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Construction Laborer Job Description, Career as a Construction Laborer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: None

Salary: Median—$12.14 per hour

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Construction laborers work in every phase of building activity. Although laborers are unskilled workers, no building project could be completed without their work. Laborers are usually the first workers to arrive at the job site and are the last to leave the completed project. They work on the construction sites of homes and high-rise buildings, airports and highways, dams and bridges, and water and sewer projects. They perform many tasks that require great physical strength. Laborers load and unload equipment, put up and take down scaffoldings, clear work areas, and carry materials to skilled workers.

Some laborers specialize in certain kinds of work. Laborers who work with bricklayers or plasterers are known as hod carriers. These workers help bricklayers and plasterers by mixing materials and setting up scaffolding. Some work closely with cement masons. When concrete is mixed at a construction site, construction laborers unload materials and fill hand-loaded cement mixers. They set up the forms into which the concrete is poured. They also spread the concrete and vibrate or spade it to prevent air pockets. To keep the newly poured pavement from setting so quickly that it cracks, laborers cover it with straw or burlap.

All laborers must have a general knowledge of the building trades in which they work. Laborers who work for certain kinds of skilled workers must be trained and experienced. For example, some construction laborers work in rock blasting, rock drilling, and tunnel construction. They must know what effects explosives will have on different kinds of rock so they can prevent injury and damage to property. Laborers who work on tunnel construction and on the foundations of bridges and dams must be able to bore and mine the tunnels.

Laborers learn through experience and instruction from skilled workers and supervisors. Construction laborers generally work for construction contractors. Some laborers work for state and local governments and public utility companies.

Construction laborers work in every phase of building activity, performing tasks that require great physical strength. (© Philip Gould/Corbis.)

Education and Training Requirements

Very little training is required to become a laborer. A high school diploma is not a requirement. However, laborers must be alert, have good judgment, and be strong and in good health. Inexperienced laborers first do simple tasks, such as clearing lumber. As laborers gain experience, they do more complex jobs. For instance, they may pour concrete into forms or work as hod carriers. Some contractors have four- to eight-week training programs in which trainees can become familiar with the construction trade.

Getting the Job

The best way to get a job as a laborer is to contact local contractors about openings in their businesses. Local unions, newspaper classified ads, and small construction companies listed in the Yellow Pages are all possible sources for job information.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

About 950,000 people work as construction laborers in the United States. Most of them advance very little within their own trades. However, those who get construction experience while working as laborers have a good chance of getting into an apprenticeship program for one of the skilled trades.

The employment outlook for laborers is fair. Growth is expected to be slower than the average for all jobs through 2014. Laborers will continue to be needed on construction sites, but mechanized equipment has taken over many jobs. This equipment can do the work of a laborer more quickly and less expensively. Those looking for unskilled jobs can expect stiff competition. A laborer with any skill or training to offer has a clear advantage over an unskilled worker.

Working Conditions

Laborers spend a good deal of time outdoors, even in bad weather. The work demands heavy lifting and much stooping, carrying, and bending, sometimes at great heights. Workers can be exposed to hazardous materials and fumes, so they are often required to wear special clothing, such as helmets, gloves, and protective chemical suits. Construction laborers usually work eight-hour shifts, but may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Extra wages are paid for overtime hours. In some parts of the country, construction work is seasonal, so more jobs are available in some months than in others. Winter is the industry's slowest season. Many construction laborers belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Laborers' International Union of North America
905 Sixteenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20006-1765
(202) 737-8320

National Association of Women in Construction
327 S. Adams St.
Fort Worth, TX 76104-1002
(800) 552-3506

Earnings and Benefits

The median wage for construction laborers in 2004 was $12.14 per hour. Union workers generally receive paid vacations, life insurance, and pension plans. Other benefits are negotiated separately for each union contract.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesConstruction & Skilled Trades