Construction is one of the largest industries in the world. About $10 trillion is spent every year in the global construction industry in goods and services. As much as 50% of the world’s steel production goes to buildings and other infrastructures like bridges and tunnels.
More importantly, the construction industry is always on the lookout for employees. Construction productivity gains have lagged other industries because the construction industry has experienced less automation than other industries. While robotics and the Internet allowed manufacturing and commercial businesses to do more with fewer employees, construction is still largely done by hand.
Workers in the construction industry range from the designers who plan and design the buildings and building systems to the builders who perform the hands-on work to build them. Here are ten facts to know about construction jobs before joining the industry:
Construction Employees Earn a Wide Range of Pay
One of the most important facts about construction jobs is that your pay will depend on your job in the construction industry. A construction worker with no specialization will earn about $42,000 per year depending on where they work. Construction workers with general skills will often work as roofers, framers, cabinet installers, or other jobs that require careful work, but do not require specialized knowledge.
To increase your pay even more, you might look to jobs like HVAC installation, electrician, or plumber. These workers make about $25 per hour, depending on location. Other specialized workers, like carpenters and steelworkers, can expect a significant increase to $52,000 per year.
Among the non-managerial construction jobs, elevator and escalator installers and boilermakers are the highest-paid. These jobs are in high demand and very few people are qualified (and licensed) to perform them. As a result, they can earn sometimes earn over $84,000 per year.
Training for Construction Jobs
Construction jobs require training. One of the keys to know about construction jobs is that you will need to be able to do your job safely for your benefit and for the people who will use the structure. A bridge or building that is incorrectly built can injure or even kill people.
Training also puts you onto a smaller competitive field. Specialists are in higher demand because there are fewer of them to hire. This leads to higher wages and greater freedom in selecting your job. Construction workers have many paths to develop a specialty. Some options include:
- Community college: Some community colleges offer certificate programs or associate degrees that teach the skills needed to work construction. For example, someone interested in working in electrical services can become an electrician with an associate’s degree in electrical technology.
- Trade school: Trade schools offer formal education in construction trades without requiring additional courses like community colleges. For example, community colleges might require graduates to complete a course in communication or other elective courses. But trade schools usually focus solely on the student’s technical field.
- Apprenticeship: Apprenticeships allow you to work with a master in your field. This allows you to gain skills and learn about construction jobs before committing to them. Apprenticeships are the typical path for those who prefer on-the-job training to formal schooling.
Owning a Construction Business
Construction also provides opportunities to own a construction business. If you have the certifications and licenses, you can start your own business as a plumbing contractor, electrical contractor, or general contracting service. By owning a construction business, you will need to have connections to get hired by customers or other contractors as a sub-contractor.
Sub-contracting can be a lucrative business. As a sub-contractor, you handle a part of the job that the general contractor cannot handle itself. For example, if you are a plumbing sub-contractor, you could handle all the plumbing in a housing development or a large skyscraper.
As the sub-contractor, you will be given a budget and the specifications for your part of the project. However, you usually do not have direct contact with the customer. Instead, the general contractor is your customer.
Owning a construction business is not without risks. Construction can be a dangerous profession and you will need to have a variety of insurance and surety bonds to protect yourself and your customers:
- Liability insurance: These policies pay customers if you or your employees build a defective building or building system. They also pay customers if you damage the customer’s property while working on it. For example, if you back into a pole, which crashes through the customer’s window, your liability insurance will pay for a replacement window and its installation.
- Workers compensation insurance: One thing to remember about construction jobs is that they can be dangerous. Worker’s compensation insurance pays your employees for injuries they suffer on the job. Worker’s compensation pays medical bills and partial income replacement if they are injured while working. As the employer, you will pay premiums for your worker’s comp insurance and your premiums may go up if any of your employees file claims against it. So, to minimize your worker’s compensation expenses, you should create a culture of safety so your construction workers remain safe.
- Surety bond: You have probably seen the term “licensed and bonded” on construction trucks. Licensed means that the contractor holds licenses from the state for the work they do. Bonded means that the construction business has entered into a contract with a bonding or insurance company to secure a bond. A bond is like an insurance policy. If you do not complete a job, the customer can make a claim against your bond and receive money to hire another construction company to complete the work. The difference between an insurance policy and a bond, however, is that a bond must be repaid after a claim. Thus, if a customer makes a claim against your bond, your bonding company will come after your business for repayment.
Jobs Related to Construction
Something to understand about construction jobs is that not all of them require hands-on construction skills. If you are interested in construction work, but do not want to be directly involved in construction, many professions are related to construction. Some examples include:
- Draftsman: A draftsman works with the architect to prepare the blueprints used for construction. The blueprints must be precise and accurate. If they are not, the building might have construction defects that need to be repaired.
- Building inspector: Rather than working for the construction business, you can work for the building department that ensures buildings meet building codes and other laws. A building inspector usually has two roles in construction — (a) approving the initial plans and issuing the building permit and (b) inspecting the building during and after construction to determine whether the building is in compliance.
- Lenders: Banks and other lenders also employ construction experts to determine the value of buildings that may be approved for construction loans. These experts must be able to read blueprints and have a strong grasp of how buildings are constructed to be sure that the budget is realistic. Issuing a loan that is too large or too small will cause problems for both the builder and the lender, so getting close on the first try is critically important.
Commercial vs. Residential Construction Jobs
Many construction workers and builders cross over and handle both commercial and residential construction. Some of the trades apply to both types of construction. For example, commercial roofing and residential roofing are essentially the same, except for the size of the project. They use similar materials and the same techniques. So a construction worker or construction business can do either type of project.
However, one thing to understand about construction jobs is that there are some differences between commercial and residential construction and who they hire. Some of the differences include:
- Scope of the projects: Often, commercial construction jobs are bigger than residential construction jobs. A commercial construction project might include a parking lot or structure that requires heavy equipment like pavers and rollers that might not be needed on a residential project. As a result, commercial construction companies hire different workers with different specialties.
- Number of workers: Commercial projects usually require more workers to make the construction deadlines. For example, a residential project might need two roofers to complete a project while a commercial job might require an entire team of roofers.
- Size of the budget: The budget dictates the number of workers and the quality of materials. Generally, the budget for commercial projects is much larger than the budget for residential projects. This allows contractors to work with better quality materials and bring in more specialized sub-contractors.
One thing you should understand about construction jobs is that most construction workers do not need licensing unless they have a special trade. For example, electricians need to receive training, pass an examination, and receive a license to work without supervision by a licensed electrician.
On the other hand, flooring installation can be performed by any construction worker who is employed by someone with a general contractor’s license. This allows construction workers who work for general contractors to be more flexible in what they can do. For example, a construction worker with general skills working for a general contractor can perform framing, flooring, roofing, drywalling, or any other general construction work.
To obtain a contractors license you follow a few general steps:
- Determine which type of contractors license you need. A general contractor’s license is required for commercial builders and residential builders. A specialty contractor’s license is required for certain trades, such as plumbing, electrical work, and masonry. A mechanical contractor’s license is required for HVAC and refrigeration work. Keep in mind that if you want to do more than one type of work, you will need more than one type of license.
- Receive training. Contractors licenses often require both education and on-the-job training to qualify for a license. A typical career path might be to work as a construction worker while you study construction, complete a formal apprenticeship in a specialty field, then apply for a contractor’s license.
- Study for the examination. The examination will be different from your work in the field. Sample examinations, study guides, and review courses can help you translate your coursework, experience, and education into a passing grade on the contractor’s examination.
- Submit an application. After you pass the construction contractor examination, you can submit an application to become licensed. The application for a contractor’s license will require you to pay an application fee and pass a background check. Some states might require that you have a clean criminal record or have no criminal convictions within a certain time range. Moreover, you might need to explain any criminal convictions before you will be licensed.
- Obtain a surety bond. A surety bond, as discussed above, is like an insurance policy that guarantees that money will be available if you abandon a job. Before you obtain a surety bond, you will probably need to incorporate your business and have sufficient funding to guarantee the surety bond. If you do not have adequate funding, you might be required to post collateral or provide a personal guarantee that can put your house, car, and personal bank accounts at risk.
- Wait. Your state will require some time to investigate your application and make sure everything is in order. Once these steps are completed, you will be issued a contractor’s license.
Keep in mind as you are learning about construction jobs, a contractor’s license requires a substantial commitment of time, money, and effort. If you change your mind, you could have a difficult time changing careers. Thus, you should test out the work to make sure you understand everything about construction jobs before you commit to the work.
Even the COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult job market, residential construction has been a bright spot. People have been selling and buying homes at a good pace and residential construction firms have had to keep pace. As a result, home builders are hiring construction workers for both general and specialty work.
At the same time, the pandemic has had a major negative impact on the commercial property market. Consequently, commercial construction has slowed as businesses have closed, moved, or defaulted on their leases.
Before you enter the job market, learn about construction jobs and their future. Some jobs will have better prospects than others. For example, automation and security systems have a bright future. As the Internet of Things takes off, security cameras, automated building systems, and wired appliances will become more useful and more ubiquitous.
Going forward, the residential and commercial construction markets will probably undergo substantial changes. The commercial real estate market will probably take time to recover, leaving commercial space vacant and depressing demand for new commercial construction. If you planned to search for construction jobs in commercial settings, you might not have many job prospects in the short term.
On the other hand, if you planned to search for residential construction jobs, you might find a hot job market. Regardless of your specialty, whether it be electrical, plumbing, roofing, or flooring, you should be able to find a job somewhere that meets your needs.
Now is a good time to learn about construction jobs. With the economic slowdown, you have the time to start a new career or even launch a new contracting business. By taking a chance, you can join the construction industry.