Minnesota’s construction industry employs over 120,000 people and accounts for millions of dollars in the state’s economy. Investments in roads, bridges, houses, buildings, and other infrastructure all tend to increase the quality of life in Minnesota– supporting communities, improving business competitiveness, and growing the economy. Because Minnesota’s population is expected to increase by about one million people by 2030, finding the right workers to enter construction careers who can skillfully construct infrastructure improvements will be crucial to Minnesota’s long-term economic success.
A recent report, “Construction Careers Versus Construction Jobs: A Case Study of Two Construction Sectors in the Twin Cities Region,” by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) looks at the difference between construction careers and seasonal jobs in Minnesota’s construction industry.
Currently, workers in the “highway, street, and bridge construction” sector in the Twin Cities area treat their craft as a career. Workers in “residential building construction” on the other hand, are more likely to treat their occupation as a short-term, seasonal job.
Highway, street, and bridge construction has lower turnover rates than residential building construction across all six counties in the metropolitan region. The turnover rate in residential building construction was an average of 9.3 percent from 2006 to 2014 – significantly less than highway, street, and bridge construction at 3.7 percent.
Workers in highway, street, and bridge construction also earn significantly higher salaries than workers in residential building construction. Employees earn an average of $5,082 per month in road construction compared to $3,449 in residential infrastructure. This $1,633 monthly difference in earnings is partially responsible for lower turnover rates in highway, street, and bridge construction.
Higher earnings encourage workers in highway, street, and bridge construction to treat their craft as a long-term career. On the other hand, workers in residential building construction may treat the industry as a short-term job, jumping around from contractor to contractor and project to project. Residential building construction workers are also more likely leave the construction industry entirely for careers in other sectors, such as manufacturing, transportation, and utilities.
Employment in highway, street, and bridge construction is more stable than residential building construction for many reasons. The main differences are that highway, street, and bridge construction positions are more likely to pay higher wages, provide better fringe benefits packages, be unionized, and offer apprenticeship training. These positive benefits reduce turnover rates, creating long-term careers for skilled, productive workers and lowering costs for employers.
To support long-term careers in the Twin Cities construction industry, policies that support good wages and good benefits, high levels of unionization, and registered apprenticeship programs must be preserved and strengthened.