Exploring this Job
People who are interested in this work can often get summer jobs as laborers on building or construction projects. This is the best kind of experience students can have to help them evaluate their interest and potential in this field. They may also benefit by talking to local contractors or local union officials. Visiting the Web sites of construction associations to learn about career paths in the field and building practices will also be useful.
Construction laborers are employed on all kinds of construction jobs, such as building bridges, viaducts, and piers; office and apartment buildings; highways and streets; pipelines; railroads; river and harbor projects; and sewers, tunnels, and waterworks. Many laborers are employed by private firms that contract to do these construction jobs. Others work for state or local governments on public works or for utility companies on such activities as road repair. Construction laborers also are involved in remodeling, demolition, and repair work.
At the direction of supervisors or other skilled workers, construction laborers perform a wide variety of tasks, such as loading and unloading materials, erecting and dismantling scaffolding, digging and leveling dirt and gravel, wrecking old buildings, removing rubble, pouring and spreading concrete and asphalt, removing forms from set concrete, and carrying supplies to building craft workers. They use equipment ranging from ordinary picks and shovels to various machines used in construction, such as air hammers or pile-driving equipment.
On some jobs, laborers are assigned to one routine task; on other jobs, they are rotated through different tasks as the job progresses. Some laborers tend to work in one branch of the construction industry, such as laying pipelines or building roads. Others transfer from one area of construction to another, depending on the availability of work.
To do their job well, some construction laborers need to be familiar with the duties of skilled craft workers, as well as with the variety of tools, machines, materials, and methods used at the job site. Some laborers do work that requires a considerable amount of know-how, such as those who work with the explosives used to break up bedrock before excavation work can begin on some construction projects. These workers must know how different kinds of explosives can be used safely, to avoid both injury and property damage.