A construction worker is a tradesman, laborer, or professional employed in the construction of buildings and other structures. These workers perform a wide range of tasks involving manual labor at construction sites. They may operate hand and power tools of all types such as: shovels, hammers, drills, cement mixers, measuring instruments, and a variety of other equipment.
Construction crews include a diverse range of people with different skills working together to complete a project. There are construction workers that clean and prepare sites, dig trenches, set braces to support the sides of excavations, erect scaffolding, remove debris, etc. Among the most common construction trades are those of carpenter, concrete finisher, electrician, glazier, heavy equipment operator, ironworker, laborer, mason, plasterer, plumber, pipefitter, sheet metal worker, and welder.
Although many construction laborers are generalists, others specialize in a certain area such as home building, heavy construction, or environmental remediation. There are nine basic types of construction:
- Residential building construction
- Light commercial construction
- Multi-family construction
- Healthcare construction
- Environmental construction
- Industrial construction
- Commercial building construction
- Institutional construction
- Heavy civil construction
Each type of construction project requires a unique team to plan, design, construct and maintain the project. Blueprint reading is a required skill for many construction positions.
Most construction laborers do physically demanding work. They must wear gloves, safety glasses, earplugs, hard hats, and other protective gear. Some work at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions; others may be required to work underground in tunnels. Construction workers on highway and bridge projects may need to work overnight to avoid major disruptions to traffic. In some parts of the country, construction workers may only be able to work during certain seasons. Although construction laborers sometimes have to stop work because of bad weather, they often work overtime to meet deadlines.
There are many routes to the different careers within the construction industry. Most construction laborers and helpers learn their trade through on-the-job training after being hired by a construction contractor. These workers typically gain experience by doing jobs under the guidance of more experienced workers. Certain groups, such as unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Some workers attend a trade school, vocational school, or community college.
Through experience and training, construction workers can advance into positions that involve more complex tasks. For example, they may earn certifications in concrete finishing or forklift operation and then spend more time performing activities that require those specialized skills. Personnel with extensive knowledge and experience in their craft or profession are hired as site managers to oversee and instruct the construction process.
General contractors often start out as construction workers and work their way “up the ladder.” Aspiring general contractors must learn communication skills and project management skills, as well as business skills if they want to run their own company.
A general contractor is responsible for the overall coordination of a construction project. The general contractor hires specialized subcontractors to perform all or portions of the construction work. The owner, architect, and general contractor all work closely together to meet deadlines and budget.