Seeking a Career in the Construction Sector?

Freelance - Construction (August 2016)

Have you got what it takes to apply for a career in the construction sector? If you are the type of person who enjoys practical work and would like an outdoors job, then working on a building site could be the right move for you.

In order to be a construction worker or labourer, it’s almost essential that you possess good general fitness levels as well as basic knowledge of both building methods and the materials used. Dependant on where you work it may also be necessary to have a good head for heights.

Nothing is set in stone when becoming a construction worker. You may be at something of an advantage if you already have on-site experience, rather than being completely new to it, but it’s no always essential. Some employers will expect GCSEs in maths and English, or their equivalents.

Necessary skills, interests and qualities

To be a construction worker, you need:

  • Good fitness levels
  • Basic knowledge of building methods and materials
  • Have good practical skills
  • Ability to follow instructions, both written and spoken
  • A good head for heights
  • Great team-working skills
  • A basic awareness of on-site health and safety issues

What does the work entail?

Before the work itself begins, it’s necessary to prepare the site and you could be involved in assembling site huts, unloading building materials and placing them into suitable storage and setting up scaffolding.

Once building work begins properly, your duties could include:

  • Groundworking – which involves the marking out, and digging of, shallow trenches to create foundations and drains
  • Formworking – putting up and/or dismantling shuttering, (this holds concrete in place while it is setting)
  • Steel fixing – bending and fixing bars which are used to reinforce concrete structures
  • Steel piling – you would be fixing steel sheets together which will form temporary retaining walls while excavation work is being undertaken
  • Concreting – layering and smoothing concrete which will be to create foundations, floors and beams
  • Road working – this involves concreting, laying kerbs and paving as well as re-surfacing.

You will be using various hand and power tools as well as machine tools and, (with further training,) you could learn how to operate construction plant equipment like dumper trucks and excavators.

What are the hours and conditions?

Unless it is a ‘rush’ job, you can expect to work a basic 39-hour week, which would generally require an early start. Overtime at weekends and evenings is often required in order to meet deadlines. It’s common for the work to be seasonal and overnight stays away from your home may be necessary when working on site – you need to travel to where the work is.

Be prepared to work outdoors in all weather conditions and realise that it’s often necessary to work at heights. Construction work is not easy and can be physically demanding as you may be required to carry heavy or awkward loads.

It’s expected that you will wear protective clothing, such as safety helmet and boots, as well as a hi-vis jacket.

What would be the usual income?

Starting salaries are around £15,000 a year, however experienced workers can earn between £16,000 and £21,000. When you have additional supervisory responsibilities you could earn up to £24,000 a year. Overtime and various other allowances, (such as additional money to pay for ‘digs’) can increase income. (These figures are only intended as a guideline and they can vary widely, dependant on which area of the country you work in.)

Are there any entry requirements?

While there are no set entry requirements, you would probably be at an advantage if you have a degree of on-site experience. GCSEs in maths and English are desirable, but not always necessary.  

You may be able to complete an Apprenticeship with a building company and these will vary from area to area, dependant on the local jobs market. Although not essential, some college courses are available and these would teach some of the skills needed, which in turn could help when looking for work. Relevant courses include:

  • Level 1 Certificate in Building Crafts
  • Level 1 Certificate/Diploma in Practical Construction Skills
  • Level 1 Certificate/Diploma in Work Preparation for Building and Construction.

You need to be 18 or over and have a driving licence to work with construction plant machinery like excavators or dumper trucks.

Further training and development is possible, both on-site and also at a local college or similar facility.

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