Construction Laborers and Helpers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

Work Environment: Most construction laborers and helpers typically work full time and do physically demanding work. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions. Construction laborers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

How to Become One: Construction laborers and helpers learn their trade through on-the-job training. Formal education is not typically required.

Salary: The median annual wage for construction laborers and helpers is $34,810.

Job Outlook: Employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 11 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Laborers and helpers work in all fields of construction, and demand for these workers should mirror the level of overall construction activity.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of construction laborers and helpers with similar occupations.

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.

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:

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

Construction laborers and helpers hold about 1.6 million jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up construction laborers and helpers is distributed as follows:

Construction laborers 1,405,000
Helpers—electricians 78,300
Helpers—pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 56,900
Helpers—carpenters 34,200
Helpers, construction trades, all other 27,200
Helpers—brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters 24,400
Helpers—painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 10,900
Helpers—roofers 8,800

The largest employers of construction laborers and helpers are as follows:

Specialty trade contractors 33%
Self-employed workers 24%
Construction of buildings 17%
Heavy and civil engineering construction 15%
Temporary help services 3%

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 for Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and "helpers, construction trades, all other" have some 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.

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 may 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.

Some construction laborers are self-employed. In contrast, very few helpers are 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.

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Education for Construction Laborers and Helpers

Although formal education is not typically required for most positions, helpers of electricians and helpers of pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically need a high school diploma. High school classes in mathematics, blueprint reading, welding, and other vocational subjects can be helpful.

Construction Laborer and Helper Training

Construction laborers and helpers typically learn through OJT after being hired by a construction contractor. Workers usually learn 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 may opt for apprenticeship programs. These programs generally include 2 to 4 years of technical instruction and OJT. The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) requires a combination of OJT and related classroom 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

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Construction Laborers and Helpers

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 someone 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 is $34,810. 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 $23,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,590.

Median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers are as follows:

Construction laborers $35,800
Helpers—brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters $33,380
Helpers—electricians $31,410
Helpers—pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters $30,980
Helpers—carpenters $30,880
Helpers, construction trades, all other $30,510
Helpers—roofers $30,390
Helpers—painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons $29,960

The median annual wages for construction laborers and helpers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction $37,060
Construction of buildings $36,100
Specialty trade contractors $33,820
Temporary help services $28,630

The starting pay for most 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 may 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.

Some construction laborers are self-employed. In contrast, very few helpers are self-employed.

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

Overall employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 11 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.

Construction laborers work in all fields of construction, and demand for laborers should mirror the level of overall construction activity. Repairing and replacing the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water lines, may 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 is expected to be driven by the construction of homes, schools, office buildings, factories, and power plants.

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Job Prospects for Construction Laborers and Helpers

Because of the large size of these combined occupations and their relatively high turnover, job prospects should be favorable.

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, during peak periods of building activity some areas may require additional number of these workers.

Employment projections data for Construction Laborers and Helpers, 2018-28
Occupational Title Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28
Percent Numeric
Construction laborers and helpers 1,645,700 1,819,000 11 173,400
  Construction laborers 1,405,000 1,553,100 11 148,100
  Helpers—brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters 24,400 27,000 11 2,600
  Helpers—carpenters 34,200 38,200 12 4,000
  Helpers—electricians 78,300 83,700 7 5,400
  Helpers—painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons 10,900 11,500 5 500
  Helpers—pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 56,900 65,800 16 8,900
  Helpers—roofers 8,800 9,900 13 1,100
  Helpers, all other construction trades 27,200 30,000 10 2,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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