Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Duties

Construction laborers and helpers typically do the following:

  • Clean and prepare construction sites by removing debris and possible hazards
  • Load or unload building materials to be used in construction
  • Build or take apart bracing, scaffolding, and temporary structures
  • Dig trenches, backfill holes, or compact earth to prepare for construction
  • Operate or tend equipment and machines used in construction
  • Follow construction plans and instructions from supervisors or more experienced workers
  • Assist craftworkers with their duties

Construction laborers and helpers work on almost all construction sites, performing a wide range of tasks varying in complexity from very easy to extremely difficult and hazardous.

Construction laborers, also referred to as construction craft laborers, perform a wide variety of construction-related activities during all phases of construction. Many laborers spend their time preparing and cleaning up construction sites, using tools such as shovels and brooms. Other workers, such as those on road crews, may specialize and learn to control traffic patterns and operate pavement breakers, jackhammers, earth tampers, or surveying equipment.

With special training, laborers may help transport and use explosives or run hydraulic boring machines to dig out tunnels. They may learn to use lasers to place pipes and to use computers to control robotic pipe cutters. They may become certified to remove asbestos, lead, or chemicals.

Helpers assist construction craftworkers, such as electricians and carpenters, with a variety of tasks. They may carry tools and materials or help set up equipment. For example, many helpers work with cement masons to move and set the forms that determine the shape of poured concrete. Many other helpers assist with taking apart equipment, cleaning up sites, and disposing of waste, as well as helping with any other needs of craftworkers.

Many construction trades have helpers who assist craftworkers. The following trades have associated helpers:

  • Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons, and tile and marble setters
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons
  • Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
  • Roofers

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Work Environment

Construction laborers and helpers held about 1.6 million jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction laborers and helpers was distributed as follows:

Construction laborers 1,405,000
Helpers--electricians 78,300
Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 56,900
Helpers--carpenters 34,200
Helpers, construction trades, all other 27,200
Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters                           24,400
Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 10,900
Helpers--roofers 8,800

The largest employers of construction laborers and helpers were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors 33%
Self-employed workers 24
Construction of buildings 17
Heavy and civil engineering construction                                                                                      15
Temporary help services 3

Most construction laborers and helpers perform physically demanding work. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions; others may be required to work in tunnels. They must use earplugs around loud equipment and wear gloves, safety glasses, and other protective gear.

Injuries and Illnesses

Construction laborers and "helpers, construction trades, all other" have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Workers may experience cuts from materials and tools, fatal and nonfatal falls from ladders and scaffolding, and burns from chemicals or equipment. Some jobs expose workers to harmful materials, fumes, or odors, or to dangerous machinery. Workers may also experience muscle fatigue and injuries related to lifting and carrying heavy materials.

Work Schedules

Like many construction workers, most laborers and helpers work full time. Although they must sometimes stop work because of bad weather, they may work overtime to meet deadlines. Laborers and helpers on highway and bridge projects may need to work overnight to avoid causing major traffic disruptions. In some parts of the country, construction laborers and helpers may work only during certain seasons. For example, in northern climates, cold weather frequently disrupts construction activity in the winter.

Some construction laborers are self-employed. In contrast, very few helpers are self-employed.

Education and Training

Construction laborers and helpers learn their trade through on-the-job training (OJT). The length of training depends on the employer and the specialization. Formal education is not typically required.

Education

Although formal education is not typically required for most positions, helpers of electricians and helpers of pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically need a high school diploma. High school classes in mathematics, blueprint reading, welding, and other vocational subjects can be helpful.

Training

Construction laborers and helpers typically learn through OJT after being hired by a construction contractor. Workers usually learn by performing tasks under the guidance of experienced workers.

Although the majority of construction laborers and helpers learn by assisting experienced workers, some construction laborers may opt for apprenticeship programs. These programs generally include 2 to 4 years of technical instruction and OJT. The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA)requires a combination of OJT and related classroom instruction in such areas as signaling, blueprint reading, using proper tools and equipment, and following health and safety procedures. The remainder of the curriculum consists of specialized training in one of these eight areas:

  • Building construction
  • Demolition and deconstruction
  • Environmental remediation
  • Road and utility construction
  • Tunneling
  • Masonry
  • Landscaping
  • Pipeline construction

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Laborers who remove hazardous materials (hazmat) must meet the federal and state requirements for hazardous materials removal workers.

Depending on the work they do, laborers may need specific certifications, which may be attained through LIUNA. Rigging and scaffold building are commonly attained certifications. Certification can help workers prove that they have the knowledge to perform more complex tasks.

Advancement

Through experience and training, construction laborers and helpers can advance into positions that involve more complex tasks. For example, laborers may earn certifications in welding, erecting scaffolding, or finishing concrete, and then spend more time performing those activities. Similarly, helpers sometimes move into construction craft occupations after gaining experience in the field. For example, experience as an electrician’s helper may lead someone to becoming an apprentice electrician.

Personality and Interests

Construction laborers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a construction laborer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Construction laborers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Color vision. Laborers and helpers may need to be able to distinguish colors to do their job. For example, an electrician’s helper must be able to distinguish different colors of wire to help the lead electrician.

Math skills. Laborers and some helpers need to perform basic math calculations to do their job. They often help with measuring on jobsites or they may be part of a surveying crew.

Mechanical skills. Laborers frequently are required to operate and maintain equipment, such as jackhammers.

Physical stamina. Laborers and helpers must have endurance to perform strenuous tasks throughout the day. Highway laborers, for example, spend hours on their feet—often in hot temperatures—with few breaks.

Physical strength. Laborers and helpers often must lift heavy materials or equipment. For example, cement mason helpers must move cinder blocks, which weigh more than 40 pounds each.

Pay

The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers was $36,000 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,100.

Median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in May 2019 were as follows:

Construction laborers $36,860
Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters                       35,410
Helpers--carpenters 33,060
Helpers--electricians 32,830
Helpers--roofers 32,110
Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 32,100
Helpers, construction trades, all other 31,910
Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 31,340

In May 2019, the median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction                                                                                 $37,950
Construction of buildings 37,260
Specialty trade contractors 35,110
Temporary help services 29,710

The starting pay for most apprentices is usually about 60 percent of what fully trained laborers make. Apprentices receive pay increases as they learn more skills.

Like many construction workers, most construction laborers and helpers work full time. Although they sometimes stop work because of bad weather, they may work overtime to meet deadlines. Laborers and helpers on highway and bridge projects may need to work overnight to avoid causing major traffic disruptions. In some parts of the country, construction laborers and helpers may work only during certain seasons. For example, in northern climates, cold weather frequently disrupts construction activity in the winter.

Some construction laborers are self-employed. In contrast, very few helpers are self-employed.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Construction laborers work in all fields of construction, and demand for laborers should mirror the level of overall construction activity. Repairing and replacing the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water lines, may result in steady demand for laborers.

Although employment growth of specific types of helpers is expected to vary (see table), overall demand for helpers is expected to be driven by the construction of homes, schools, office buildings, factories, and power plants.

Job Prospects

Because of the large size of these combined occupations and their relatively high turnover, job prospects should be favorable.

Employment of construction laborers and helpers is especially sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. On the one hand, workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, during peak periods of building activity some areas may require additional number of these workers.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities for construction laborers and helpers, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local construction contractors or firms that employ laborers, or local union-management apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about education programs for laborers, visit

Laborers’ International Union of North America

NCCER

CareerOneStop

For career videos on construction laborers and helpers, visit

Construction laborers

Helpers – brickmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters

 

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