All those cranes you see in Seattle and Bellevue point to a strong forecast for construction jobs, both statewide and locally.

Share story

Want to know which job sector will see the most growth in the Seattle metro area this year? Just look up. All those cranes you see in Seattle and Bellevue point to a strong forecast for construction jobs, both statewide and locally.

In King County, construction-related occupations are predicted to expand by 5.3 percent, and in Snohomish County, it’s 4.7 percent, according to average annual growth rates calculated by the state’s Employment Security Department (ESD).

Why construction? “People in commercial real estate will tell you that there are lots and lots of businesses that want to expand in Seattle, or relocate to Seattle,” says Steve Lerch, executive director of the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. During the recession and a little beyond, construction activity and employment took a big hit. “So some of what you’re seeing is catch up,” he says.

Filling up tech space
Many of the companies moving or expanding are tech companies such as Amazon, which plans to add 800,000 square feet to its already 4.2 million square feet of offices in the Denny Triangle/South Lake Union area. The tech industry is still seeing strong growth, although much of it is concentrated in King County.

Software developers should see lots of opportunity in King County in the coming year; the ESD predicts 1,500 new jobs and 500 more from turnover. But not all of the growth is in software publishing, says Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional economist with the ESD. “From software development to computer systems design, consulting services to manufacturing, so-called tech jobs show up in a very large number of industries.”

Turning on the spigot
Josh Warborg, district president at Robert Half staffing company in Seattle, is seeing robust demand for professionals in fields such as accounting, financial analysis and project management. “If companies feel that the economy is stable enough to do some long-term capital spending, that’s when they’ll turn the IT spigot on,” he says. “There are lots of positions tied up in that.”

Other strong occupations for the Seattle metro area include retail sales, cashiers, wait staff and other hospitality jobs. But many of those openings are due to the large number of jobs that exist already, and the high turnover in those fields, says Vance-Sherman.


Building infrastructure

Though job growth has been brisk for building construction and trade contractors, heavy and civil engineering took a hit in 2014. This is the industry that builds roads and does other infrastructure construction, which is often dependent on government purse strings. “This is the industry that fell the least when compared to other construction industries due to project-specific stimulus spending during the recession,” says Vance-Sherman.

Replacing retirees
Manufacturing is still seeing steady declines, and aerospace in particular declined in 2014. But Vance-Sherman notes that 25 percent of the local manufacturing workforce is over 55, and that means a large number of retiring workers in the coming years.

“I would expect to see a lot of hiring to replace retiring workers and maintain needed employment levels in manufacturing, even though the tally of jobs will not be growing significantly,” Vance-Sherman says.

Growing ‘reasonably’
Washington state added 6,800 new jobs from October to November, but the state unemployment rate rose for a third straight month, to 6.2 percent. That’s an improvement from last year, though, when the November 2013 unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent.

Locally, the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area had better preliminary November numbers, with an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Dial down to King County, where November’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent — a level economists generally consider full employment.

Those conditions typically draw some of the long-term unemployed who had given up looking for work back into the job hunt. Experts attribute the higher statewide unemployment rate to an increase in new job seekers entering the workforce — which demonstrates optimism in the continuing recovery.

Statewide employment grew 2.8 percent in 2014, and is predicted to expand by 2.3 percent in 2015, which Lerch describes as “pretty reasonable growth.”