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You can generally divide the work on a construction site into three groups. There are those in skilled trades: the carpenters, glaziers and masons who design and implement the project. There are those in operations: the managers and surveyors who perform the administrative tasks necessary to get the project started and keep it running. And then there are the general workers: the jack-of-all-trades personnel charged with assisting the tradespeople with the labor required to finish the project. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 814,470 general construction workers in 2012 who assisted with an essential and exhaustive catalog of duties.
Construction work is usually a progressive occupation. Many start out as generalists who attend to tasks such as digging ditches, cleaning highways, knocking down walls and unloading equipment. As they gain experience, they provide assistance in a specialty such as roofing, pipefitting, structural work or carpentry. Some choose to receive certification to handle hazardous construction materials and waste. Over time, general construction workers typically choose a specific trade, begin an apprenticeship and undergo the formal training and certification necessary to ascend to a journeyworker position, or in plain speak, someone who has completed an apprenticeship. They might also decide to pursue a bachelor's degree to become a construction manager. In other words, general construction work is a starting point that leads to vast opportunities.
Employment for general construction workers is expected to swell this decade. The BLS predicts that by 2022 employment will increase by 21.3 percent and surpass 1 million workers.
Construction workers perform the important task of building our infrastructure. So their median salary – one that’s slightly less than $30,000 – may seem surprising. In 2012, the highest paid in the profession earned $58,380 per year and the lowest paid earned less than $20,000. The average salary for construction workers in 2012 was $34,490. Construction laborer jobs in New England tend to pay the best – the top-paying metropolitan areas for this occupation include New York City, Framingham, Mass., and Boston – but if tropical weather is more your speed, construction workers in Honolulu made an average salary of $52,320 in 2012.
Working as a general construction worker is an excellent introduction and gateway to other specialties within construction. There aren’t formal education requirements to start out, and you'll receive ample on-the-job training. You'll most likely get your feet wet performing simple, safe tasks – like cleanup, for instance – while shadowing more experienced workers on a job site. General laborers usually find a preference for a specific trade and might enter a formal apprenticeship program and begin the process to receive certification in a specialty.
Because general construction doesn't require formal training, some people might think finding work as a laborer is a cakewalk. It's not. Unions frequently recruit construction workers from high schools and technical schools. The labor department notes that those with a military background have great prospects in this line of work because unions are always seeking applicants who are in excellent physical shape, have strong math skills and can work well with people.
If you have experience within a particular trade, then you might have an even better chance of finding work. According to the labor department, laborers who work under carpenters, painters, plasterers and stucco masons have some of the best job prospects.
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Last updated by Jada A. Graves.