Construction laborers are skilled workers who do much of the physically demanding labor at all kinds of construction projects, from excavation to building and demolition. Construction laborers use a variety of hand and power tools to hammer, lift, saw, and measure materials. Depending on the specialty of their employer, laborers might prepare a worksite, dig trenches, mix and place concrete, or even work with hazardous materials or explosives. Clean-up is usually in the job description. In different phases of construction, laborers assist other trades workers, and may need to interpret plans or specifications to set work priorities. They may also direct traffic around a work area to keep other workers safe. But all construction laborers can expect to do repetitive, physically demanding work— with noise, fumes, and dangers that require safety gear such as hard hats, gloves, face masks, ear protectors, and eyewear. Some employers require a high school diploma, but related work experience, strength, reliability, and safety are often more important to getting hired in this field.

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

What Do Construction Laborers / Helpers / Flaggers - General Do?

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:

Career Snapshot

Most construction laborers and helpers typically work full time and do physically demanding work. Perform tasks involving physical labor at construction sites. May operate hand and power tools of all types: air hammers, earth tampers, cement mixers, small mechanical hoists, surveying and measuring equipment, and a variety of other equipment and instruments. May clean and prepare sites, dig trenches, set braces to support the sides of excavations, erect scaffolding, and clean up rubble, debris and other waste materials. May assist other craft workers. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions.

(Some job titles include: Construction Laborer, Construction Worker, Curb and Gutter Laborer, Drain Layer, Drop Crew Laborer, Helper, Laborer, Post Framer, Skill Labor, Union Laborer)

Job Details

Construction Laborers typically do the following:

  • Clean and prepare construction sites by removing debris and possible hazards
  • 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
  • Control traffic passing near, in, or around work zones.
  • Signal equipment operators to facilitate alignment, movement, or adjustment of machinery, equipment, or materials.
  • Read plans, instructions, or specifications to determine work activities.
  • Load, unload, or identify building materials, machinery, or tools, distributing them to the appropriate locations, according to project plans or specifications.

Education and Experience - 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.

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: Construction Laborers earned an average base salary of $36,000 in May 2019
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 11%
  • Entry-level education: Most have a high school diploma or equivalent

Job Prospects

Laborers and helpers work in all fields of construction, and demand for these workers should mirror the level of overall construction activity.

Professional Associations

  • Laborers’ International Union of North America - LIUNA members are a skilled and experienced union workforce trained to work safely in the construction and energy industries. Members help build the Country’s infrastructure - from roads, bridges, and transit to schools and skyscrapers.
  • American Subcontractors Association  - ASA seeks to promote the rights and interests of subcontractors, specialty contractors and suppliers by building strength in community through education, advocacy, networking and professional growth.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors - ABC's membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is comprised primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors.
  • LIUNA Training and Education Fund - LIUNA Training and Education Fund is an important part of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and one of the premier adult training organizations in the world.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors - ABC's mission is the advancement of the merit shop construction philosophy, which encourages open competition and a free enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation.
  • Foundation for Trades - The goal of the Foundation for Trades organization is to help a new generation see the value of working with their hands and appreciating a job well done by hard work and talent. We offer a foundation of knowledge in the areas of building trades that will help propel an ever-diminishing workforce toward a rewarding future.
  • Trades Women - Founded in 1979 as a grassroots support organization, the mission of Trades Women is outreach, recruitment, retention and leadership development for women in blue-collar skilled craft.
  • TEACH Construction - TEACH Construction focuses on creating curriculum, and the related Instructional Resources, for the teaching of basic to intermediate skills in construction.
  • North America’s Building Trades Union - NABTU is dedicated to the stability of employment and economic security of organized construction workers in North America. Its purpose is to create more work opportunities, achieve living wages and protect benefit standards, not just for the members of its 14 national and international union affiliates, but for all construction workers.
  • National Skilled Trades Network - NSTN is a National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) Accredited Training Sponsor (ATS) and seeks to support youth and young adults in under-served communities in acquiring the skills needed to become certified skilled trades workers and employable in the lucrative skilled trades industry.
  • SkillsUSA - SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. Its mission is to help each student excel. A non-profit national education association, SkillsUSA serves middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service (including health) occupations.
  • AEC Business - This website is a blog and podcast forum for construction innovations. It is a great resource for construction business owners looking to up their game with strategic insights. Filled with useful how-to's and a simple writing style, it’s a must-read for construction managers wanting to stay “in the know.”
  • National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) - This mission of this organization is to build a safe, productive and sustainable workforce of craft professionals.  Their vision is to be universally recognized by industry and government as the training, assessment, certification and career development standard for construction and maintenance craft professionals.
  • The Associated General Contractors of America - The Associated General Contractors of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry.

Publications and Magazines

Additional Information for Construction Laborer

Depending on the work you do, some states may require an occupational license to work in this career sector.  Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job-training with classroom lessons and may help in career advancement.  As well, technical institutes and two-year colleges offering a certification program can help you get a job and/or get a promotion.