Construction Careers: Job Description & Salary info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in construction? Get real job descriptions and training requirements to see if a construction career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Construction

Construction work is physically demanding and has a higher rate of injury than many other occupations. On the positive side, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected faster-than-average job growth for some occupations within the construction industry, such as carpenter, cement mason and construction equipment operator. A brief comparison of these occupations is shown below:

Carpenter Cement Mason Construction Equipment Operator
Career Overview Carpenters assemble structures using wood and other materials. Cement masons install and finish concrete for sidewalks, roads and other structures. Construction equipment operators control heavy equipment like bulldozers and cranes.
Education Requirements High school diploma or equivalent required High school diploma or equivalent preferred High school diploma or equivalent required
Additional Training3-4 year apprenticeship required On-the-job training or 3-year apprenticeship required On-the-job training or 3-4 year apprenticeship required
Certification and/or Licensing Optional certification available through National Association of Home Builders (NAHB); some states require license for carpenter/contractors None required Special operator's license required in some states; commercial driver's license often required; National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) certification required in some states
Experience Required None, entry-level None, entry-level None, entry-level
Job Outlook for 2012-2022Much faster-than-average job growth (24% increase)* Much faster-than-average job growth (29% increase)* Faster-than-average job growth (19% increase)*
Mean Average Salary (2014)About $46,000*Nearly $41,000*Roughly $48,000*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Carpenters cut and assemble wood and other substances to construct buildings and install cabinets, doorframes, sheetrock, siding and other construction elements. They use hand and power tools, read blueprints, construct forms for concrete and perform a wide variety of construction tasks. Carpenters build residential and commercial structures, bridges and roads and install flooring. Because of their versatility, carpenters have the opportunity to advance to positions where they contract work or supervise other laborers. Associate's degree programs in the trade are available at some schools.


Most carpenters enter the trade through an apprenticeship that typically lasts 3-4 years. To qualify for an apprenticeship, you must be a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent, be capable of doing physical labor and pass a drug test. You are paid for the classroom training and on-the job training during an apprenticeship.

This is what some employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A New Jersey company wanted to hire several carpenters to frame and build decks and staircases and to install skirting around mobile homes. Candidates were required to provide their own tools.
  • A company in Virginia sought a carpenter to perform carpentry, concrete and masonry work. Other duties included providing oversight to contractors and supervising less experienced carpenters and helpers. A minimum of four years of experience and journeyman status was required, along with a willingness to work various shifts and overtime. A Top Secret Clearance was also required.
  • An industrial construction firm in Kentucky was looking for a commercial carpenter with at least two years of experience. Candidates were required to have a valid driver's license and pass a criminal background check.

Standing Out

The NAHB offers training programs that lead to certification in different areas, including building, remodeling and green construction. Obtaining NAHB certification demonstrates your expertise and may help you advance in your career. After you've received certification and gained a specified amount of professional experience, you are eligible to take courses leading to master certification, such as master builder, master remodeler and master certified green professional.

Cement Mason

Cement masons place and finish concrete to create roads, bridges, sidewalks, curbs and other structures. They construct forms for the concrete and finish the poured concrete by smoothing with a trowel or other tool with a straight edge. Most cement masons learn the trade through on-the-job training.


Some cement masons learn the trade through an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are offered through union and non-union groups. You must be at least 18 with a high school education and be physically capable of doing the work in order to be accepted into an apprenticeship program.

An online search found that employers were seeking the following in November 2012:

  • A concrete construction subcontractor in Wisconsin sought cement masons to perform concrete work using various tools, including grinders, cement saws, trowels, sanders and chisels. At least two years of cement masonry experience and certification in crane rigging and signaling were preferred.
  • An Arizona concrete construction firm was seeking a cement mason/refinisher with at least five years of experience and familiarity with the various finishing tools, such as riding trowels, walk behinds and hand tools. The ability to lift 80 pounds was required.
  • A construction company in Texas was looking to hire a cement mason with experience in bridges and roads to spread and finish concrete for highways. Familiarity with troweling equipment and finishing tools was required, along with the ability to pass a drug test.

Standing Out

If you're interested in becoming a cement mason, you can get a head start by taking high school classes in relevant subjects like blueprint reading and drafting. After graduation, you have the option to study cement masonry at a college or technical school. Certificate and degree programs are available that offer courses in masonry tools and equipment, blueprint reading, masonry installation procedures and math. Obtaining a degree can increase your chances of getting a job. Apprenticeships are highly competitive, and completing a postsecondary program in cement masonry can put you ahead of the competition.

Construction Equipment Operator

Construction equipment operators drive the heavy equipment used to move earth, such as bulldozers, backhoes and excavators. They drive road graders to smooth surfaces and operate cranes to move heavy loads. Some use pile drivers to drive heavy beams into the ground. The duties of a construction equipment operator can include cleaning, servicing and repairing the equipment, complying with safety regulations and maneuvering the equipment while being guided by signals. Construction equipment operators also work on road and bridge projects and construct utility systems; government agencies employ many of these workers.


Some construction equipment operators receive on-the-job training, while others learn the trade through an apprenticeship. A commercial driver's license is sometimes required to transport construction vehicles and equipment to and from construction sites, and some states require a license to operate a bulldozer, loader or backhoe. NCCCO certification is required in some states and municipalities. The NCCCO offers certifications for different occupations, including crane operators, riggers and digger derrick operators.

These are samples of actual job postings for construction equipment operators in November 2012:

  • A civil construction firm in Florida sought a crane operator to move cement loads and operate a boom truck. A minimum of five years of experience with crawler crane operation and rigging were required. NCCCO licensure was mandatory and commercial driver's license preferred.
  • A Kansas construction company was looking for an excavator/backhoe operator with at least three years of experience and a valid driver's license. Bulldozer, loader and scraper experience was preferred.
  • An oilfield construction company in California was seeking a heavy equipment operator with at least three years of experience to dig trenches and move materials.

Standing Out

Completing a construction equipment operation program at a postsecondary school can help you land a job. A typical program will teach you how to operate, service and repair this type of equipment. You can also increase your value to potential employers by learning how to operate different kinds of construction equipment.

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