What Does a Construction Laborer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Construction laborer
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Construction laborers and helpers carry out a variety of physical tasks on building sites. All construction laborers work directly under the supervision of construction foremen, and they're required to follow building plans created by architects.

Some laborers specialize as helpers. They assist skilled workers in specific phases of construction, such as carpentry, bricklaying, roofing, pipefitting, and interior and exterior painting.

Construction Laborer Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following types of work:

  • Clear out debris from structures under construction or being torn down.
  • Unload and carry building materials to appropriate locations on the site.
  • Position and secure materials within structures.
  • Pour foundations.
  • Operate heavy and light equipment.

Construction laborers and helpers work in all fields of construction, and exact responsibilities can vary by the type of work required, such as masonry or plumbing.

Construction Laborer Salary

Construction laborers' salaries can depend on the area of the country where they're employed, as well as the field or business in which they're employed. Nationally, the median incomes for construction laborers in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $34,810 ($16.73/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $62,590 ($30.09/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $23,010 ($11.06/hour)

The states with the highest annual salaries for construction laborers are Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Alaska. 

Education, Training & Certification

There are no formal academic requirements for those interested in entering the construction field. The vast majority of construction laborers can find jobs without any formal training. There are steps you can take, however, to increase your chances of landing a job.

  • Apprenticeship: Participation in an apprentice program and receiving an associate's degree can elevate your wages and enhance your chances for advancement. The Laborers International Union of North America requires 160 hours of training before workers are allowed to work on a job site. During the apprenticeship program, workers learn basic construction skills, such as communication, blueprint reading, proper tool and equipment use, and health and safety policies and procedures.
  • On-the-Job Training: Beginning laborers are typically partnered with more seasoned construction workers to receive on-the-job training. This training will ultimately advance your career and increase your earning potential. 

    Construction Laborer Skills & Competencies

    You should have several essential qualities to succeed at becoming a construction laborer:

    • Keen vision: Good color vision is particularly important because laborers must often differentiate between wires, tools, and other equipment based on their color.
    • Manual dexterity and physical fitness: Make no mistake, this is a hands-on job. You'll be operating equipment, some of which requires superior strength. Some tools can be very small, so fine motor skills can be equally as important.
    • Physical stamina: Strength and agility are important, but you must also be able to maintain this level of activity for long periods of time.
    • Math skills: Calculations are a common aspect of this job.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that employment of construction laborers and helpers will grow by approximately 12% through 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Construction activity can be dependent on the economy, but existing buildings and infrastructures must be maintained even when money is tight.

    Demand for these workers is very robust during periods of rebuilding after hurricane and fire damage.

    Work Environment

    Construction laborers work on many different building sites, including residential, commercial, bridges, tunnels, roads and thoroughfares, pipelines, demolition projects, and waste removal. It's a physically demanding profession in any environment. It can be dangerous. The use of earplugs and other safety gear can mitigate injuries, but these workers have some of the highest injury rates of any occupation, according to the BLS.

    Work Schedule

    Most construction laborers and helpers work full-time. Labor might be interrupted in times of extremely bad weather, and some laborers can't work in inclement weather if rain or moisture would affect the quality of work. But this doesn't necessarily equate to a short work week. You might have to work evenings and weekends to make up the time so projects can come in on schedule.

    This is the case for self-employed laborers as well. They made up about 25% of the laborer workforce in 2016.

    How to Get the Job

    ATTEND AN APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM

    The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) offers two- to four-year programs combining technical instruction and on-the-job training.

    GET IN ON THE GROUND FLOOR

    Construct-Ed provides a list of common entry-level jobs to get you started in this field.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: