Construction Laborers and Helpers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Construction Laborers and Helpers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Construction Laborers and Helpers

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] [To Top]

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.

Construction Laborer and Helper 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] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Construction Laborers and Helpers near you!

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.

Construction Laborer and Helper 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.

Construction Laborer and Helper 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 for Construction Laborers and Helpers

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 for Construction Laborers and Helpers

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.

Construction Laborer and Helper Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers was $30,190 in May 2014. 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 $19,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,790.

Median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in May 2014 were as follows:

Construction laborers $31,090
Helpers—brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters 28,830
Helpers, construction trades, all other 28,010
Helpers—electricians 27,940
Helpers—pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 27,710
Helpers—carpenters 26,600
Helpers—roofers 26,060
Helpers—painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 25,910

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 for Construction Laborers and Helpers[About this section] [To Top]

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.

Construction Laborers and Helpers 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 Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Construction laborers and helpers 1,386,400 1,566,500 13 180,100
  Construction laborers 1,159,100 1,306,500 13 147,400
  Helpers—brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters 23,500 28,800 22 5,300
  Helpers—carpenters 39,700 42,700 7 3,000
  Helpers—electricians 69,000 81,500 18 12,500
  Helpers—painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 11,900 13,100 11 1,200
  Helpers—pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 52,400 59,400 13 7,000
  Helpers—roofers 11,300 13,000 15 1,700
  Helpers, construction trades, all other 19,500 21,500 10 2,000


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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