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How Much Do Construction Workers Make?

In the world of construction, there are several different types of jobs, from a project manager to a carpenter. However, this article focuses on one of the most important: the construction worker. These laborers perform many different tasks on a job site, undertaking physically demanding work for hours at a time. Given the intensity of the job and importance of training, the question remains: How much do construction workers make?

The short answer is that it depends. What a construction worker makes depends on several elements, including a person’s location, education, work experience, and skills. The average pay in the US for a construction worker is $31,000 a year. However, when taking each of the different factors into account, a construction worker’s salary can raise or lower accordingly. To that end, the lowest wages generally start at $17,000 while the higher paid gigs may top out around $51,000. In greater detail, this article outlines the various components that go into calculating a construction worker’s salary.

Job Requirements

Before detailing how much a construction worker makes, it’s important to first explain the common requirements of the job. Construction work jobs can vary widely from location to location, given different environments, weather, and materials available. There are some commonalities, however, and the jobs often consist of building and repairing all kinds of large structures, houses, roads, highways, bridges, and buildings. Construction workers also assist on job sites with skilled tradesmen, such as bricklayers, carpenters, cement finishers, drywallers, demolitions experts, and roofers.

two construction workers
Construction work is a very physical job, and there are several attributes that it requires of its practitioners. These may include the following skills:
  • Coordination – Operating unwieldy machinery and tools requires a great bit of hand-eye coordination.
  • Balance – When working on high beams, workers need to walk and navigate tools with ease.
  • Depth-Perception – Accurately estimating distances, especially at great heights, can become crucial when using potentially dangerous materials.
  • Strength – So much of the construction job consists of lifting heavy loads into and out of trucks or job sites.
  • Endurance – Long hours in extreme heat or subzero cold often require a hearty constitution.

Location

Location determines a lot of a construction worker’s salary. Some features of a location that influence the salary include the amount of money the state receives from the federal government, the tax revenue cities receive from their constituents, the cost of living, the fees of different building permits, discrepancies between laws in different locations, the amount of businesses in a city, and many others. For example, in Hawaii, New York City, and Chicago, construction workers get paid the most in the United States. In other places, workers are paid less.

worker's location

Additionally, the specific environment determines much of what a construction worker makes. Although they typically work full time, inclement weather may force a job site to close, because sites almost always operate outside. In these breaks, construction workers may not receive pay because they can’t perform their jobs. Also, in climates with four seasons, the winter may prove too cold to work. While workers may not receive pay during the colder months, they also may have to make up for it in the spring, summer, and fall. During these seasons, they often work overtime to finish projects on time. In this sense, they may end up making more money during warmer months and that can cause their salaries to rise.

Education

Because construction workers build the houses, schools, and roads that everyone uses, knowing proper construction and safety techniques are a must. Often, these skills are demonstrated in the levels of education a construction worker might have.

happy construction worker

Construction work generally does not have an education requirement. More and more often, however, construction employers are beginning to require a high school diploma or a GED certificate. This indicates the workers possess at least an ability to be self-sufficient and demonstrates they have the ability to think critically about the work they do. When putting up boards in a wall, critical thinking can ensure it’s done the right way and the house won’t collapse on its inhabitants.

In lieu of high school diplomas, many construction workers take up apprenticeships or receive on-the-job training. These sorts of positions offer a deep and intensive introduction to the skills construction jobs require.

When it comes to college degrees, they often aren’t required for general construction workers. If workers do have a college degree, it’s often in either Woodworking or Business Management and Administration. Many construction laborers may go to vocational schools or trade schools, which can be institutions that offer courses on construction basics. These programs blend working in the classroom and hands-on experience to give graduates a leg up when entering the job market, as they gain many hours of pertinent experience. To gain higher employment, such as becoming a skilled tradesman or a project manager, further education beyond basic is often required.

Skills and Duties

What types of skills people bring to a construction site can determine the types of duties they’re responsible for and also the size of their salary. While it is lucrative, working as a general construction worker may not pay as well as working as someone who specializes in a skilled trade. To show the differences between generic construction workers and specialized trades, here is a list of general skills that most construction workers perform. The compensation for these duties is fairly uniform, can be dependent on state averages, and generally correlates with education and experience. The duties of a worker may include the following:

  • Operating heavy machinery, like forklifts or trucks.
  • Directing traffic that passes through work sites.
  • Preparing work sites by removing garbage, detritus, and trees.
  • Using a concrete mixer to mix cement, water, and sand.
  • Forming concrete by setting, pouring, and leveling it.
  • Working at demanding and unpredictable heights.
  • Utilizing large construction machines like saws, jackhammers, or blowtorches.
  • Digging ditches, holes, or trenches with shovels and jackhammers.
  • Exposing oneself to and working with hazardous materials.
  • Unloading and loading construction materials.
  • Subjecting oneself to high weather extremes.

However, most higher paid construction workers who specialize in different trades can do more on the job, so they are more valuable to the companies. Their salaries often increase to account for their abilities. Here are some examples of specialized skills:

Carpenters

A carpenter works on large construction projects, using blueprints to determine what kind of materials the job requires and how much of them. Once the materials arrive, the carpenters cut materials according to the blueprint’s specifications, using power saws, handsaws, or woodworking machines. After materials are cut to the specific sizes, carpenters then assemble them as elements that are parts of a larger structure. For their skilled labor, carpenters typically earn about $10,000 more than a general construction worker.

Cost Estimators

These workers amass large amounts of data about a project in order to estimate the amount of time, material, money, and labor that project might require. Whether it’s providing a service, constructing a building, or manufacturing a product from scratch, cost estimators have to wrangle data and turn it into a cohesive narrative that can be explained to all parties apprised of the project. Cost estimators also may monitor costs as the project is put into action, looking into reasons why something may have cost more or less than was originally planned. For these estimation skills, they can earn up to $33,000 more than general construction workers may earn.

cost estimates

Iron and Steel Workers

These skilled laborers install iron and steel beams, columns, and girders. These powerful support structures form bridges and buildings, keeping them upright and erect. Iron and steel workers perform dangerous and physically demanding work, including using cranes to lift beams, standing on girders to put them in position, and using metal torches to weld the materials together. For their advanced expertise and dangerous work, iron and steel workers typically earn about $17,000 more than general construction workers.

Iron and Steel Workers

Construction Managers

These individuals plan, budget, coordinate, and supervise different construction projects from inception to completion. When a cost estimator brings projected costs of a project, construction managers then negotiate these estimates, timetables, and budgets with all parties involved. They then plan for the methods the project requires, working around foreseen difficulties or problems with appropriate strategies. Managers also have to interpret contracts and explain technical ideas to the construction workers and other skilled tradesmen working on the project. For these managerial and project planning skills, construction managers can earn up to $63,000 more than general construction workers.

Final Thoughts

 

Construction work is well-compensated and fulfilling work for a number of individuals. If someone has a high school diploma and the willingness to work hard, construction work might be a perfect job. Depending on where individuals live, the skills they can perform, and the level of education they possess, they can earn different salaries as a construction worker. As global capital continues to expand, jobs building things are only increasing in the United States and abroad. Of course, people always need homes to live in, whether those are houses or apartments. Construction work is expected to grow with the increase in the earth’s human population, providing job security for years to come.

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