Digital Economy’s Biggest Job Gains Are in … Construction?

The latest jobs data reveals a surprising 54% jump in construction industry jobs. The second surprise: most are related to digital transformation.

It isn’t surprising that digitally transforming the economy requires hundreds of thousands of more data scientists, cybersecurity experts, and other tech-centric jobs. But it might shock a lot of people to hear that one of the biggest demands related to high tech concern existing, far more traditional work.

According to this week’s jobs data, there were 360,000 job openings in the construction industry in March, a 25% increase from February and a 54% increase from a year earlier. It’s the industry with the fastest growth in job openings, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The other firms seeing a job opening surge are organizations in transportation, warehouses, and utilities, which are looking for 11% more jobs than they were a year ago.

Experts say those gains are, in part, due to organizations that need to reinvent—or, in some cases, build from scratch—warehouses, computer server farms, support centers, and other critical, physical pieces that let firms use data, build customized products, and deliver goods faster. “It’s a paradoxical effect. The stronger digital gets, the more physical presence you need to satisfy the needs,” says Melissa Swift, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the firm’s Digital Advisory practice in North America.

Organizations of all types are continuing to hang up the “help wanted” sign in this humming US economy, of course. There were nearly 7.5 million job openings in March, a 346,000 increase from February and close to the record of more than 7.6 million seen in November 2018. Over the 12 months ending in March, the economy added 2.7 million new jobs.

It may seem surprising that the digital economy is spurring growth from two industries that date back literally thousands of years. But as just one example, Walmart’s surging online retail business has required the company to adjust its supply chain, says Scott Mcfarlane, Korn Ferry’s vice president of client development. Overhauling a supply chain requires creating new warehouses, building roads, and expanding airports to get things to customers.

To be sure, not all the construction and warehouse jobs are going to people who can drive forklifts or handle a jackhammer. Both industries need their fair share of data scientists, digital marketing professionals, and IT experts. Still, there are plenty of new jobs that do the same construction and warehouse roles of decades ago, even if the new jobs demand a couple of new skills. “The myth of automation is that all the jobs will go. It’s really that all the jobs will change,” Swift says.