Construction Laborers and Helpers


Quick Facts: Construction Laborers and Helpers
2017 Median Pay $33,450 per year 
$16.08 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education  
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 1,449,400
Job Outlook, 2016-26 12% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 180,500

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Construction Laborers and Helpers Career, Salary and Education Information

What Construction Laborers and Helpers Do

Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials. They follow blueprints and building plans to meet the needs of clients. Install structures and fixtures, such as windows and molding. Measure, cut, or shape wood, plastic, and other materials. Construct building frameworks, including walls, floors, and door-frames.

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construction laborers and helpers

Duties of construction laborers and helpers

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:


Work Environment for Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers held about 1.4 million jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction laborers and helpers was distributed as follows:

 

Construction laborers: 1,216,700

Helpers--electricians: 73,200

Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters: 55,500

Helpers--carpenters: 36,700

Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters: 24,100

Helpers, construction trades, all other: 22,100

Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons: 10,900

Helpers--roofers: 10,200

 

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

Specialty trade contractors: 35%

Self-employed workers: 21%

Construction of buildings: 18%

Heavy and civil engineering construction: 14%

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.

Work Schedules for construction laborers and helpers

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.


How to Become a Construction Laborers and Helpers

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.

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.

Important Qualities 

Color vision. Construction 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. Construction laborers and some helpers need to perform basic math calculations while measuring on jobsites or assisting a surveying crew.

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

Physical stamina. Construction laborers and helpers must have the 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. Construction laborers and helpers must often lift heavy materials or equipment. For example, cement mason helpers must move cinder blocks, which typically weigh more than 40 pounds each.


salaries for Construction Laborers and Helpers 

The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers was $33,450 in May 2017. 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 $21,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $60,860.

 

Median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in May 2017 were as follows:

Construction laborers: $34,530

Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters: $31,710

Helpers--electricians: $30,540

Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters: $29,890

Helpers--carpenters: $29,860

Helpers, construction trades, all other: $29,660

Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons: $28,760

Helpers--roofers: $28,500

 

In May 2017, 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: $35,890

Construction of buildings: $34,960

Specialty trade contractors: $32,290

Temporary help services: $26,680

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.


Job Outlook for Construction Laborers and Helpers

Overall employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of construction laborers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. 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 below), overall demand for helpers is expected to be driven by the construction of homes, schools, office buildings, factories, and power plants.

Job Prospects for construction laborers ad helpers

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.

Employment projections data for Construction Laborers and Helpers, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 1,025,600

Projected Employment, 2026: 1,109,400

Change, 2016-2026: +8%, +83,800


Careers Related to construction laborers and helpers

Carpenters

Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials.

Electricians

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.

Flooring Installers and Tile and Marble Setters

Flooring installers and tile and marble setters lay and finish carpet, wood, vinyl, and tile.

Grounds Maintenance Workers

Grounds maintenance workers ensure that the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy in order to provide a pleasant outdoor environment.

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.

Masonry Workers

Masonry workers, also known as masons, use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build walls, walkways, fences, and other masonry structures.

Material Moving Machine Operators

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects. Some operators move construction materials around building sites or excavate earth from a mine. Others move goods around a warehouse or onto container ships.

Painters, Construction and Maintenance

Painters apply paint, stain, and coatings to walls and ceilings, buildings, bridges, and other structures.

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases to, from, and within businesses, homes, and factories.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
CarpentersHigh school diploma or equivalent$45,170
ElectriciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$54,110
Hazardous Materials Removal WorkersHigh school diploma or equivalent$41,400
Painters, Construction and MaintenanceNo formal educational credential$37,960
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and SteamfittersHigh school diploma or equivalent$52,590
Material Moving Machine Operators$34,830
Grounds Maintenance Workers$28,110
Flooring Installers and Tile and Marble SettersNo formal educational credential$40,250
Masonry Workers$42,900

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Construction Laborers and Helpers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-laborers-and-helpers.htm