Construction workers do many basic tasks that require physical labour on construction sites.
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Construction workers work on almost all construction sites, doing a wide range of tasks from the very easy to the extremely difficult and hazardous. Although many of the tasks they do require some training and experience, most jobs usually require little skill and can be learned quickly.
They typically do the following:
The following are occupational specialties:
Construction workers do a variety of construction-related activities during all phases of construction. Although most are generalists—such as those who install barricades, cones, and markers to control traffic patterns—many others specialize. For example, those who operate the machines and equipment that lay concrete or asphalt on roads are more likely to specialize in those areas.
Most construction workers work in the following areas:
Construction workers use a variety of tools and equipment. Some tools are simple, such as brooms and shovels; other equipment is more sophisticated, such as pavement breakers, jackhammers, earth tampers, and surveying equipment. With special training, workers may help transport and use explosives or run hydraulic boring machines to dig out tunnels. They may learn to use laser beam equipment to place pipes and 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 basic tasks. They may carry tools and materials or help set up equipment. For example, many helpers work with cement masons to move and set forms. 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 are examples of trades that have associated helpers:
Most construction workers learn their trade through short-term on-the-job training after being hired by a construction contractor or a temporary-help employment agency. Although there are no formal educational requirements, high school classes in English, mathematics, blueprint reading, welding, and shop can be helpful.
Workers typically gain experience by doing jobs under the guidance of experienced workers. Although the majority of workers learn informally, some opt for formal apprenticeship programs. Programs generally include 2-to-4 years of technical instruction and on-the-job training. In the first 200 hours, workers learn basic construction skills, such as how to read blueprints, the correct use of tools and equipment, 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 such as lead or asbestos removal.
Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualification for entering an apprenticeship program is being age 18 or older. A high school diploma or its equivalent is preferred but not required. Although there are no formal educational requirements, some workers may choose or be required to attend a trade or vocational school, association training class, or community college to get further trade-related training. Workers who remove hazardous material (hazmat) must have a federal hazmat license. Depending on the work they do, workers may need specific certifications. Certification helps workers prove that they have the knowledge to perform more complex tasks.
Through experience and training, construction workers can advance into positions that involve more complex activities. For example, workers may earn certifications in welding, scaffold erecting, or concrete finishing and then spend more time performing activities that require the specialized knowledge.
Through training and experience, helpers can move into construction craft occupations. For example, a bricklayer’s helper may have a chance to set bricks on the job and later join the contractor’s apprenticeship program. Workers and helpers may need to be able to distinguish colours to do their job. For example, an electrician’s helper must be able to distinguish different colours of wire to help the lead electrician.
Construction workers and some helpers need to perform basic math calculations to do their job. They often help with measuring on jobsites and may be part of a surveying crew. They often must lift heavy materials or equipment. For example, cement mason helpers must move cinder blocks, which weigh more than 40 pounds each.
Workers and helpers must have endurance to perform strenuous tasks throughout the day. Highway workers, for example, spend hours on their feet—often in hot temperatures—with few breaks. Workers frequently are required to operate heavy equipment, such as driving a forklift.
Construction workers held about 1 million jobs in 2010, of which 59% were employed in the construction industry. About 23% of construction workers were self-employed. Most do physically demanding work. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions. Some may be required to work in tunnels. They must use earplugs around loud equipment and wear gloves, safety glasses, and other protective gear.
The median annual wage of construction workers was $28,410 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.)
The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 30% and 60% of what fully trained workers make. They get pay increases as they become more skilled.