Bureau of Labor Statistics

Careers in construction: Building opportunity

| August 2018

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Perhaps you enjoy working with your hands on projects that will be around for years to come. Or maybe you’re looking for a job that pays well and has a promising future. These are among the many reasons to consider a career in construction.

In June 2018, there were 263,000 job openings in the construction industry, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Through 2026, BLS projects faster-than-average employment growth in the industry. What’s more, its median annual wage of $45,820 in 2017 surpassed the $37,690 median wage for all industries.

And although some occupations in the construction industry typically require a college degree, you can enter many others with a high school diploma or less education. Read on to learn about construction careers.

Rebounding employment

Preliminary BLS data show that there were 7.2 million construction jobs in July 2018. That marks the highest employment level for the construction industry in a decade.

Leading into and through the Great Recession, the industry experienced declines in employment. In recent years, however, employment has trended upward. (See chart 1.)

View Chart Data

Chart 1. Construction industry employment, January 1998–July 2018 (seasonally adjusted) and projected 2026
Date Actual employment Projected employment

Jan-98

5,983,000

Feb-98

5,997,000

Mar-98

5,969,000

Apr-98

6,049,000

May-98

6,087,000

Jun-98

6,130,000

Jul-98

6,172,000

Aug-98

6,215,000

Sep-98

6,225,000

Oct-98

6,262,000

Nov-98

6,301,000

Dec-98

6,378,000

Jan-99

6,357,000

Feb-99

6,429,000

Mar-99

6,402,000

Apr-99

6,480,000

May-99

6,516,000

Jun-99

6,547,000

Jul-99

6,571,000

Aug-99

6,586,000

Sep-99

6,613,000

Oct-99

6,640,000

Nov-99

6,687,000

Dec-99

6,709,000

Jan-00

6,752,000

Feb-00

6,730,000

Mar-00

6,811,000

Apr-00

6,794,000

May-00

6,770,000

Jun-00

6,778,000

Jul-00

6,794,000

Aug-00

6,796,000

Sep-00

6,807,000

Oct-00

6,814,000

Nov-00

6,817,000

Dec-00

6,792,000

Jan-01

6,824,000

Feb-01

6,841,000

Mar-01

6,862,000

Apr-01

6,844,000

May-01

6,849,000

Jun-01

6,840,000

Jul-01

6,845,000

Aug-01

6,827,000

Sep-01

6,813,000

Oct-01

6,804,000

Nov-01

6,784,000

Dec-01

6,785,000

Jan-02

6,775,000

Feb-02

6,766,000

Mar-02

6,755,000

Apr-02

6,710,000

May-02

6,684,000

Jun-02

6,701,000

Jul-02

6,688,000

Aug-02

6,701,000

Sep-02

6,702,000

Oct-02

6,689,000

Nov-02

6,713,000

Dec-02

6,700,000

Jan-03

6,704,000

Feb-03

6,667,000

Mar-03

6,654,000

Apr-03

6,689,000

May-03

6,706,000

Jun-03

6,723,000

Jul-03

6,735,000

Aug-03

6,760,000

Sep-03

6,783,000

Oct-03

6,784,000

Nov-03

6,796,000

Dec-03

6,827,000

Jan-04

6,848,000

Feb-04

6,838,000

Mar-04

6,887,000

Apr-04

6,901,000

May-04

6,948,000

Jun-04

6,962,000

Jul-04

6,977,000

Aug-04

7,003,000

Sep-04

7,029,000

Oct-04

7,077,000

Nov-04

7,091,000

Dec-04

7,117,000

Jan-05

7,095,000

Feb-05

7,153,000

Mar-05

7,181,000

Apr-05

7,266,000

May-05

7,294,000

Jun-05

7,333,000

Jul-05

7,353,000

Aug-05

7,394,000

Sep-05

7,415,000

Oct-05

7,460,000

Nov-05

7,524,000

Dec-05

7,533,000

Jan-06

7,601,000

Feb-06

7,664,000

Mar-06

7,689,000

Apr-06

7,726,000

May-06

7,713,000

Jun-06

7,699,000

Jul-06

7,712,000

Aug-06

7,720,000

Sep-06

7,718,000

Oct-06

7,682,000

Nov-06

7,666,000

Dec-06

7,685,000

Jan-07

7,725,000

Feb-07

7,626,000

Mar-07

7,706,000

Apr-07

7,686,000

May-07

7,673,000

Jun-07

7,687,000

Jul-07

7,660,000

Aug-07

7,610,000

Sep-07

7,577,000

Oct-07

7,565,000

Nov-07

7,523,000

Dec-07

7,490,000

Jan-08

7,476,000

Feb-08

7,453,000

Mar-08

7,406,000

Apr-08

7,327,000

May-08

7,274,000

Jun-08

7,213,000

Jul-08

7,160,000

Aug-08

7,114,000

Sep-08

7,044,000

Oct-08

6,967,000

Nov-08

6,813,000

Dec-08

6,701,000

Jan-09

6,567,000

Feb-09

6,446,000

Mar-09

6,291,000

Apr-09

6,154,000

May-09

6,100,000

Jun-09

6,010,000

Jul-09

5,932,000

Aug-09

5,855,000

Sep-09

5,787,000

Oct-09

5,716,000

Nov-09

5,696,000

Dec-09

5,654,000

Jan-10

5,580,000

Feb-10

5,500,000

Mar-10

5,537,000

Apr-10

5,553,000

May-10

5,520,000

Jun-10

5,516,000

Jul-10

5,508,000

Aug-10

5,524,000

Sep-10

5,501,000

Oct-10

5,508,000

Nov-10

5,506,000

Dec-10

5,467,000

Jan-11

5,427,000

Feb-11

5,451,000

Mar-11

5,477,000

Apr-11

5,485,000

May-11

5,516,000

Jun-11

5,528,000

Jul-11

5,547,000

Aug-11

5,552,000

Sep-11

5,584,000

Oct-11

5,588,000

Nov-11

5,593,000

Dec-11

5,611,000

Jan-12

5,626,000

Feb-12

5,629,000

Mar-12

5,625,000

Apr-12

5,618,000

May-12

5,604,000

Jun-12

5,621,000

Jul-12

5,632,000

Aug-12

5,648,000

Sep-12

5,661,000

Oct-12

5,674,000

Nov-12

5,684,000

Dec-12

5,724,000

Jan-13

5,746,000

Feb-13

5,784,000

Mar-13

5,802,000

Apr-13

5,796,000

May-13

5,829,000

Jun-13

5,855,000

Jul-13

5,859,000

Aug-13

5,878,000

Sep-13

5,910,000

Oct-13

5,931,000

Nov-13

5,963,000

Dec-13

5,932,000

Jan-14

5,981,000

Feb-14

6,007,000

Mar-14

6,041,000

Apr-14

6,081,000

May-14

6,111,000

Jun-14

6,131,000

Jul-14

6,174,000

Aug-14

6,204,000

Sep-14

6,236,000

Oct-14

6,254,000

Nov-14

6,270,000

Dec-14

6,295,000

Jan-15

6,332,000

Feb-15

6,356,000

Mar-15

6,340,000

Apr-15

6,390,000

May-15

6,428,000

Jun-15

6,444,000

Jul-15

6,466,000

Aug-15

6,485,000

Sep-15

6,498,000

Oct-15

6,540,000

Nov-15

6,592,000

Dec-15

6,632,000

Jan-16

6,636,000

Feb-16

6,649,000

Mar-16

6,690,000

Apr-16

6,699,000

May-16

6,693,000

Jun-16

6,698,000

Jul-16

6,728,000

Aug-16

6,731,000

Sep-16

6,763,000

Oct-16

6,787,000

Nov-16

6,811,000

Dec-16

6,822,000

Jan-17

6,873,000

Feb-17

6,919,000

Mar-17

6,922,000

Apr-17

6,917,000

May-17

6,924,000

Jun-17

6,940,000

Jul-17

6,934,000

Aug-17

6,962,000

Sep-17

6,971,000

Oct-17

6,988,000

Nov-17

7,030,000

Dec-17

7,072,000

Jan-18

7,100,000

Feb-18

7,167,000

Mar-18

7,164,000

Apr-18

7,180,000

May-18

7,210,000

Jun-18

7,223,000 (preliminary)

Jul-18

7,242,000 (preliminary)

Aug-18

-

Sep-18

-

Oct-18

-

Nov-18

-

Dec-18

-

Jan-19

-

Feb-19

-

Mar-19

-

Apr-19

-

May-19

-

Jun-19

-

Jul-19

-

Aug-19

-

Sep-19

-

Oct-19

-

Nov-19

-

Dec-19

-

Jan-20

-

Feb-20

-

Mar-20

-

Apr-20

-

May-20

-

Jun-20

-

Jul-20

-

Aug-20

-

Sep-20

-

Oct-20

-

Nov-20

-

Dec-20

-

Jan-21

-

Feb-21

-

Mar-21

-

Apr-21

-

May-21

-

Jun-21

-

Jul-21

-

Aug-21

-

Sep-21

-

Oct-21

-

Nov-21

-

Dec-21

-

Jan-22

-

Feb-22

-

Mar-22

-

Apr-22

-

May-22

-

Jun-22

-

Jul-22

-

Aug-22

-

Sep-22

-

Oct-22

-

Nov-22

-

Dec-22

-

Jan-23

-

Feb-23

-

Mar-23

-

Apr-23

-

May-23

-

Jun-23

-

Jul-23

-

Aug-23

-

Sep-23

-

Oct-23

-

Nov-23

-

Dec-23

-

Jan-24

-

Feb-24

-

Mar-24

-

Apr-24

-

May-24

-

Jun-24

-

Jul-24

-

Aug-24

-

Sep-24

-

Oct-24

-

Nov-24

-

Dec-24

-

Jan-25

-

Feb-25

-

Mar-25

-

Apr-25

-

May-25

-

Jun-25

-

Jul-25

-

Aug-25

-

Sep-25

-

Oct-25

-

Nov-25

-

Dec-25

-

Jan-26

-

Feb-26

-

Mar-26

-

Apr-26

-

May-26

-

Jun-26

-

Jul-26

-

Aug-26

-

Sep-26

-

Oct-26

-

Nov-26

-

Dec-26

7,575,700

Note: BLS does not project specific data for each of the interim years to the 2026 projection point. These years are expressed as a dashed straight line.

Shaded area denote Recession as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics survey (1998-2018 nonfarm wage and salary employment, seasonally adjusted) and Employment Projections program (2026 projected employment).

BLS expects continued expansion of employment in the construction industry, with more than 7.5 million jobs projected by 2026 as population growth spurs demand for new buildings and infrastructure.

Occupations by subsector

The construction industry comprises three subsectors: specialty trade contractors, construction of buildings, and heavy and civil engineering construction. Employment in all of these subsectors is projected to grow over the 2016–26 decade, with more than half (485,600) of the new jobs overall expected in specialty trade contractors. Construction of buildings and heavy and civil engineering construction are projected to add 170,300 and 208,800 jobs, respectively. Wages vary by occupation.

The tables in this section show selected occupations in each of the construction subsectors. There is overlap among the occupations in each, so inclusion in one table doesn’t mean exclusion from another. For example, construction laborers work in all three subsectors.

Specialty trade contractors

Specialty trade contractors is the largest construction subsector, with employment projected to reach nearly 4.8 million by 2026. Workers in this subsector usually focus on a particular activity, such as plumbing or roofing. (See table 1.)

Table 1

View Chart Data

Table 1. Specialty trade contractors: employment, outlook, and wages

Employment, 2016 and projected 2026, and median annual wages, 2017, in selected occupations

Occupation Employment, 2016 Employment, projected 2026 Median annual wage, 2017

Electricians

445,000 491,700 $52,170

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

312,300 372,900 51,730

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

219,600 262,500 45,550

Roofers

107,600 121,100 39,090

Sheet metal workers

86,000 96,200 49,550

Helpers--electricians

65,900 72,800 30,230

Brickmasons and blockmasons

55,100 61,800 48,960

Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

43,600 52,100 29,440

Glaziers

37,300 42,000 43,520

Tile and marble setters

29,800 33,600 42,160

Note: Occupations are not exclusive to this industry and may be employed in greater or fewer numbers in other construction subsectors.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections. Wage data exclude self-employed workers.

BLS projects rapid employment growth in specialty trade contractors for all of the occupations in the table. With nearly 20-percent increases in this subsector, employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers and helpers of pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow the fastest of these occupations. Electricians had the highest median annual wage, $52,170, in this subsector in 2017.

Construction of buildings

Employment in construction of buildings is projected to be about 1.7 million in 2026. This subsector includes general contractors and other establishments that have primary responsibility for an entire building or remodeling project. (See table 2.)

Table 2.

View Chart Data

Table 2. Construction of buildings: employment, outlook, and wages

Employment, 2016 and projected 2026, and median annual wages, 2017, in selected occupations

Occupation Employment, 2016 Employment, projected 2026 Median annual wage, 2017

Carpenters

329,400 357,800 $45,680

Construction laborers

227,300 259,600 35,340

Construction managers

99,200 113,100 90,380

Cost estimators

39,500 45,100 66,250

Cement masons and concrete finishers

23,900 27,200 44,480

Painters, construction and maintenance

22,000 25,200 38,240

Civil engineers

19,900 22,600 77,680

Helpers--carpenters

18,200 20,800 30,710

Structural iron and steel workers

15,800 17,900 50,920

Drywall and ceiling tile installers

10,500 12,000 42,860

Note: Occupations are not exclusive to this industry and may be employed in greater or fewer numbers in other construction subsectors.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections. Wage data exclude self-employed workers.

All but one of the occupations in table 2 (carpenters) are projected to have faster-than-average employment growth in this subsector from 2016 to 2026. Employment in each of the other occupations in the table is projected to grow by about 14 percent in this subsector. Construction managers had the highest pay of the occupations in table 2, with a median annual wage of $90,380 in construction of buildings in 2017.

Heavy and civil engineering construction

Heavy and civil engineering construction focuses on highway, utility, and other infrastructure projects; employment in this subsector is projected to be almost 1.2 million in 2026. Table 3 shows some of the occupations involved in this work.

Table 3.

View Chart Data

Table 3. Heavy and civil engineering construction: employment, outlook, and wages

Employment, 2016 and projected 2026, and median annual wages, 2017, in selected occupations

Occupation Employment, 2016 Employment, projected 2026 Median annual wage, 2017

Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

103,200 126,100 $51,180

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

39,400 47,300 41,070

Electrical power-line installers and repairers

33,600 46,500 60,320

Paving, surfacing, and tamping equipment operators

19,300 22,400 39,160

Pipelayers

18,100 22,900 36,950

Telecommunications line installers and repairers

17,100 23,700 42,210

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers

16,400 20,400 54,760

Mobile heavy equipment mechanics, except engines

12,800 15,400 48,810

Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators

9,700 12,000 41,280

Earth drillers, except oil and gas

8,600 11,000 42,110

Note: Occupations are not exclusive to this industry and may be employed in greater or fewer numbers in other construction subsectors.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections. Wage data exclude self-employed workers.

BLS projects much-faster-than-average employment growth in heavy and civil engineering construction over the 2016−26 decade for the occupations shown in table 3. Employment growth of electrical power-line installers and repairers is expected to be the fastest, with a projected increase of nearly 39 percent in heavy and civil engineering construction. These installers and repairers also had the highest median annual wage, $60,320, of occupations shown in the table.

Paving the way to a career

Most construction careers require specific skills and aptitudes, such as dexterity, physical stamina, and problem-solving ability. Construction workers learn many of the skills they need on the job. In fact, all but one of the occupations shown in the tables typically require on-the-job training for workers to become competent.

Apprenticeships are common in some occupations, such as sheet metal workers and plumbers. In other occupations, new workers may get informal on-the-job training, including instruction from those who have experience.

Construction workers using an asphalt spreader

Whether you have little formal education or you aspire to earn a college degree, you can choose from a number of occupations in construction. For example, occupations such as roofers and carpenters’ helpers typically require no formal educational credential at the entry level. And you can typically enter more than half of the occupations shown in the tables with a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a GED.

You typically need a certificate or other postsecondary nondegree award to enter the occupations of heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers and heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers. The three highest paying occupations in the tables—construction managers, cost estimators, and civil engineers—typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry.

For more information

Find detailed information about entry requirements, job outlook, and more for these occupations—and hundreds of others—in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Data on the physical, mental, and cognitive demands; environmental conditions; and vocational-preparation requirements in these occupations are available from the Occupational Requirements Survey.

About the Author

Elka Torpey is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. She can be reached at torpey.elka@bls.gov .

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Elka Torpey, "Careers in construction: Building opportunity," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2018.

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