Occupation Profile for Construction Laborers

Perform tasks involving physical labor at building, highway, and heavy construction projects, tunnel and shaft excavations, and demolition sites. May operate hand and power tools of all types: air hammers, earth tampers, cement mixers, small mechanical hoists, surveying and measuring equipment, and a variety of other equipment and instruments. May clean and prepare sites, dig trenches, set braces to support the sides of excavations, erect scaffolding, clean up rubble and debris, and remove asbestos, lead, and other hazardous waste materials. May assist other craft workers.


Significant Points

  • Many construction laborer jobs require a variety of basic skills, but others require specialized training and experience.
  • Most construction laborers learn on the job, but formal apprenticeship programs provide the most thorough preparation.
  • Job opportunities vary by locality, but in many areas there will be competition, especially for jobs requiring limited skills.
  • Laborers who have specialized skills or who can relocate near new construction projects should have the best opportunities.


$26,320.00 Median Annual Wage 23,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
11.7 Average Unemployment Percentage 78.5 Percentage That Completed High School
1,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 16.8 Percentage That Had Some College
1,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 4.7 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Adz Worker
Air Breaker Operator
Air Drill Operator
Air Gun Operator
Air Hammer Operator
Air Tool Operator
Aluminum Pool Installer
Asbestos Removal Worker
Asphalt Distributor Tender
Asphalt Heater Tender
Asphalt Layer
Asphalt Patcher
Asphalt Paver
Asphalt Raker
Asphalt Smoother
Asphalt Spreader
Asphalt Tamper
Asphalt Worker
Auxiliary Equipment Tender
Awning Hanger
Awning Maker and Installer
Batch Dumper
Black Top Raker
Black Topper
Bottom Man
Bottom Worker
Breast Worker
Bridge Builder
Broom Man
Broom Worker
Brush Cutter
Building Cleaner
Bull Float Finisher
Burlap Man
Burlap Worker
Caisson Worker
Cement Breaker
Cement Cutter
Cement Finisher
Cement Mixer
Chuck Tender
Cinder Crew Worker
Circular Saw Operator
Column Precaster
Concrete Building Assembler
Concrete Buster Operator
Concrete Curer
Concrete Handler
Concrete Layer
Concrete Mixer
Concrete Pourer
Concrete Puddler
Concrete Spreader
Concrete Vibrator Operator
Concrete Worker
Connection Worker
Construction Craft Laborer
Construction Inspector
Construction Laborer
Construction Person
Construction Pit Worker
Construction Worker
Core-Drill Operator
Culvert Installer
Curb and Gutter Laborer
Demolition Hammer Operator
Demolition Specialist
Demolition Worker
Dirt Shoveler
Ditch Digger
Ditch Rider
Dope Pourer
Dowel Pin Man
Dowel Pin Worker
Drain Layer
Drapery Hanger
Dredge Pipe Operator
Dredge Pipeman
Drop Crew Laborer
Dust Handler
Earth Mover
Fence Post Driver
Fire Pot Operator
Flare Man
Flare Worker
Floor and Wall Applier, Liquid
Form Carpenter
Form Stripper
Grade Checker
Grade Tamper
Gravel Screener
Grit Blaster
Grommet Man
Grommet Worker
Ground Hand
Ground Worker
Grout Machine Operator
Grout Worker
Helper, Driller
Helper, House Mover
Helper, Pumper
High Man
High Worker
Hod Carrier
Hole Digger
Hose Operator
Hydraulic Jack Adjuster
Hydraulic Jack Operator
Jackhammer Operator
Jet Man
Jet Worker
Jetting Machine Operator
Joint Filler
Joint Sealer
Kettle Firer
Kettle Operator
Kettle Worker
Laborer, Construction or Leak Gang
Laborer, Track Repair
Land Clearer
Lawn Sprinkler Installer
Macadam Raker
Maintenance Worker
Maintenance Worker, Municipal
Manhole Stripper
Mastic Man
Mastic Worker
Mat Man
Mat Weaver
Mat Worker
Mesh Man
Mesh Worker
Mixer Tender
Mixing Plant Dumper
Mop Man
Mop Worker
Mortar Carrier
Mortar Maker
Mortar Man
Mortar Mixer
Mortar Worker
Mud Jack Nozzleman
Nozzle Operator
Oil Heater Operator
Oil Heaterman
Paper Steamer
Pick and Shovel Man
Pick and Shovel Worker
Pile Header
Pile Trimmer
Piling Setter
Pin Puller
Pipe Cutter
Pipe Installer
Plaster Machine Tender
Playground Equipment Erector
Plug Drill Operator
Pole Setter
Post Framer
Powder Loader
Power Washer
Pressure Washer
Pump Tender, Cement Based Materials
Punch Out Crew Member
Rail Layer
Rail Setter
Repairer, Ditch
Repairer, Pipe Line
Repairer, Sewer
Repairer, Sidewalk
Right-of-Way Clearer
Right-of-Way Cutter
Right-of-Way Man
Right-of-Way Worker
Riprap Man
Riprap Worker
Rivet Flunky
Riveter, Pneumatic
Rock Worker
Rod Placer
Rod Puller
Rubble Placer
Sand Blaster
Sand Hog
Sandblast Operator
Scoop Filler
Service Line Layer
Sewer Builder
Sewer Digger
Skilled Laborer
Skip Tender
Slip Dumper
Slip Filler
Slip Injector and Applicator
Snow Fence Erector
Steam Cleaning Machine Operator
Steel Layer
Steel Placer
Steel Post Installer
Stone Breaker
Straightedge Man
Straightedge Worker
Straw Boss
Stripe Marker
Swimming Pool Installer and Servicer
Tar Kettle Runner
Tar Man
Tar Pot Man
Tar Pot Worker
Tar Worker
Tuckpointer, Cleaner, Caulker
Tunnel Man
Tunnel Worker
Turntable Man
Turntable Worker
Venetian Blind Installer
Vibrator Operator
Wagon Winder
Wall Cleaner
Wall Scraper
Wall Steamer
Wall Washer
Wallpaper Cleaner
Wallpaper Scraper
Water Proofer
Well Cleaner

  • These occupations involve following instructions and helping others. Examples include taxi drivers, amusement and recreation attendants, counter and rental clerks, cashiers, and waiters/waitresses.
  • These occupations may require a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some may require a formal training course to obtain a license.
  • No previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is needed for these occupations. For example, a person can become a cashier even if he/she has never worked before.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few days to a few months of training. Usually, an experienced worker could show you how to do the job.

Many construction laborer jobs require a variety of basic skills, but others require specialized training and experience. Most construction laborers learn on the job, but formal apprenticeship programs provide the most thorough preparation.

Education and training. While some construction laborer jobs have no specific educational qualifications or entry-level training, apprenticeships for laborers require a high school diploma or equivalent. High school classes in English, mathematics, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, welding, and general shop can be helpful.

Most workers start by getting a job with a contractor who provides on-the-job training. Increasingly, construction laborers find work through temporary help agencies that send laborers to construction sites for short-term work. Entry-level workers generally help more experienced workers. They perform routine tasks, such as cleaning and preparing the worksite and unloading materials. When the opportunity arises, they learn from experienced construction trades workers how to do more difficult tasks, such as operating tools and equipment. Construction laborers may also choose or be required to attend a trade or vocational school or community college to receive further trade-related training.

Some laborers receive more formal training. A number of employers, particularly large nonresidential construction contractors with union membership, offer employees formal apprenticeships, which provide the best preparation. These programs include between 2 and 4 years of classroom and on-the-job training. In the first 200 hours, workers learn basic construction skills such as blueprint reading, 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 abatement, and mold or hazardous waste remediation.

Workers who use dangerous equipment or handle toxic chemicals usually receive specialized safety training. Laborers who remove hazardous materials are required to take union or employer-sponsored Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety training.

Apprenticeship applicants usually must be at least 18 years old and meet local requirements. Because the number of apprenticeship programs is limited, however, only a small proportion of laborers learn their trade in this way.

Other qualifications. Laborers need manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, good physical fitness, a good sense of balance, and an ability to work as a member of a team. The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly and accurately may be required. In addition, military service or a good work history is viewed favorably by contractors.

Certification and advancement. Laborers may earn certifications in welding, scaffold erecting, and concrete finishing. These certifications help workers prove that they have the knowledge to perform more complex tasks.

Through training and experience, laborers can move into other construction occupations. Laborers may also advance to become construction supervisors or general contractors. For those who would like to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited understanding of English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of the construction workforce in many areas. Supervisors and contractors need good communication skills to deal with clients and subcontractors.

In addition, supervisors and contractors should be able to identify and estimate the quantity of materials needed to complete a job, and accurately estimate how long a job will take to complete and what it will cost. Computer skills also are important for advancement as construction becomes increasingly mechanized and computerized.

Nature of Work

Construction laborers can be found on almost all construction sites performing a wide range of tasks from the very easy to the potentially hazardous. They can be found at building, highway, and heavy construction sites; residential and commercial sites; tunnel and shaft excavations; and demolition sites. Many of the jobs they perform require physical strength, training, and experience. Other jobs require little skill and can be learned in a short amount of time. While most construction laborers specialize in a type of construction, such as highway or tunnel construction, some are generalists who perform many different tasks during all stages of construction. Construction laborers, who work in underground construction, such as in tunnels, or in demolition are more likely to specialize in only those areas.

Construction laborers clean and prepare construction sites. They remove trees and debris, tend pumps, compressors and generators, and build forms for pouring concrete. They erect and disassemble scaffolding and other temporary structures. They load, unload, identify, and distribute building materials to the appropriate location according to project plans and specifications. Laborers also tend machines; for example, they may mix concrete using a portable mixer or tend a machine that pumps concrete, grout, cement, sand, plaster, or stucco through a spray gun for application to ceilings and walls. They often help other craftworkers, including carpenters, plasterers, operating engineers, and masons.

Construction laborers are responsible for oversight of the installation and maintenance of traffic control devices and patterns. At highway construction sites, this work may include clearing and preparing highway work zones and rights of way; installing traffic barricades, cones, and markers; and controlling traffic passing near, in, and around work zones. They also dig trenches, install sewer, water, and storm drain pipes, and place concrete and asphalt on roads. Other highly specialized tasks include operating laser guidance equipment to place pipes; operating air, electric, and pneumatic drills; and transporting and setting explosives for tunnel, shaft, and road construction.

Some construction laborers help with the removal of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, lead, or chemicals. (Workers who specialize in and are certified for the removal of hazardous materials are discussed in the Handbook statement on hazardous materials removal workers.)

Construction laborers operate a variety of equipment including pavement breakers; jackhammers; earth tampers; concrete, mortar, and plaster mixers; electric and hydraulic boring machines; torches; small mechanical hoists; laser beam equipment; and surveying and measuring equipment. They may use computers and other high-tech input devices to control robotic pipe cutters and cleaners. To perform their jobs effectively, construction laborers must be familiar with the duties of other craftworkers and with the materials, tools, and machinery they use.

Construction laborers often work as part of a team with other skilled craftworkers, jointly carrying out assigned construction tasks. At other times, construction laborers may work alone, reading and interpreting instructions, plans, and specifications with little or no supervision.

Work environment. Most laborers do physically demanding work. They may lift and carry heavy objects, and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl in awkward positions. Some work at great heights, or outdoors in all weather conditions. Some jobs expose workers to harmful materials or chemicals, fumes, odors, loud noise, or dangerous machinery. Some laborers may be exposed to lead-based paint, asbestos, or other hazardous substances during their work especially when working in confined spaces. To avoid injury, workers in these jobs wear safety clothing, such as gloves, hardhats, protective chemical suits, and devices to protect their eyes, respiratory system, or hearing. While working in underground construction, construction laborers must be especially alert to safely follow procedures and must deal with a variety of hazards.

Construction laborers generally work 8-hour shifts, although longer shifts are common. Overnight work may be required when working on highways. In some parts of the country, construction laborers may work only during certain seasons. They may also experience weather-related work stoppages at any time of the year.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)

Median hourly earnings of wage and salary construction laborers in May 2006 were $12.66. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.95 and $17.31. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.16, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.19. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number of construction laborers were as follows:

Nonresidential building construction $13.62
Other specialty trade contractors 12.93
Residential building construction 12.82
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 12.41
Employment services 9.90

Earnings for construction laborers can be reduced by poor weather or by downturns in construction activity, which sometimes result in layoffs. Apprentices or helpers usually start out earning about 60 percent of the wage rate paid to experienced workers. Pay increases as apprentices gain experience and learn new skills. Some laborers belong to the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Construction laborers
  • Job Outlook

    Employment is expected to grow about as fast as the average. In many areas, there will be competition for jobs, especially for those requiring limited skills. Laborers who have specialized skills or who can relocate near new construction projects should have the best opportunities.

    Employment change. Employment of construction laborers is expected to grow by 11 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The construction industry in general is expected to grow more slowly than it has in recent years. Due to the large variety of tasks that laborers perform, demand for laborers will mirror the level of overall construction activity.

    Construction laborer jobs will be adversely affected by automation as some jobs are replaced by new machinery and equipment that improves productivity and quality. Also, laborers will be increasingly employed by staffing agencies that will contract out laborers to employers on a temporary basis, and in many areas employers will continue to rely on day laborers instead of full-time laborers on staff.

    Job prospects. In many geographic areas there will be competition, especially for jobs requiring limited skills, due to a plentiful supply of workers who are willing to work as day laborers. In other areas, however, opportunities will be better. Overall opportunities will be best for those with experience and specialized skills and for those who can relocate to areas with new construction projects. Opportunities will also be better for laborers specializing in road construction.

    Employment of construction laborers, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. 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.


    Construction laborers held about 1.2 million jobs in 2006. They worked throughout the country but, like the general population, were concentrated in metropolitan areas. About 67 percent of construction laborers work in the construction industry, including 30 percent who work for specialty trade contractors. About 17 percent were self-employed in 2006.

    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    • Supplemental — Tend machines that pump concrete, grout, cement, sand, plaster or stucco through spray-guns for application to ceilings and walls.
    • Supplemental — Operate, read, and maintain air monitoring and other sampling devices in confined and/or hazardous environments.
    • Core — Control traffic passing near, in, and around work zones.
    • Supplemental — Mix ingredients to create compounds for covering or cleaning surfaces.
    • Supplemental — Install sewer, water, and storm drain pipes, using pipe-laying machinery and laser guidance equipment.
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
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