What is a Construction Laborer?

Mike Biscoe

A construction laborer is a person who works in support of skilled workers on a construction site. Laborers can be found in all aspects of construction, including residential housing, commercial sites, tunnels, highway, and demolition jobs. Largely an entry-level position, most people pursuing a career in the construction field begin as a construction laborer.

Some laborers work on demolition jobs.
Some laborers work on demolition jobs.

Generally speaking, the job of a construction laborer is a physical one, regardless of the field. An ideal candidate will possess not only physical strength, but good balance, eye-hand coordination, and stamina, as laborers are often required to be the first workers on the job site and the last to leave following clean-up. Laborers can be utilized in one specific trade, masonry for example, or work in a broader range of duties. This is often the case with residential housing, where a laborer may assist in everything from site excavation to finish cabinetry.

A construction laborer may be responsible for setting up a work site for a skilled worker.
A construction laborer may be responsible for setting up a work site for a skilled worker.

Those seeking employment as a construction laborer will find that, for many jobs, no specific skill set or education requirements exist. Skills are learned on the job as need arises. If a carpenter is responsible for attaching plywood siding over the frame work of a house, for example, but cannot do the job alone, a construction laborer may be enlisted to measure, use a circular saw, nail, or hold wood in position while it is being attached to help complete the task.

Exceptions to this include those who are working in conjunction with an apprentice program. An apprenticeship is a two to four year program that seeks to turn the unskilled construction laborer into a professional in their chosen trade through a combination of on-the-job training, classwork, and examinations. A typical requirement of a carpenter's apprentice program, for example, will require that all candidates have earned a high school diploma. Additionally, some jobs require construction laborers possess some degree of skill, such as high-end, finish cabinetry jobs, where precision and detail are necessary.

A typical day for a construction laborer might include preparing the worksite for skilled workers by laying out power tools and materials, such as a cement mixer, wood flooring, or joint compound; unloading delivered materials, like lumber, sheetrock, or bags of cement; and cleaning, both during a specific job to keep the work area safe and at the end of the day. The laborer may also assist more skilled workers in demolition and construction. Overall, laborers can expect to be tired and at least a little dirty when the day is done.

A standard work week for a construction laborer in most locations is 40 hours, Monday through Friday. Overtime on Saturdays is not uncommon, especially in jobs working on tight deadlines. The day usually begins early in the construction field, though this will vary according to climate. For example, those workers employed to construct houses in a desert area can expect the day to start well before sunrise. Highway and railroad jobs regularly offer night shifts so as not to inconvenience daytime commuters and to help ensure worker safety.

Those seeking employment as a construction laborer may find their jobs in a number of ways. The most common route is to simply visit the nearest construction site and inquire about a position. Employment agencies routinely send laborers out on both one-day and longer term assignments as well. Those who train and work through an apprentice program are sometimes able to find their first jobs through the school they are attending.

The construction industry has a high incidence of accidents and fatalities.
The construction industry has a high incidence of accidents and fatalities.

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