Career and Job Highlights
Construction Laborer Career Overview
Construction laborers perform tasks that are necessary for building roads and houses, disposing of hazardous waste, tearing structures down, excavating for subways, environmental restoration, and many other important things. Many of these jobs require high levels of skill and dexterity and are often extremely physically strenuous. Laborers are involved in construction at all stages. In the preliminary phase they prepare sites by cleaning and leveling them. They might then excavate for the foundation, build retaining walls, or otherwise get the site ready for building. They are also involved in handling the building materials, including transporting, identifying, and allocating. They can also use or maintain equipment such as cement mixers or they might apply stucco or grout through a high powered sprayer. Laborers often act as assistants to other construction professionals like carpenters, masons, or engineers.
At sites where roads are being built, construction laborers make sure the work areas stay clear of debris and traffic, and are ready to be built upon. This includes placing traffic barricades or cones, setting up right of ways, and directing traffic around the work area. They can also be involving in installation of sewers, water pipes, and the application of concrete to the surfaces of roads.
When construction laborers are involved in hazardous waste removal, they keep areas safe from radioactive materials, asbestos, lead, and other harmful substances. They use sophisticated monitoring and sampling equipment to detect the materials, and then identify them, package them safely, and move them out. They then make sure the structure or area is free from any lingering materials. Some laborers focus on areas that require high skill levels like using pneumatic drills, guiding pipe placement using lasers, and using explosives to build tunnels, highways, and shafts.
A lot of different equipment is used in construction. Laborers might mix mortar or plaster in big mixers; dig shafts or tunnels using hydraulic and electric boring machines; or use blowtorches, cranes, lasers, or surveying equipment. Computers are being used more often in every industry including construction. Laborers use them to remotely control pipe cleaners or cutters and other complicated tasks. Construction laborers need to have a basic knowledge of many different crafts, like carpentry or masonry, and know what materials and methods they use. At times construction workers work independently and follow instructions and blueprints on their own. Other times they work in a team with other laborers or craftworkers.
The majority of construction laborers focus on one area like road construction. Workers who specialize in demolition or subterranean construction are especially likely to work only in that one area. However, some laborers gain a variety of skills in many different areas.
In 2002 there were just under 100,000 jobs for construction laborers. Most of these jobs were clustered around cities all across the country. Around 15% were self-employed; the vast majority was employed by the construction industry; and over 30% were employed by specialized trade contractors.
Construction Laborer Training and Job Qualifications
Most jobs for construction laborers don’t entail formal training. However, though many workers start out with little experience or knowledge, employers promote gaining skills by completing an apprenticeship or training program. Though the work does not always call for a lot of training, it does require physical strength and endurance. Workers need to be able to work outside or in small spaces. A degree of education is also necessary as laborers need to be able to read and understand instructions, warnings, labels, and directions.
The majority of construction laborers gain proficiency on the job. These people generally start as assistants to professionals. They might be asked to clear the site, transport materials, or load or receive and allocate equipment. As they work at the site they will have the chance to learn how to work with different materials and how to operate equipment. Learning by this process often takes more time than an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships usually give the trainee more comprehensive training. The programs generally take two to four years to finish. The Laborers-Associated General contractors of America Education and Training Fund have created a set of guidelines for apprenticeships to which most programs adhere. The guidelines state that programs involve a minimum of four thousand hours of hands-on, practical training and another four hundred hours in the classroom. This classroom instruction entails learning how to read blueprints, use equipment and tools, and about safety and health guidelines for the first two hundred hours. The next two hundred hours teach students about specialized areas: building construction, road or heavy construction, or environmental repair (clearing areas of trash, landscaping, planting trees, etc.). Laborers also need to get special training to work with hazardous equipment or chemicals. In order to keep the status of apprentice students need to finish at least 144 hours of coursework per year.
In order to enter an apprenticeship, applicants need to be eighteen or older and physically fit for the demands of the job. Some programs list a high school diploma or equivalent as a requirement. Helpful skills can be gained through taking classes in chemistry, physics, or math at high schools or community colleges. Hopeful laborers can also take classes in construction or building at a vocational school.
Such previous experience and formal instruction is extremely beneficial but isn’t necessary for many positions. Oftentimes employers are just as impressed with comparable experience in construction. Also, most professionals appreciate experience gained though the Armed Forces or Job Corps as they provide positions of responsibility and job skills.
Positions for construction laborers require excellent coordination, manual adroitness, and a degree of agility. They also need to be able to understand all of the cautionary signs at a site and be able to read blueprints, plans, and directions. Most construction laborers perform tasks in teams and so they need to be able to work well in a group. They need to be able to assess and solve problems efficiently and have basic math skills. As with any profession, individuals who are responsible, punctual, and industrious will be valuable to employers. Familiarity with computers is becoming increasingly important to construction laborers as well. Some construction laborers who specialize in environmental remediation need to be able to pass a physical assessment which tests whether they can use protective gear like respirators.
Opportunities for advancement for construction laborers can by maximized by experience and diversified skills. Laborers might become supervisors or superintendents of construction. Some gain additional skills, either by observation or formal training, to become craftworkers like carpenters or masons. Some even become self-employed contractors.
Job and Employment Opportunities for Construction Laborers
There is a high turnover for construction laborers and so there are always excellent prospects for those entering the profession. The high turnover is largely due to people leaving the profession to look for more physically comfortable jobs. Prospective construction laborers can maximize their employability by being willing to relocate to construction sites that may be far away.
Job growth for construction laborers is expected to proceed at the rate of the average for all jobs. New positions will be created by the increasing importance of environmental remediation and on building public buildings like highways, tunnels, communications towers, hospitals, airports, etc. However, job growth will be offset by the increasing amount of automated equipment that are performing tasks traditionally done by workers.
The construction industry is very susceptible to fluctuations in the economy. During economic downturns or recessions employment may be unstable or unavailable as there is less construction generally.
Historical Earnings Information
Construction laborers are paid by the hour. In 2002 the majority of construction laborers earned between $9.30/h and $17.00/h with a median of $12.00/h. The lowest tenth on the pay scale earned under $7.60/h and the highest tenth earned over $23.40/h.
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