How to Become a Construction Laborer or Helper
Laborers often start by performing simple cleaning duties.
Most construction laborers and helpers learn their trade through short-term on-the-job training.
Although there are no specific education requirements, high school classes in English, mathematics, blueprint reading, welding, and shop can be helpful.
Some workers attend a trade or vocational school, an association training class, or community college to receive further training.
Most construction laborers and helpers learn through short-term on-the-job training after being hired by a construction contractor or a temporary-help employment agency. Workers typically gain experience by doing jobs under the guidance of experienced workers.
Although the majority of workers learn by assisting experienced workers, some opt for apprenticeship programs. Programs generally include 2 to 4 years of technical instruction and on-the-job training. The Laborers International Union of North America requires 160 hours of training before workers are allowed on site. Workers learn basic construction skills, such as communication, blueprint reading, proper tools and equipment use, and safety and health procedures. The remainder of the curriculum consists of specialized skills training in three of the largest segments of the construction industry: building construction, heavy and highway construction, and environmental remediation for removing such materials as lead or asbestos.
Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs usually have only a basic age qualification—age 18 or older—for entrance. A high school diploma or equivalent is preferred but not required.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Laborers who remove hazardous materials (hazmat) must have a federal hazmat license required for all hazardous materials removal workers.
Depending on the work they do, laborers may need specific certifications. Certification can help workers prove that they have the knowledge to perform more complex tasks.
The following are examples of areas which may require certification:
- Asbestos removal
- Energy auditing
- Lead abatement
- OSHA 10 and/or 30 hour Construction Safety Certification
- Pipeline operation
- Radiological work
- Rough terrain forklift operation
- Scaffold use and building
- Work zone safety
Through experience and training, construction laborers can advance into positions that involve more complex tasks. For example, laborers may earn certifications in welding, scaffold erecting, or concrete finishing and then spend more time performing activities that require the specialized skill.
Through training and experience, helpers can potentially move into construction craft occupations. For example, experience as a helper may lead to becoming a tilesetter.
Color vision. 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. Laborers and some helpers need to perform basic math calculations to do their job. They often help with measuring on jobsites or they may be part of a surveying crew.
Mechanical skills. Laborers frequently are required to operate and maintain equipment, such as jackhammers.
Physical stamina. Laborers and helpers must have 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. Laborers and helpers often must lift heavy materials or equipment. For example, cement mason helpers must move cinder blocks, which weigh more than 40 pounds each.