General laborers, also known as construction laborers and helpers, perform basic yet important physical work tasks at building construction sites, highway infrastructure projects and mining locations. They assist bricklayers, carpenters, concrete workers, electricians, roofers, painters, plumbers, stone masons and welders. Experienced general laborers supervise the work of their younger colleagues. Physical strength, flexibility to interact with diverse craft workers along with the ability to work on high-rise projects, underground or in hot and cold weather conditions are key traits of general laborers.
General laborers remove trash, residual building debris and potential dangerous materials from construction sites. They construct and later disassemble reinforcement braces, concrete forms, scaffolds and temporary structures. General laborers carry bricks, cans of paint, cinder blocks, drywall sheets, electrical spools of wire, roofing panels and wooden wall panels. They use shovels and backhoes to dig holes and smooth terrain. General laborers may also use concrete mortar mixers to assist masonry workers and operate forklifts to move heavy materials.
Training and Apprenticeship
General laborers receive on-the-job training beginning with easy tasks such as cleaning construction sites and carrying materials. Formal apprenticeship programs that last from two to four years teach general laborers more complicated tasks. Apprentices must be at least 18 years of age and a high school diploma is beneficial although not always required. According to the National Center for Construction Education and Research, construction laborer apprentices study modules about basic safety, blueprint reading, building materials and adhesives, electrical safety, introduction to concrete, hand and power tools, elevated masonry and concrete work, light equipment and lastly, how to use forklifts.
Licenses and Certifications
General laborers who work with hazardous materials, also known as hazmat, must obtain a federal hazmat license. Certification is beneficial and usually required for the following construction laborer specialties according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: asbestos, energy auditor, lead workers, pipeline operators, radiological employees, rough terrain forklift operators, signal persons on road sites and other venues, weatherization installation, welding and work zone safety. .
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that construction laborers earned a mean hourly rate of $16.43 and a mean annual salary of $34,170 as of May 2011. Entry-level construction laborers, which includes the lowest 10 percent of earners, had earnings of $18,820 or less annually. The most experienced construction laborers, or the highest 10 percent of workers, earned yearly wages of $58,250 or more, according to the BLS. The highway, street and bridge construction industry reported the highest mean salaries for construction laborers in industries with at least 24,010 workers: $18.28 per hour and $38,030, annually according, to the BLS.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected number of new jobs for construction laborers is estimated to increase by 212,400, or 21 percent, through 2020. This estimate compares with an average 14 percent growth rate in all other U.S. occupations tracked by the BLS. Increased demand for the construction of new homes, commercial office buildings, factories and national infrastructure projects will provide better-than-average job opportunities for laborers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Construction Laborers and Helpers-What Construction Laborers and Helpers Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Construction Laborers and Helpers-How to Become a Construction Laborer or Helper
- National Center for Construction Education and Research: Construction Craft Laborer-Competencies/Objectives
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Construction Laborers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Construction Laborers and Helpers-Job Outlook
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