California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Construction Laborers in San Diego County

May also be called: Construction Workers; Laborers; Tunnel Laborers; Tunnel Miners

What Would I Do?

Construction Laborers perform a wide variety of tasks, from the very simple, to the complex and hazardous. They can be found at building, highway, and heavy construction sites; residential and commercial sites; tunnel and shaft excavations; and demolition sites. Many of the jobs they perform require physical strength and some training and experience, while other jobs require little training and can be learned in a short amount of time.

Construction Laborers prepare construction sites by removing trees, debris, asbestos, or lead-based paint from buildings; tending pumps, compressors and generators; and building forms for pouring concrete. They also build and dismantle scaffolding and other temporary structures. Construction Laborers operate a wide variety of equipment including pavement breakers, jackhammers, earth tampers, concrete and plaster mixers, electric and hydraulic boring machines, mechanical hoists, laser beam equipment, and surveying and measuring equipment. They may also use computers to control robotic pipe cutters and cleaners.

Overall, Construction Laborers are generalists that perform many different tasks during all stages of construction. Some Construction Laborers tend to specialize in a certain type of construction, such as highway or tunnel construction. Those working in underground construction, such as tunnels or in demolition, are more likely to specialize in only those areas.

Highway construction laborers clear and prepare highway work zones and rights of way, install traffic barricades, cones, and markers. They also control traffic passing near, in, and around work zones. Highway construction laborers dig trenches; install sewer, water, and storm drain pipes, and place concrete and asphalt on roads. They may also perform specialized tasks including operating air, electric, and pneumatic drills, using laser equipment to place pipes, and setting explosives for tunnel and road construction.

Some Construction Laborers specialize in underground construction work as tunnel laborers. They use large tunnel boring machines, heavy-duty jackhammers, and pressure balance machines to excavate shafts and tunnels. Tunnel laborers hollow out sites for highway and mass transportation tunnels. They install telecommunication and utility cables, and water and sewer pipes.

Construction Laborers often work jointly on construction projects with skilled crafts workers such as carpenters, plasterers, operating engineers, and masons. For this reason, it is very important for Construction Laborers to have a strong understanding about the duties, materials, tools, and machinery used by other trades workers.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Read and interpret plans, instructions, and specifications to determine work activities.Monitoring
Control traffic passing near, in, and around work zones.Problem Sensitivity
Signal equipment operators to facilitate alignment, movement, and adjustment of machinery, equipment, and materials.Coordination
Dig ditches or trenches, backfill excavations, and compact and level earth to grade specifications, using picks, shovels, pneumatic tampers, and rakes.Mechanical
Position, join, align, and seal structural components, such as concrete wall sections and pipes.Static Strength
Measure, mark, and record openings and distances to lay out areas where construction work will be performed.Manual Dexterity
Load, unload, and identify building materials, machinery, and tools, and distribute them to the appropriate locations, according to project plans and specifications.Equipment Selection
Clean and prepare construction sites to eliminate possible hazards.Multilimb Coordination
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

The work of Construction Laborers is physically demanding. Construction Laborers often lift and carry heavy objects; they bend, kneel, crouch down, or crawl in awkward positions. They may work high in scaffolds or other structures. The work is frequently done outdoors in all weather conditions. The occupation of Construction Laborer is a dangerous one. The rates of fatal injury and non-fatal injuries and illnesses are greater than those for all construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction Laborers can come into contact with dangerous machinery. They are sometimes exposed to hazardous materials such as lead-based paint, asbestos, or chemicals and fumes. Construction Laborers may also be subjected to foul odors and loud noises. To reduce the risk of injury, workers in these jobs wear safety clothing, such as gloves, hardhats, protective chemical suits, and devices to protect their eyes, lungs, and hearing.

Tunnel laborers must have the ability to work underground in dark, damp, confined tunnels. They are exposed to similar hazards as traditional miners, such as cave-ins. However, risks are reduced when proper safety procedures are followed. To prevent injuries, these workers wear protective gear that includes hardhats with lamps, self-rescuers or air purifiers, slickers, steel-toed rubber boots, ear plugs, safety glasses, and work gloves.

Construction Laborers generally work eight-hour shifts, although longer shifts are common. Overnight work may be required when working on highways. Construction Laborers may work only during dry seasons, or they may experience weather-related work stoppages at any time of the year.

Many Construction Laborers belong to the Laborer’s International Union of North America.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of a Construction Laborer may appeal to those who enjoy working outdoors in activities that involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions. Construction Laborer occupations satisfy those who enjoy working independently at tasks that do not involve a lot of paperwork.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Tunnel laborers typically receive higher wages than general Construction Laborers.

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Construction Laborers in California is $38,389 annually, or $18.46 hourly. The median wage for Construction Laborers in San Diego County is $36,001 annually, or $17.31 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$29,770$38,389$54,001
San Diego County$28,317$36,001$49,244
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Construction Laborers working for union contractors generally receive health insurance, sick leave, vacation, and a pension plan.

What is the Job Outlook?

Demand is increasing for Construction Laborers. The summer seasons provide the best opportunity for jobs. Construction Laborers may experience periods of unemployment when weather conditions limit the availability of jobs. In addition, Laborers will be increasingly employed by staffing agencies that contract out to employers on a temporary basis.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Construction Laborers is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Construction Laborers are expected to increase by 29.2 percent, or 31,800 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

In San Diego County, the number of Construction Laborers is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Construction Laborers are expected to increase by 42.8 percent, or 4,040 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Construction Laborers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
108,800140,60031,80029.223,300
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
9,44013,4804,04042.82,020
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 3,190 new job openings per year is expected for Construction Laborers, plus an additional 2,330 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 5,510 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 404 new job openings per year is expected for Construction Laborers, plus an additional 202 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 606 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Construction Laborers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
3,1902,3305,510
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
404202606
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Many Construction Laborers learn this occupation through on-the-job training, working as a helper with a more experienced employee. Others obtain construction labor training through vocational schools or formal union-sponsored apprenticeship programs.

Formal apprenticeship programs require applicants to be at least 18 years of age. There is no maximum age. Applicants must be physically able to perform all phases of the work. A high school diploma is not required. However, applicants must be able to read, write, and speak the English language to ensure successful completion of the training program.

Experience

Entry-level Construction Laborer positions require little or no experience. They generally enter the field through temporary help agencies or formal union-sponsored apprenticeship programs. Beginning Laborers start as helpers, assisting more experienced workers. Employers prefer to hire experienced applicants when hiring highly skilled or specialized Construction Laborers.

The laborer apprenticeship program requires a minimum of 3,000 hours of on-the-job training and 200 hours of related classroom instruction.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in English, mathematics, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, welding, and general shop are helpful.

Apprenticeship and Work Study Programs

Apprentices learn their trade while working on the job. They also attend related technical classroom training at the Laborer’s Training Center.

Licensing and Certification

Construction Laborers work under the license of the employer-contractor. Those wishing to enter self-employment as a specialty contractor must pass a written exam along with a fingerprint background check to obtain a contractor’s license through the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Board. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Certification is not required by law. However, voluntary certifications may enhance employment and advancement opportunites. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Construction Laborers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Residential Building Construction 13.5%
Other Specialty Trade Contractors 11.9%
Employment Services 8.3%
Nonresidential Building Construction 8.1%
Building Foundation/Exterior Contractors 7.6%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Jobs may also be found through registration with temporary employment agencies and through classified advertisements in newspapers, trade publications, and Internet job listings. Union members search for work by registering with their local hiring hall. Tunnel laborers generally find employment through the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Construction Laborers.

  • Building, general contractors
  • Construction clean-up contractors
  • Construction consultants
  • Construction management
  • Labor contractors

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Experience as a Construction Laborer may lead to advancement to positions such as supervisor or construction superintendent. Through training and experience, Laborers can move into other construction occupations. Some Construction Laborers become skilled craft workers, either through extensive on-the-job training or apprenticeships in a craft. A few become independent general or specialty contractors.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Construction Laborers with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Hazardous Materials Removal WorkersGuide
Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble SettersProfile
Highway Maintenance WorkersGuide
Industrial Truck and Tractor OperatorsGuide
Landscaping and Groundskeeping WorkersGuide
StonemasonsGuide
Structural Metal Fabricators and FittersProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification47-2061
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Construction Laborers47-2061.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCE
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Construction Trades, Other 469999
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Public Works210210