contractors. In the years following the recession, however, the specialty trade contractors industry has grown rapidly, outpacing total employment. Despite the rapid growth, the industry is just now reaching its prerecession levels.

Specialty trade contractors are the companies that do the specific activities of skilled work that go into a building or other types of construction, but are not responsible for the entire project. Otherwise known as the “trades” they do specific activities like pour concrete, framing, electrical work, plumbing and painting. The work may include new work, additions, alterations, maintenance and repairs. They are often subcontracted from establishments of the general contractor type, but may also work directly for the owner of the property.

Recent Employment Trends

Specialty trade contractors are the largest subsector of the construction sector employing 61,200 workers or 63 percent of the broader sector in 2017. Like the overall sector, specialty trade contractors experienced large losses during the recession, losing roughly 23,500 jobs, or 36 percent of its employment between 2007 and 2010. This was one of the largest industry losses of the recession. In comparison, Oregon’s total all industry employment declined by roughly 7.5 percent from 2007 to 2010.
Since the end of the recession, the specialty trade contractor industry has experienced a strong rebound and is now one of the fastest growing industries. It has added 18,700 jobs for a 44 percent growth rate between the bottom of the recession in 2010 and 2017. This compares to 17 percent for all industries over the same period.

Despite the strong growth, specialty trade contractors had not reached its prerecession annual average peak by 2017. The prerecession peak was 66,000 jobs in 2007. With annual average employment at 61,200 in 2017 and a June 2018 over-the-year growth of 6,000 (9.7%) jobs, it is almost certain that this will be the year when the industry finally reaches its prerecession level.

Wages

Average wages are higher for workers in the specialty trade contractors industry than for the all industry average. In 2017, the annual average wage was $56,458 for specialty trade contractors compared to an annual average of $51,117 across all industries.

There are large differences within the industry, however. The highest wages are in the other building equipment operators category ($83,736 in 2017). This includes companies that install elevators and do machine rigging and piping for factories and breweries. After that, anyone who has had significant work done on their house knows that electricians and plumbers are highly paid. Electrical contractors had an annual average of $69,875 in 2017 while plumbing contractors averaged $62,814. Painting contractors ($36,934), framing contractors ($40,475) and tile contractors ($42,133) were on the lower end of annual average pay in 2017.

Future Employment Trends

The strong growth recently experienced in the specialty trade contractor subsector is expected to continue in the near future but at a slower pace. Oregon Employment Department forecasts show that it is expected to grow 17 percent and add 10,300 jobs between 2017 and 2027, providing plenty of opportunity. This is a little faster than the overall growth rate of 12 percent. Within the subsector building foundation and exterior contractors (22%), building finishing contractors (20%) and other specialty trade contractors (24%) grow faster while building equipment contractors (11%) grow more slowly.


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