Construction Laborers and Helpers

Summary

construction laborers and helpers image
Construction laborers operate compacting equipment to prepare construction sites.
Quick Facts: Construction Laborers and Helpers
2015 Median Pay $30,890 per year
$14.85 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 1,386,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 13% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 180,100

What Construction Laborers and Helpers Do

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Work Environment

Most construction laborers and helpers work full time and do physically demanding work. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions. Construction laborers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

How to Become a Construction Laborer or Helper

Construction laborers and helpers learn their trade through on-the-job training. Formal education is not typically required.

Pay

The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers was $30,890 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Laborers and helpers work in all fields of construction, and demand for these workers will mirror the level of overall construction activity.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for construction laborers and helpers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of construction laborers and helpers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about construction laborers and helpers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Construction Laborers and Helpers Do About this section

Construction laborers and helpers
Construction laborers and helpers assist craft workers.

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. Although many of the tasks they perform require some training and experience, most tasks can be learned quickly. 

Construction laborers, are 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, for example, 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 About this section

Construction laborers and helpers
Construction laborers and helpers perform physically demanding work.

Construction laborers and helpers held about 1.4 million jobs in 2014.

Construction laborers held about 1.2 million jobs in 2014, of which 60 percent were employed in the construction industry. About 1 in 4 construction laborers were self-employed in 2014.

Construction helpers held about 227,300 jobs in 2014. The employment levels of construction helper occupations in 2014 were as follows:

Helpers--electricians  69,000
Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters  52,400
Helpers--carpenters  39,700
Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters  23,500
Helpers--construction trades, all other  19,500
Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons  11,900
Helpers--roofers  11,300

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 have one 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.

Although they face similar hazards to construction laborers, some construction helpers experience a rate of injuries and illnesses that is closer to the national average. The helpers of carpenters, electricians, and pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, however, have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

Work Schedules

Like many construction workers, most laborers and helpers work full time. Although they must sometimes stop work because of bad weather, they often 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.

About 1 in 4 construction laborers were self-employed in 2014. Self-employed construction laborers may be able to set their own schedule. In contrast, very few helpers were self-employed.

How to Become a Construction Laborer or Helper About this section

Construction laborers and helpers
Laborer apprentices take classes as well as on-the-job training.

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, high school classes in mathematics, blueprint reading, welding, and other vocational subjects can be helpful.

To receive further education, some workers attend a trade school or community college.

Training

Construction laborers and helpers learn through OJT after being hired by a construction contractor. Workers typically gain experience 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 opt for apprenticeship programs. Programs generally include 2 to 4 years of technical instruction and OJT. The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) requires a minimum of 4,000 hours of OJT, accompanied by 300 hours of related 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

Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs, which usually have only a basic age qualification—age 18 or older—for entrance. Apprentices must obtain a high school diploma or equivalent before completing their apprenticeship. Some apprenticeship programs have preferred entry for veterans.

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 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.

Pay About this section

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Construction and extraction occupations

$42,280

Total, all occupations

$36,200

Construction laborers

$31,910

Construction laborers and helpers

$30,890

Helpers, construction trades

$28,380

 

The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers was $30,890 in May 2015. 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 $20,400, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,070.

Median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in May 2015 were as follows:

Construction laborers $31,910
Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters 29,320
Helpers--electricians 28,730
Helpers, construction trades, all other 28,510
Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 28,500
Helpers--carpenters 27,890
Helpers--roofers 27,110
Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 26,480

The starting pay for 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 often 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.

About 1 in 4 construction laborers were self-employed in 2014. Self-employed construction laborers may be able to set their own schedule. In contrast, very few helpers were self-employed.

Job Outlook About this section

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Helpers, construction trades

14%

Construction laborers and helpers

13%

Construction laborers

13%

Construction and extraction occupations

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of construction laborers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Laborers work in all fields of construction, and demand for laborers will mirror the level of overall construction activity. Repairing and replacing the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water lines, should 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 will be driven by the construction of homes, schools, office buildings, factories, and power plants. Remodeling activity will also result in some new jobs. Roofer, electrician, and brickmason, blockmason, stonemason, and tile and marble setter helpers are all projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because roofer helpers is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,700 new jobs over the 10-year period. 

Job Prospects

Construction laborers who are able to perform a wide range of tasks should have the best job opportunities. Job opportunities for helpers will vary by occupation; for example, electrician’s helpers should have the best job prospects, while helpers for roofers will likely find fewer job openings. In addition, veterans are viewed favorably during initial hiring.

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, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

Employment projections data for construction laborers and helpers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Construction laborers and helpers

1,386,400 1,566,500 13 180,100

Construction laborers

47-2061 1,159,100 1,306,500 13 147,400 [XLSX]

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

47-3011 23,500 28,800 22 5,300 [XLSX]

Helpers--carpenters

47-3012 39,700 42,700 7 3,000 [XLSX]

Helpers--electricians

47-3013 69,000 81,500 18 12,500 [XLSX]

Helpers--painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons

47-3014 11,900 13,100 11 1,200 [XLSX]

Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

47-3015 52,400 59,400 13 7,000 [XLSX]

Helpers--roofers

47-3016 11,300 13,000 15 1,700 [XLSX]

Helpers, construction trades, all other

47-3019 19,500 21,500 10 2,000 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

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 Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons

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.

See How to Become One $39,640
Carpenters

Carpenters

Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, rafters, and bridge supports—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,090
Electricians

Electricians

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

High school diploma or equivalent $51,880
Hazardous materials removal workers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $39,690
Painters, construction and maintenance

Painters, Construction and Maintenance

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

No formal educational credential $36,580
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $50,620
Material moving machine operators

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.

See How to Become One $33,640
Grounds maintenance workers

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.

See How to Become One $25,610
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 $38,230

Contacts for More Information About this section

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 ApprenticeshipUSA 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 a career video on brickmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters helpers , visit

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, 2016-17 Edition, Construction Laborers and Helpers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-laborers-and-helpers.htm (visited August 30, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

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How to Become One

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.