As one of the hardest-hit industries during the Great Recession, construction saw its largest percentage decline in employment in the post-World War II era, 13.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as the country began to claw its way out of the economic muck, the BLS had the highest recovery hopes for this goods-producing industry. In its last biennial employment projections report, released in February 2012, the BLS predicted numerous construction jobs among the fastest-growing from 2010 to 2020. It was one of the most off-the-mark predictions the government agency made, however. Growth in this sector has been evident, but far from fast. The estimated unemployment rate for construction slid from a chilling 20.6 percent in 2010 to 16.4 percent in 2011, and 13.9 percent in 2012. All construction jobs are subject to the fluctuations of the economy, and as yet, our economy is still grasping for footing. The construction workers who are finding work are those with experience.
Fortunately, our U.S. News Best Construction Jobs aren't simply based on employment projections, but also on actual unemployment rates, salaries, good job prospects, plus advancement possibilities, low stress and a steady work-life balance. Here are the 10 jobs we picked, where the odds of finding a job could be in your favor.
There's a myth that every construction job involves manual labor -- not true. A cost estimator does occasionally don a hard hat and get his or her hands dirty on a construction site, but he or she also spends considerable time crunching numbers in a sterile office. Cost estimators are involved in both high-level and minuscule decisions of budgeting, and so they must remain familiar with a site's resources but also be adept with computers and various estimating software. Some cost estimators are charged with budgeting the cost of a project from start to finish, while others are hired to budget specifics, like the electrical component. A bachelor's degree in an industry-related field is the most common starting point, but voluntarily pursuing certification will give you even more of an edge. The BLS predicts that those with knowledge of Building Information Modeling software should have the strongest chances.
Fairbanks, Alaska, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Framingham, Mass., pay estimators the highest salaries, according to the BLS.
There's also a myth that those who work in a blue-collar industry don't earn a lot of green. This occupation disproves that. In 2011, construction managers' average salary was just shy of $95,000, putting them in a higher pay bracket than some computer systems analysts and civil engineers. To become the professional responsible for planning and budgeting a construction project, you'll most likely need a bachelor's degree in construction science, building science, or a related field. An associate's degree, when married with relevant experience, could also serve as an appropriate entry. Other crucial traits for a construction manager include: analytical skills for troubleshooting project snags; some managerial experience so you can be adept at finding and supervising staff; and strong communication skills for writing proposals and budget plans. Population growth and heightened demand for more office buildings, hospitals and infrastructure should elevate job prospects for those qualified.
In 2011, New York state had one of the highest employment levels for this occupation, plus it also paid its managers well: The metropolitan areas of Elmira, Nassau, and New York City all report average salaries of at least $135,000 to the BLS.
3. PlumberAverage Salary: $51,830
It's the troubleshooting component of a plumber's duties that most of us are familiar with, but there's so much more to this job. After a four- to five-year apprenticeship, plumbers are versed in blueprints and building codes and have the know-how to install, maintain, and repair water and drainage pipes for small appliances, as well as large septic systems. Employment demand in this field is spurred by a few factors: new building construction, the installation of more-efficient, low-flow plumbing systems, and a vast number of boomer plumbers who are expected to retire soon.
Densely populated states like Texas, California, and New York are among those with the highest employment level of plumbers, but some of the top-paying metropolitan areas for this field might surprise you: The BLS reports that Vineland, N.J., Peabody, Mass., and Madison, Wis., compensate plumbers especially well.
4. GlazierAverage Salary: $41,620
In this profession, you absolutely cannot be afraid of heights: glaziers cut, install, fasten, seal and remove glass for windows, skylights and storefronts. And it also helps to be multifaceted, since the BLS reports that employers prefer glaziers who can handle a range of tasks. The majority of those currently employed are working in foundation, structure, and building exteriors, but new commercial construction and the need to retrofit and repair existing structures could drive hiring demand for indoor projects as well.
If previous hiring trends are any indication, you'll want to look west: California, Texas and Washington have some of the highest levels of employment, plus the metropolitan areas of San Jose, Calif., and Oakland, Calif., tend to pay particularly well.
Concrete is a common foundation for many construction projects, and using it involves installing rebar and other reinforcing materials, pouring a cement mixture, spreading and leveling that mixture, monitoring its hardening, and applying sealants. Like other construction workers, cement masons and concrete finishers learn their trade during a formal apprenticeship, but those who also take masonry-related courses should experience the best job opportunities, according to the BLS.
Although work in this industry is often dependent on dry, warm weather, the top-paying metropolitan areas are northern locales: Nassau, N.Y., Fairbanks, Alaska, and Bloomington, Ill., each paid average salaries that were higher than $75,000 in 2011.
6. PainterAverage Salary: $38,830
One plus to painting is that those with limited or no experience could find work. The basic qualifications to wield your first brush are a minimum age of 18, a high school diploma or GED, and the physical ability to do the work. But the greenest painters could face tough competition finding -- and keeping -- employment when competing with union workers who have completed a three- or four-year apprenticeship program and have become certified. If you're hoping to make painting a career, it's prudent to begin an apprenticeship where you'll receive both technical training and practical experience.
In 2011, the BLS noted that the states that employed the most painters were California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Illinois also shelters the best-paid in the field. In 2011, the average annual wage for a painter in the Kankakee, Ill., area was $69,880.
7. Brickmason & BlockmasonAverage Salary: $50,760
Brick and stone exteriors are expensive but they still remain popular building materials due to their durability. As the economy and housing market rebounds, new buildings should be erected that use these materials and require the skilled masons to lay them. Older brick buildings will need repair. For these reasons, the BLS predicts that employment for brickmasons and blockmasons could balloon 40 percent before 2020. It's possible to learn some basics on the job, but studying masonry at a technical college or entering an apprenticeship are also a common training pathways. Programs usually last at least three years.
Large cities like Boston, Detroit and San Francisco compensate brickmasons and blockmasons particularly well. Although the average salary in 2011 was a little more than $50,000, according to the BLS, workers in the aforementioned cities earned more than $70,000 annually. Boston brickmasons nearly eclipsed $90,000 in 2011.
8. ElectricianAverage Salary: $52,910
The road to becoming a Master or Journeyman Electrician is long: it starts with a high school diploma or GED, followed by a four- or five-year apprenticeship with on-the-job training and lessons in electrical theory, electrical codes and mathematics. Most states require you to pass a licensing exam before you begin working independently, and specialized training in soldering, fire alarms, and elevators might also be necessary.
The top-paying metropolitan areas for this occupation are Vallejo, Calif., New York City, and Fairbanks, Alaska.
9. CarpenterAverage Salary: $44,330
Carpentry is one of the oldest construction professions as well as one of the most versatile. You could choose to work on a smaller scale, building frameworks for residences, or on a slightly larger scale, insulating a high-rise office building, or even on a colossal scale, fortifying trusses for bridges. Carpenters' exposure to all components of a construction project make them one of the more secure professions within the industry, although they, too, could be employment victims of the fickle economy. Those with the best employment chances have completed an apprenticeship and preferably can speak both Spanish and English.
The best-paid workers are employed in some pretty scenic places, like Honolulu, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Calif.
The pros: With little to no experience, a general construction laborer or helper could get hired to do odd tasks on a site, and just about every construction site needs workers to assist with loading and unloading materials, making measurements, digging ditches, operating equipment, and cleanup. Now the cons: General construction laborers often don't have any formal education requirement or licensing to start work, so the spectrum of "experience" someone has working in this field is immense. The most seasoned and multifaceted have the best opportunities, while the rookies could get the shaft. The pay scale is also low, starting around $9 an hour in 2011, the BLS reports. But this occupation could be a great springboard into another branch of construction, and some of the time spent working under a master electrician, plumber or carpenter could count toward the practical hours needed in a skilled trades apprenticeship.
The best-paid general construction workers are employed in Massachusetts. The BLS reports that in 2011, workers in Boston, Leominster and Framingham, Mass., made at least $53,000 annually.
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