Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Construction Laborers

Many construction laborer jobs require no experience or training related to the occupation. Although many workers enter the occupation with few skills, training is encourage and available through apprenticeships and laborer training centers. However, the work requires more strength and stamina than do most occupations, as well as a basic education. The willingness to work outdoors or in confined spaces also is needed. Basic literacy is a must if a worker is to read and comprehend warning signs and labels and understand instructions and specifications.

Most construction laborers learn their skills informally, observing and learning from experienced workers. Individuals who learn the trade on the job usually start as helpers. These workers perform routine tasks, such as cleaning and preparing the worksite and unloading materials. When the opportunity arises, they learn how to do more difficult tasks, such as operating tools and equipment, from experienced craftworkers. Becoming a fully skilled construction laborer by training on the job normally takes longer than the 2 to 4 years required to complete a construction craft laborer apprenticeship program.

Formal apprenticeship programs provide more thorough preparation for jobs as construction laborers than does on-the-job training. Local apprenticeship programs are operated under guidelines established by the Laborers-Associated General Contractors of America Education and Training Fund. These programs typically require at least 4,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training and approximately 400 hours of classroom training. Depending on the availability of work and on local training schedules, it can take an individual from 2 to 4 years to complete the apprenticeship. A core curriculum consisting of basic construction skills such as blueprint reading, the correct use of tools and equipment, and knowledge of safety and health procedures comprises the first 200 hours. The remainder of the curriculum consists of specialized skills training in three of the largest segments of the construction industry: Building construction, heavy/highway construction, and environmental remediation (cleaning up debris, landscaping, and restoring the environment to its original state). Workers who use dangerous equipment or handle toxic chemicals usually receive specialized training in safety awareness and procedures. Apprentices must complete a minimum 144 hours of classroom work each year.

Most apprenticeship programs require workers to be at least 18 years old and physically able to perform the work. Many apprenticeship programs require a high school diploma or equivalent. High school and junior college courses in science, physics, chemistry, and mathematics are helpful. Vocational classes in welding, construction, and other general building skills can give anyone wishing to become a construction laborer a significant head start.

Experience and training is helpful but usually is not necessary to obtain a job. Relevant work experience that provides construction-related job skills can often reduce or eliminate a wide range of training and apprenticeship requirements. Finally, most apprenticeship programs, local unions, and employers look very favorably on military service and/or service in the Job Corps, as veterans and Job Corps graduates have already demonstrated a high level of responsibility and reliability and may have gained many valuable job skills.

Construction laborers need good manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and balance. They also need the ability to read and comprehend all warning signs and labels on a construction site and reading skills sufficient to understand and interpret plans, drawings, and written instructions and specifications. They should be capable of working as a member of a team and have basic problem-solving and math skills. Employers want workers who are hard-working, reliable, and diligent about being on time. Additionally, construction laborers who wish to work in environmental remediation must pass a physical test that measures the ability to wear protective equipment such as respirators. Computer skills also are important as construction becomes increasingly mechanized and computerized.

Experience in many construction laborer jobs may allow some workers to advance to positions such as supervisor or construction superintendent. Some construction laborers become skilled craftworkers, either through extensive on the job training or apprenticeships in a craft. A few become independent contractors.