Construction Laborers and Helpers


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

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.

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.

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.

The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers was $34,810 in May 2018.

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 $23,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,590.

Median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in May 2018 were as follows:

Construction laborers $35,800
Helpers–brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters 33,380
Helpers–electricians 31,410
Helpers–pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 30,980
Helpers–carpenters 30,880
Helpers, construction trades, all other 30,510
Helpers–roofers 30,390
Helpers–painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 29,960

In May 2018, 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 $37,060
Construction of buildings 36,100
Specialty trade contractors 33,820
Temporary help services 28,630

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.

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Median annual wages, May 2018

Construction and extraction occupations

$46,010

Total, all occupations

$38,640

Construction laborers

$35,800

Construction laborers and helpers

$34,810

Helpers, construction trades

$31,200

 

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.

Employment projections data for construction laborers and helpers, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Construction laborers and helpers

1,645,700 1,819,000 11 173,400

Construction laborers

47-2061 1,405,000 1,553,100 11 148,100 Get data

Helpers–brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters

47-3011 24,400 27,000 11 2,600 Get data

Helpers–carpenters

47-3012 34,200 38,200 12 4,000 Get data

Helpers–electricians

47-3013 78,300 83,700 7 5,400 Get data

Helpers–painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons

47-3014 10,900 11,500 5 500 Get data

Helpers–pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

47-3015 56,900 65,800 16 8,900 Get data

Helpers–roofers

47-3016 8,800 9,900 13 1,100 Get data

Helpers, construction trades, all other

47-3019 27,200 30,000 10 2,800 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of construction laborers and helpers.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Carpenters

Carpenters

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

High school diploma or equivalent $46,590

Electricians

Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems.

High school diploma or equivalent $55,190

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,030

Painters, Construction and Maintenance

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

No formal educational credential $38,940

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases.

High school diploma or equivalent $53,910

Material Moving Machine Operators

Material moving machine operators use machinery to transport various objects.

See How to Become One $35,850

Grounds Maintenance Workers

Grounds maintenance workers ensure that the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy.

See How to Become One $29,400

Tile and marble setters

Flooring Installers and Tile and Marble Setters

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

No formal educational credential $40,830

Masonry Workers

Masonry workers use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build masonry structures.

See How to Become One $44,810

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

O*NET

Construction Laborers

Helpers, Construction Trades, All Other

Helpers-Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters

Helpers-Carpenters

Helpers-Electricians

Helpers-Painters, Paperhangers, Plasterers, and Stucco Masons

Helpers-Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Helpers-Roofers


Suggested 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 (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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