The construction industry posted strong employment figures for February, adding 48,000 jobs—the largest monthly gain in several years—and lowering its jobless rate from January and February 2012's levels.

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly employment report, released on March 8, shows that construction’s February unemployment rate fell to 15.7% from January’s 16.1%. Last month’s rate also was better than the year-earlier level of 17.1%.

All construction sectors experienced a pickup in jobs last month, led by specialty-trade contractors, which added 31,700 positions. Buildings construction recorded a gain of 8,500 jobs, and the heavy-civil segment added 8,200 jobs.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, noted that the 48,000 jobs gained is the largest monthly increase in almost six years. “While the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, it is heading in the right direction,” he added.

Simonson said construction unemployment may rise by 250,000 in 2013. Along with continued improvement in the residential sector, he says, “there will likely be strong growth in power and energy-related projects, manufacturing and distribution facilities and private construction.” But he added, “Public construction remains weak.”

The industry’s overall gain of 48,000 jobs in February followed a 25,000 increase in the previous month. The February jobs numbers are preliminary; BLS could adjust them in succeeding months as new data comes in.

One negative note in the BLS report was that construction’s February unemployment rate was the highest among U.S. industries. 

The BLS jobless rates are not adjusted for seasonal swings.

BLS also said the overall U.S. economy added 236,000 jobs in February and the national unemployment rate dipped to 7.7% from January’s 7.9%.