Construction firms are still adding jobs across the Washington region, but more slowly than they were at this time last year -- 6,500 in the 12 months ended April 2005, accounting for 9 percent of the region's total.

In 2003 and early 2004, when local job growth accelerated, the construction industry was a key reason. The sector, driven by an explosive housing market and many public works projects, added 8,100 jobs across the region in the 12 months ended in April 2004, accounting for 13 percent of the region's new positions.

Now, the slower growth rate isn't attributable to any slowdown in the region's housing market, which has continued soaring this year. The number of residential contruction jobs rose by 1,200 in the year ended in April, off just slightly from the 1,300 jobs created in the year ended April 2004.

Nor is there any apparent slowdown on the construction of bridges and roads. There were 800 more heavy and civil engineering jobs in April than a year earlier, compared with a 500-job gain in the same period ended April 2004.

Rather, the slower growth in construction jobs appears to be confined to specialty trade contractors, which includes plumbers, drywall installers. That segment of the industry has added 3,600 positions in the past year, compared with 6,300 in the year before that. Anecdotal information from construction executives suggests the slower hiring isn't a result of more sluggish business -- it reflects a shortage of skilled workers in those fields.

-- Neil Irwin