Construction worker jobs involve more than simply swinging a hammer or pouring concrete. Professionals in the field are employed in a variety of roles that require specialized skills and knowledge. Depending on the specific occupation, a construction worker job description may include any of the following:
- Reading blueprints to construct building frames.
- Preparing construction sites and supplies.
- Installing drywall, cabinets, windows, flooring and other trim features.
- Supervising a team of builders and tradesmen on a job site.
- Inspecting work to ensure it meets quality standards and local building codes.
"The combination of a large percentage of the existing labor force reaching the age of retirement and the surge in development projects around the country means that the demand for new talent is high" Read the full interview with Caitlyn Roddy from Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers
There are numerous construction worker jobs within the industry. While some people provide general labor on residential, commercial or road projects, others specialize in one of the following occupations:
- Carpenters construct and repair structures made out of wood. They may specialize in framing buildings, installing trim features or creating rough, temporary structures such as scaffolding.
- Masonry workers work exclusively with bricks, concrete blocks, stones and similar building materials.
- Construction equipment operators use heavy machinery to construct buildings, roads and other infrastructure.
- Construction and building inspectors approve building plans, inspect finished projects and ensure construction meets government standards.
How to Become a Construction Worker
Most construction jobs don't require a formal education, but you will need training for many positions. There are several different ways to get the skills needed for a career in construction. Consider the following steps to become a construction worker:
- Earn High School Diploma or Equivalent: Take it further when in school by looking into high school courses specifically targeting the skilled trades.
- Training: Consider postsecondary training or an associate degree program in a construction field. They may not be required for employment, but could put you above some competition.
- Apply for Job/Apprenticeship: Apply for entry-level construction positions, or consider hands-on training by applying for an apprenticeship.
Read more for detail on those steps to becoming a construction worker.
Education for Construction Workers
Construction workers may have one of the following levels of formal education:
- High school diploma: Employers typically prefer to hire those with at least a high school diploma or GED. Some high schools have technical programs specifically designed for those planning a career in the skilled trades.
- Postsecondary training: Community colleges and technical schools may have short-term programs available to teach the basic skills required by construction worker jobs.
- Associate degree: Although not needed for many positions, some schools offer associate degrees in construction fields. These typically take two years to complete and may be pursued by those interested in advanced work, supervisory roles or a higher construction worker salary.
You can find construction training programs through many vocational schools, community colleges and technical schools. However, not surprisingly, you won't find many online construction schools. This is a career which benefits from hands-on instruction.
Hands-On Training for Construction Workers
Construction workers don't need to spend much time in a classroom to learn their job. Instead, they learn the trade through hands-on training or apprenticeships.
Contractors may pair a new hire with an experienced worker to provide on-the-job training. There are also apprenticeships available through groups such as the Laborers' International Union of North America and Home Builders International.
Apprenticeship programs can run as long as two to four years and include both technical instruction and paid, on-the-job training.
Construction Certification and Licensure
Certification and licensure for construction worker jobs vary depending on a person's occupation. Some states may require workers be licensed for certain tasks such as operating heavy machinery. Building inspectors also must typically be licensed by their state or local government.
Beyond required government licenses, there are several voluntary certifications for construction occupations. These may not be required but could impact construction worker salary. Those with professional credentials may be in a better position to negotiate higher wages. The following are a few of the professional certifications available and their sponsoring organization:
- Certified Lead Carpenter from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry
- Masonry Certification from the Mason Contractors Association of America
- Associate Constructor from the American Institute of Constructors
- Concrete Flatwork Finisher and Technician from the American Concrete Institute
Certification requirement vary for each organization. Some may have you take online courses. Others are looking for a specific work or education background and may require applicants to take an exam.
Construction Career Advancement
Construction workers have several ways to advance their career. With experience, they could be promoted to supervisory roles. Or they may decide to specialize in a specific construction specialty such as carpentry or masonry. The salary of construction worker specialists may be higher than that of general laborers.
Another way to advance your construction career is to return to school for additional education. As associate degree or a bachelor's degree in construction management could open the door for greater work opportunities and a higher construction worker salary.
Top 25 Construction Trade Schools
For this study, we only looked at accredited institutions that offered certificates and associate degree plans but no bachelor's degrees. We took data from U.S. Department of Education sources and ranked more than 120 schools in student-centered categories like affordability, flexibility and three-year graduation rate. Check out our top 10 construction schools below.
Formed in 2009 as a result of the merger of two established technical schools, Georgia Northwestern Technical College is a member campus of the Technical College System of Georgia and educates around 5,600 students each semester. It maintains six campus locations throughout northwestern Georgia and reported the highest percentage of online enrollment of any school that made our list.
Construction programs at GNTC: Three different levels of construction management program are available here. The Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) program in construction management is the most comprehensive and takes 66 credit hours to complete. The 55-credit diploma program requires fewer general education courses, and a 15-credit certificate program can be completed in just two semesters.
Columbus State Community College is one of the largest institutions we surveyed, boasting total enrollment of more than 27,000 students in 2018. Despite the size of its student body, classrooms at CSCC don't feel overcrowded -- the average class size here is just 20 students. It also offers a full menu of student support services, including tutoring, career counseling, financial aid services and a transfer center for students hoping to continue their education at the bachelor's level and beyond.
Construction programs at CSCC: The programs in construction and skilled trades at CNCC include certificates for carpenters, electricians, plumbers and welders, as well as an A.A.S. and several certificates in construction management. It also offers apprenticeship readiness certificates in carpentry, plumbing, sheet metal and electrical work.
Founded in the basement of an elementary school in 1940, Bates Technical College operates three campuses in the Tacoma area and educates around 3,400 students each term. BTC is one of the most affordable construction schools in the U.S., charging students an average net price of less than $3,900 after grant and scholarship aid is factored in.
Construction programs at BTC: Two training programs in woodworking are available at BTC, both of which are comprehensive A.A.S. degree plans that take six quarters of full-time study to complete. The carpentry program focuses on residential construction concepts like framing, foundation work and roofing, while the program in architectural woodworking and cabinetry covers the various tools and techniques of precision wood shop work.
This small institution located about 100 miles west of St. Louis has a knack for keeping students engaged and thriving throughout their degree programs. Just three other construction schools in the country had a higher graduation rate than State Technical College of Missouri, and no other school we surveyed nationwide brought a higher percentage of first-year students back for their second year.
Construction programs at State Tech: Construction programs here include a heavy equipment operations program that teaches students how to operate backhoes, bulldozers and other heavy construction machines on a 125-acre training site. If you want to take a more high-tech approach to your construction education, programs in civil engineering technology and design engineering technology are also available.
Washtenaw Community College goes out of its way to accommodate students with busy schedules. Classes in many programs here are offered on weekends, in the evening or online in the virtual classroom. More than 18,000 students enroll in for-credit classes each year at this Ann Arbor school, where the average net price ranked in the top 15 for affordability among all schools we looked at in this study.
Construction programs at WCC: Three separate programs in construction technology can be found at WCC, including a 60-credit Associate in Science (A.S.) degree that is designed to transfer seamlessly into a bachelor's program at Eastern Michigan University if you decide to take your study further. Basic and advanced certificate plans in the field each require around 18 credits.
Founded in 1963 as Indiana Vocational Technical College, this Indianapolis-based institution has one of the largest student bodies in the country. More than 75,000 students were counted on the attendance rolls of Ivy Tech Community College in 2018, and the institution still manages to keep the average student-faculty ratio across its more than 40 campuses to a comfortable 17:1.
Construction programs at Ivy Tech: A.A.S. degrees are available in building construction management and building construction technology, each of which take around five semesters of full-time study to complete. Certificates in construction management, carpentry and electrical work are available in two tracks. The 22-credit standard certificates take two semesters to complete, and the 32-credit technical certificates take three full-time semesters.
Savannah Technical College is a medium-sized institution that offers a total of more than 150 degree and certificate programs to students on Georgia's eastern coast. It operates four campuses in the region, as well as an army education center on base at nearby Fort Stewart. STC offers a range of special services and benefits to veteran students and their families, earning the college a Military Friendly Gold award and a place on the Best for Vets list produced by Military Times.
Construction programs at STC: A nine-credit certified construction worker certificate is available here, as well as two-semester plans for construction managers and construction management apprentices. Numerous degrees are also available for aspiring electricians and welders, including A.A.S. degrees in both trades.
This private, for-profit institution mostly focuses its instructional efforts on mechanical and industrial fields, making sure to provide hands-on training so students can know what to expect once they're on the job. New Castle School of Trades has been training trade school students in western Pennsylvania since its founding in 1945, and it had the top on-time graduation rate among all 120+ construction schools we surveyed for this analysis.
Construction programs at NCST: The Pennsylvania school's program in building technology trains students in all aspects of construction. The certificate plan takes just over a year of full-time study to complete and teaches fundamentals such as framing, masonry work and finishing techniques for interior and exterior surfaces.
North Arkansas College has one of the highest rates of distance education enrollment among our top construction schools, reporting that close to 49 percent of students took at least some of their classes online during the 2017-18 school year. It also recently affirmed its commitment to providing a cutting-edge education, opening a new building dedicated to science instruction and lab work in 2014.
Construction programs at Northark: Students can enroll in construction technology and construction equipment operation programs at two different certificate levels at this northern Arkansas school. Certificate of proficiency plans consist of 15-17 credits and are designed to be completed in one semester, while technical certificate plans offer more comprehensive training and take at least two semesters to complete.
City College of San Francisco posted one of the best first-year retention rates among our top construction schools, meaning that students who enrolled in multi-year programs are highly likely to continue their training past the first year. It's also one of the largest institutions we surveyed, maintaining close to a dozen campuses throughout San Francisco and educating more than 26,000 students each semester.
Construction programs at CCSF: Most standard construction programs are available at CCSF, including an A.S. or certificate in construction management and certificates in carpentry, residential plumbing and residential wiring. It also offers a 13-credit certificate in construction office administration and a variety of certificates and degrees in landscape contracting and other outdoor-oriented construction fields.
Skills and Qualities for Construction Workers
A construction worker job description often includes performing a number of different tasks in a variety of settings. Those who are successful in the field often have the following skills and abilities:
- Active listening to understand directions and ask appropriate questions before beginning a task.
- Manual dexterity to grasp and use construction tools and supplies.
- Static strength to lift, hold, push and carry lumber and other heavy construction materials.
- Monitoring to keep track of work progress and make adjustments as needed.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Construction Worker Jobs
If you're wondering how much do construction workers make, the answer is that it depends upon their specialization and geographic location. The following table shows the average construction worker salary you might expect across the country:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Construction and Building Inspectors||104,090||$63,150||9.9%|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||5,962,640||$51,220||11.1%|
|Construction Trades Workers||4,497,490||$49,850||10.7%|
|First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers||598,210||$70,540||12.7%|
|Helpers, Construction Trades||233,580||$32,900||12.9%|
|Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators||383,480||$53,030||12.4%|
|Other Construction and Related Workers||422,540||$50,240||10.2%|
|Painters, Construction and Maintenance||228,420||$43,050||6.1%|
|Supervisors of Construction and Extraction Workers||598,210||$70,540||12.7%|
Expert Advice for Students in Construction Training
To find out more about what it takes to become a construction worker, and to get expert advice about the industry, we spoke with Caitlyn Roddy, who's been in the construction and real estate industry for five years. Though she fell into the industry by chance, she has fallen in love with it and all of the opportunity available, especially at her company Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers.
|Caitlyn Roddy is a project manager for Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers.|
Why would you encourage someone to pursue a career in construction?
If you enjoy this type of work, the field can be incredibly rewarding as you get to have a hands-on experience in building something new. The work can be physically demanding, depending on the field. Hours are fairly standard across the industry: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Night and weekend work is often required, depending on the project, but can be quite lucrative when overtime is necessary. For me, being able to be a resource to our clients is very rewarding. Real estate and construction are complicated fields that many people do not have experience in, so experts in both fields are very much in demand.
Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?
It is a great time to get started in the construction industry, especially for women. The combination of a large percentage of the existing labor force reaching the age of retirement and the surge in development projects around the country means that the demand for new talent is high. I am thrilled to see that there is an increased focus on hiring women for construction work. However, this is a great time to get started in the industry for anyone who has new talent to offer.
What are the different job expectations for the field?
Job expectations are as varied as the type of jobs in the industry. In my role, I manage real estate and construction projects from concept to completion. This involves coordination of all vendors, consultants, project team members, etc., all to ensure that projects are delivered on time and within budget. I am available at all times for our clients to answer any and all questions, to provide solutions to problems of all nature and to anticipate potential issues that might cause a delay or a snag in the project.
However, job expectations really depend on the type of work you are doing and the client for which you are working. When construction timelines are short, expectations can be very high.
Professional Resources for Construction Workers
If you want to learn more about how to become a construction worker, you may want to visit the following resources:
Associated Builders and Contractors - This national trade association has more than 21,000 members and provides a number of educational and training programs.
National Center for Construction Education and Research - This nonprofit creates curriculum and credentials for skilled trades.
Lowe's Track to the Trades - The home improvement company Lowe's has an employee education program to help workers launch a career in the skilled trades.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed August 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh
- Apprenticeships, Home Builders Institute, Accessed August 2018, http://www.hbi.org/Programs/Training-Programs/Apprenticeship-Program
- Certification Programs, American Concrete Institute, Accessed August 2018, https://www.concrete.org/certification/certificationprograms.aspx
- Certified Lead Carpenter, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Accessed August 2018, https://www.nari.org/industry/development/certification/certified-lead-carpenter-clc/
- Masonry Certification, Mason Contractors Association of America, Accessed August 2018, https://www.masoncontractors.org/certification/
- About Certification, American Institute of Constructors, Accessed August 2018, https://www.professionalconstructor.org/page/About_Certification
- O*Net Online, Department of Labor, Accessed August 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed May 2019, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 2019, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
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- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, accessed June 30, 2019: Georgia Northwestern Technical College, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=139384; State Technical College of Missouri, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=177977; Bates Technical College, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=235671; Ivy Tech Community College, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=150987; North Arkansas College, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=107460; City College of San Francisco, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=112190