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Construction Laborers - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Laborers may earn certifications in welding, scaffold erecting, and concrete finishing. These certifications help workers prove that they have the knowledge to perform more complex tasks.

Through training and experience, laborers can move into other construction occupations. Laborers may also advance to become construction supervisors or general contractors. For those who would like to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited understanding of English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of the construction workforce in many areas. Supervisors and contractors need good communication skills to deal with clients and subcontractors.

In addition, supervisors and contractors should be able to identify and estimate the quantity of materials needed to complete a job and accurately estimate how long a job will take to complete and what it will cost. Computer skills also are important for advancement as construction becomes increasingly mechanized and computerized.

Construction laborers held about 1.2 million jobs in 2008. They worked throughout the country, but like the general population, were concentrated in metropolitan areas. About 62 percent of construction laborers worked in the construction industry, including 27 percent who worked for specialty trade contractors. About 21 percent were self-employed in 2008.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average. In many areas, there will be competition for jobs, especially those requiring limited skills. Laborers who have specialized skills or who can relocate near new construction projects should have the best opportunities.

Job Growth
Employment of construction laborers is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Because of the large variety of tasks that laborers perform, demand for laborers will mirror the level of overall construction activity. However, some jobs may be adversely affected by automation as they are replaced by new machinery and equipment that improves productivity and quality.

Increasing job prospects for construction laborers, however, is the expected additional government funding for the repair and reconstruction of the Nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, public buildings, and water lines. The occupation should experience an increase in demand because laborers make up a significant portion of workers on these types of projects.

New emphasis on green construction also should help lead to better employment prospects as many green practices require more labor on construction sites. Additional duties resulting from practicing green construction include having to segregate materials that can be used again from those which cannot, and the actual reuse of such materials. In addition, these workers will be needed for the construction of any new projects to harness wind or solar power.

In many geographic areas, construction laborers—especially for those with limited skills—will experience competition because of a plentiful supply of workers who are willing to work as day laborers. Overall opportunities will be best for those with experience and specialized skills and for those who can relocate to areas with new construction projects. Opportunities also will be better for laborers specializing in road construction.

Employment of construction laborers, like that of many other construction workers, is 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, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

Median hourly wages of wage and salary construction laborers in May 2008 were $13.71. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.74 and $18.57. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.67, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.98.

Earnings for construction laborers can be reduced by poor weather or by downturns in construction activity, which sometimes result in layoffs. Apprentices or helpers usually start out earning about 60 percent of the wage paid to experienced workers. Pay increases as apprentices gain experience and learn new skills.

Some laborers—about 14 percent—belong to a union, mainly the Laborers' International Union of North America.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Residential Construction Framing Technician

The Residential Construction Framing Technician Program is designed to teach a student how to construct the frame or supporting structure of single and multi-family buildings. He/She will also be expected to know how to enclose the building, and install the windows and doors to the "lock-up" stage. ...more