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A labourer does manual work that requires high physical strength and fitness to construct buildings or structures.
Labourers are employed to perform physical, manual work, for example digging trenches, laying foundations, building walls, plastering and fitting windows. The work is mainly done outdoors, which can often hinder progress being made on a job, and it is a very male dominated environment. It can sometimes be physically dangerous due to the nature of the job being done, thus safety precautions need to be adhered to. Work usually begins and finishes early, but this can be dictated by the amount of light available and so working hours can be fewer in the winter months.
The starting salary for an apprentice or novice labourer is around £15,000, although this depends on the demand for work. Once qualified, this usually rises to around £23,000, with more experienced labourers earning around £30,000.
Overtime can greatly increase this salary, and some labourers become self-employed thus setting their own rate. However, if work is not possible due to the weather etc most labourers will not be paid for this; for this reason it is common to be paid by the hour or day rather than just by a set salary.
The main responsibilities performed by a labourer are ground work, including digging trenches, site clearance, building foundations and walls, plastering and some carpentry.
Labourers may also have to assist more specialist tradesmen, for example plumbers or electricians, if required.
As well as physical work there is also a great deal of paper work and planning for the manual labour that needs to be dealt with continually throughout a job, such as
- Completing invoices for the employer and any other workers that may be additionally employed on site. Although the site manager will be responsible for dealing with all payments, the workers need to record the invoices as they are aware of what was used and how many hours have been completed.
- Keeping to and updating schedules that document what needs to be completed and the order in which each task needs to be completed. This may vary according to whether all materials are available at the correct time, enough labourers are available, the weather and whether any unexpected problems occur. Conversely, a job may be completed before time so the schedules need to be updated if this occurs; it is vital for smooth progression that all members of the team working on the site are aware of exactly what is going on.
- Completing work sheets which detail how many hours have been worked.
- Recording tally sheets and making log book entries to keep track of what occurs on site. This is especially important if an accident occurs, or if there is a problem somewhere on the job.
- Ordering equipment to be used on site, recording whether this has arrived or whether any has malfunctioned. Operators’ reports also need to be updated which indicate who will operate which machinery; this is mainly for health and safety reasons, in case any problems occur.
- Taking measurements and performing calculations based on these measurements, as well as reading tables to work out what these measurements indicate.
Most labourers learn their trade through an apprenticeship, having completed a minimum amount of required G.C.S.E’s usually in Maths, English and Design and Technology. Most employers will tend to want some on-site experience, so if you are thinking about working in construction it would be useful to do some work experience first. For more information on available apprenticeships and how to apply for these see the apprenticeship website.
Alternatively college courses can be completed before engaging in “hands-on” experience; these can also be completed whilst working. The main courses are:
- Edexcel First Diploma in Construction
- City & Guilds Basic Skills in Construction award:
- Intermediate/Advanced Construction Award
Labouring often requires hard physical work, therefore labourers need to be fit and healthy. The main skills needed are the ability to plan a job and organize it; problem solving is key and basic numeracy and literacy skills are also vital. Various types of measurement often need to be taken, thus the labourer should be able to perform this for temperature, pressure, and weight or mass. If the measurements are wrong it can often destroy a whole job, therefore the labourer needs to have good attention to detail and to be accurate in their work. As computerized equipment is becoming increasingly popular, labourers are being required to be able to use this equipment, with basic computer skills being a prerequisite for some jobs. However, the ability to read written technical plans and drawings is still needed.
An awareness of safety issues is essential, as is the ability to work well within a team and with other people in the trade. Good communication skills are needed as labourers will often have to take and relay orders, and speak to the people who are setting the work.
These will vary according to the job, but there will often be health and safety issues present. Hard hats and steel capped boots often need to be worn, as do reflective clothing if the work is being carried out at the roadside. The site in which labourers work can often be noisy, so ear protectors like plugs or muffs need to be worn. This noise and protection against it can greatly impede communication, so an effective alternative method needs to be established.
Travel between sites is usually required, but the time allocated for this will be included in the working day.
To get on to an apprenticeship most employers request some kind of work experience, therefore voluntary work on a building site should be completed beforehand. If a college course is completed it would be useful to get some part-time labouring work to have some practical experience as well. This is relatively easy to come by, but will not be very well paid.
Almost all industries need to employ labourers, thus wherever physical work needs to be done a labourer will need to be employed.
Further NVQ qualifications can be taken throughout a labourer’s career. It is now common for most employers to engage in the Construction Skills Certificate Scheme. A card is used to show proof of your skills, qualifications completed and jobs that each labourer is competent at completing. To be eligible for this card a health and safety test needs to be completed and an NVQ, or equivalent qualification, is required. For more information on this scheme see the CSCS website.
Prospects are very good for labourers. With this type of labour in constant demand it means that work can nearly always be found. Most labourers can go on to become site supervisors or managers; there is also the opportunity to become a trainer at college or on an apprenticeship scheme.
Also known as…
- Construction Worker
- Project Manager
What’s it really like?
Simon Pinfield tells us what the job is really like.
“One of my parents’ friends was a labourer so I used to help him out for extra money when I was at school. I started college but soon knew it was not for me. After only a few months I dropped out and managed to start working full-time with the same man. He started me off on an apprentice scheme which gave me a basic wage. After a few years I returned to college in the evenings to do a Diploma in Construction. Having completed this in conjunction with the apprenticeship, I was able to earn more money and take on bigger jobs.
Labouring is a great job if you are looking to work hard outside in all the elements. Work often still continues on wet and cold days thus is not for the faint hearted. You have to be able to get on with a variety of people from all types of trades and jobs, and will often be working with different people on each job. Effective team work is essential, although you have to be motivated to complete your own job on time without being constantly overseen by your manager.
I have added to my skills each year, so I am now also able to do plastering, basic electrician work and plumbing. This has meant that I can now do a variety of different jobs, which has made me become one of the higher paid labourers in the company. Recently I have started helping the carpenters which has increased my work with wood. I have greatly enjoyed this new type of labour and have looked into doing an NVQ in Carpentry. I think that in later years I will not want to work outside all the time, and this is a much more creative type of work which would stretch me further than I may be able to progress with labouring.”