What Does a Construction Worker Do? (Plus Specializations)
Updated July 5, 2023
Construction workers are employees who perform physical labor to assist in the construction of infrastructure, such as buildings, roads, power plants and other systems. They typically work with a construction crew to dig trenches, build or dismantle scaffolding or temporary structures, lay bricks and concrete and remove hazardous materials from a building site. Learning more about what construction workers do and exploring their different specializations may help you decide whether to become one.
In this article, we explain what a construction worker does and share some relevant details about the position, such as specializations, requirements, skills, work environment, average salary and job outlook.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What does a construction worker do?
A construction worker is a person who works on a building crew responsible for preparing equipment, operating machinery and erecting or dismantling structures. Construction workers review and use blueprints to determine which type of structure to build and what materials and tools to order. They take measurements, make calculations and manage different aspects of the construction process. The typical duties that construction workers may perform include:
Testing machinery and equipment to ensure that they work properly
Transporting supplies and materials from suppliers to the job site using heavy vehicles
Following safety protocols and procedures to protect themselves and the team
Measuring and cutting lumber, plaster and other building materials to exact specifications
Using hand tools and mechanical tools, such as hammers, saws, screwdrivers, drills, wrenches and pliers
Completing electrical, plumbing and carpentry work
Loading and offloading building materials and equipment and constructing and renovating homes and commercial buildings
Construction worker specializations
There are several specializations for construction workers, including:
Construction workers who specialize in carpentry spend their time building wooden doors, cabinets, stairs and frameworks. They assemble and fasten wood materials using woodworking tools and power tools. They might also remove and repair wood, plywood and wallboard.
Related: 7 Types of Carpentry Work
Construction workers specializing in plumbing construct plumbing systems for residential homes and commercial properties, typically after the other building components are complete. They create water supply and drainage systems and plumbing fixtures and equipment and execute projects. They also test pipes and fittings after building them.
Masonry involves building structures that consist of brick, stone or similar materials. Construction workers specializing in masonry use brick, stones and concrete to create walls, walkways and foundations. They might also mix mortar to spread onto a foundation and polish brick surfaces using specialized tools.
Electrical construction workers or construction electricians design and assemble the electrical systems that power homes and commercial buildings. They install the wiring inside the walls of a structure as the rest of the construction crew builds it. They typically use wiring diagrams to ensure proper installation, and the role may require a higher skill level than traditional construction positions.
Related: Careers in Electricity
Requirements to become a construction worker
Here are the education, training, safety certification and skills requirements that are necessary to become a construction worker:
Employers usually require construction workers to have a minimum of a high school diploma. While still in high school, you can improve your construction skills by taking classes in welding, wood shop and mathematics. Many aspiring construction workers also attend trade school after graduation to gain more specialized skills in carpentry, plumbing, bricklaying and woodworking.
Many employers train construction workers once they begin the job. New hires often work under the supervision of an experienced team leader, foreperson or manager, who can teach them how to use complex construction equipment to complete necessary tasks. They can also learn about important safety procedures and gain the construction skills that are necessary to work independently.
Some people choose to complete apprenticeships to further their education and develop more specialized skills. Apprenticeships are often two to four years long and combine classroom instruction with entry-level job experience. During an apprenticeship, you can learn a variety of topics, including how to follow safety protocols, how to use tools correctly and how to read blueprints and construction plans. You can also learn more about general building construction, highway construction and environmental remediation concepts.
Some employers require employees to acquire an industry-specific safety certification to show their general understanding of the field and its safety protocols. A certification can also help you showcase your skills and expertise and differentiate yourself from more entry-level construction personnel. Some safety certifications you might consider earning to show employers that you understand how to protect yourself while working include:
Safety and Health Fundamentals for Construction
This certification is available through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and it assesses a candidate's knowledge of hazard recognition. The certification program can teach you basic safety standards, policies and procedures in the construction industry. To earn the certificate, it's necessary for you to complete seven courses that total 68 hours of safety training.
Silica in Construction
Construction workers can earn a Silica in Construction certification through OSHA by completing an online course. The course can teach you how to limit your exposure to dangerous silica particles while working at construction sites. The course can be especially useful for employees who regularly use drills, saws., sanding machines and other mechanical tools that release potentially harmful particulates.
Certified Safety Professional (CSP)
This certification is available through the National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP), and it qualifies construction personnel to implement health and safety programs in the workplace and conduct basic safety audits and inspections. The certification course can also teach you how to manage hazardous materials and operate equipment safely. The certification program takes about six months to complete.
EPA Amusement Operators Safety Certification
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Operators Safety Certification can help provide construction personnel who handle heavy equipment with a more thorough understanding of risk management practices. The program can teach you how to prevent worksite accidents and injuries and reduce environmental damage. Its requirements vary, depending on the state where you live.
Certified Safety Manager (CSM)
The CSM credential is also available through the NASP, and it can help you highlight your ability to work independently and adhere to important safety policies and procedures relevant to the industry. This credential can be beneficial if you're experienced in the field and possess a bachelor's degree in occupational health and safety. It requires completing a 40-hour training course and passing a test.
Skills for construction workers
As a construction worker, you require many technical and soft skills to perform your job effectively. Soft skills allow you to collaborate on a construction team, while technical skills help you to complete tasks and aid in the construction process. Some of these skills include:
Construction workers use their technical skills and knowledge to make informed decisions about construction techniques and materials. Their knowledge allows them to ensure that teams are able to complete projects according to the proper construction codes and regulations, which can help improve overall efficiency.
Many construction workers are responsible for calculating math equations while working, and math skills can help with converting measurements and pricing materials. These skills also allow them to construct geometric shapes and calculate floor and wall area.
A construction worker spends most of their shift on their feet performing a variety of physical tasks, including lifting and moving heavy materials, and a certain degree of physical endurance is often necessary. Excellent physical endurance allows them to transport materials and complete jobs more quickly.
To operate machinery safely and ensure the safety of their colleagues, it's often important for construction workers to understand the proper protocols and guidelines governing the industry. Their safety knowledge helps them avoid injuries and create a safer work environment while at a site.
Construction workers often work in teams to complete construction projects. Strong collaboration and communication skills can help them provide quality assistance to others and share detailed instructions with subcontractors and other relevant parties.
Construction workers use their organizational skills to organize their materials and tools and ensure that they're able to complete their tasks on schedule. A high level of organization allows them to monitor their equipment use and conduct thorough risk assessments.
Good time management skills allow construction personnel to establish detailed work timelines and ensure that they're able to complete each step of a project within the proper time frame. Construction workers are often responsible for managing schedules and prioritizing tasks, and these skills can help them ensure that they have enough time to complete the construction project.
Work environment for a construction worker
Construction workers may work on a variety of projects for businesses, schools, government agencies and private citizens. They often spend long hours outdoors and sometimes work in inclement weather. They might also work in physically strenuous conditions and spend several hours at a time standing, walking, crawling or squatting and lifting heavy objects, depending on the project. The job may involve some physical risk, which is why it's beneficial to know how to use and maintain heavy machinery and tools properly and understand the updated safety protocols.
Some construction workers work regular hours during the day, while others work nontraditional hours, including at night and on the weekend. They usually work full-time hours, but they may also work overtime to complete a project on time. A construction worker might also work seasonally, depending on their geographic location, as certain times of the year might be too cold to work outdoors for extended periods of time.
Construction worker salary and job outlook
The national average salary for a construction laborer is $38,237 per year, but your salary in the role also depends on your experience level, employer and job location. You might be able to earn a higher salary if you have more experience assisting with construction projects and managing teams. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for construction laborers is likely to increase by 4% through 2031. The BLS attributes this increase to the continued demand to repair and replace national infrastructure, including roads and water lines. Laborers are also necessary to build and renovate new homes and commercial buildings.
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