What does a labourer do? (With education, salary and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A labourer is a trained individual that performs physical work on building sites, road surfacing projects and landscaping jobs. Labouring is a versatile job that sees individuals carrying out a broad range of tasks on a daily basis. It's important to understand what a labourer does if you intend to pursue a role in this career. In this article, we answer the question 'What does a labourer do?', discuss how much they earn, their required skills and qualifications and how to become one.

What does a labourer do?

If you're interested in practical work across a range of industries, you may have asked the question, 'What does a labourer do?'. The specific responsibilities you might have as a labourer can vary depending on the type of company you work for, how many other labourers are working on the project and the size of the job in question. The work may include some or all of the following duties:

  • digging trenches, pits and other groundwork to prepare a site's foundations

  • clearing the job site pre-project, which may include removing hazards and obstacles

  • lifting heavy loads, either as an individual or part of a team

  • climbing things to collect or deliver materials

  • operating construction vehicles and other heavy machinery

  • directing traffic on-site to ensure the safety of other crew members

  • back-filling pits and trenches when required

  • cleaning up the job site once the project is complete

  • performing general maintenance of vehicles and equipment

Labourers work on either a full-time or part-time basis. Your work might be seasonal, with more labouring jobs available during the summer months. Some labourers work on a contracted basis, being hired for the duration of a particular project, with no guarantee of further work once it's been completed.

The average salary for a labourer

The national average salary for a labourer is £11.85 per hour. The more experience you have as a labourer, the higher salary you can command, but there are also other factors to consider. Larger companies typically pay a higher salary, as do companies in more dangerous industries. Geographic and environmental factors may also affect how much money you can expect to make on a labourer job.

Depending on your contract, you might qualify for overtime pay when working outside of your scheduled hours. This is common during the summer when the longer days make it more practical to work longer hours on-site. Depending on the company you work for, overtime usually also has a higher pay per hour.

Related: How to calculate hours worked and track them accurately

Labourer requirements

There are several requirements for securing a job as a labourer. These are likely to vary depending on the size and nature of the job. Some of the most common requirements include the following:

Education and experience

There are no formal qualifications required to become a labourer, as on-site experience is a more valuable asset. There's a lot of variation between what's necessary for different roles. Some positions are entry-level, where you can learn on the job. Other projects require a minimum experience level for all labourers. It's recommended to have a working knowledge of the construction industry and be able to operate the necessary tools and equipment to complete your specific tasks.

Training

A labourer is a great entry-level role in the construction industry, with many opportunities for personal development and further training. This acts as a firm foundation for expanding your skill set and increasing your value as an employee.

Many larger construction firms actively encourage training on the job. For younger labourers, this can be a formal apprenticeship, while older applicants might receive training from more experienced tradespeople. This involves shadowing existing workforce members and performing key duties while being directly supervised. Your foreman expects you to demonstrate your ability to handle your key duties before allowing you to work solo.

Certifications

The key certification for a labourer is the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) green card. This demonstrates that you understand the health and safety requirements for working in the construction industry. The CSCS green card is valid for five years, and you apply for a new one once it expires.

Qualifying for a CSCS green card

Qualifying for a CSCS green card requires you to first pass the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) health, safety and environment test for operatives. The CSCS expects you to hold at least one of the following certificates:

  • SCQF Level 4 or RQF Level 1 Award in Health and Safety in a Construction Environment

  • SCQF Level 5 REHIS Elementary Health and Safety Certificate

  • NOCN or CSkills Awards in Construction Health and Safety

  • any CSCS-approved alternative qualification

Skills required as a labourer

To succeed as a labourer, you require a mix of hard and soft skills. These skills are continually honed throughout your career. Expected labourer skills include:

Communication skills

Construction sites are busy and dangerous places, so good communication skills are key to succeeding in this environment. This allows you to get a clear understanding of your role on the site, inform your foreman or supervisor of your progress, explain any on-site problems and understand when the project requirements change. Both written and verbal communication are essential, with the latter often having more importance.

Computer skills

Not all labourer jobs require the use of a computer, but a basic understanding of computer technology is beneficial. This includes using certain equipment and machinery that have electronic consoles built into them. Having proficiency with computers also allows you to complete any administrative work.

Time management skills

Most construction projects operate on a tight schedule, so good time management skills are essential. Many labourers spend the whole day without direct supervision, either independently or as part of a group. To complete the project on time involves working effectively without having your work micro-managed at every stage.

Construction skills

Even if you have no hands-on experience, it helps to know how the construction industry works and how common tools, equipment and machinery are used. This allows you and your colleagues to work efficiently and safely. Labourers usually learn more on the job, but a basic understanding of construction principles is necessary for even entry-level roles.

Related: Hard skills vs. soft skills: definition and examples

How to become a labourer

If you think being a labourer is the right role for you, there are several steps to take. It's worth being prepared for the route to becoming a labourer so you can find a position more easily. Consider these seven steps to becoming a labourer:

1. Pass your CITB health, safety and environment test

Most construction jobs require you to hold a CSCS green card. One of the prerequisites for this is that you've successfully passed the CITB health, safety and environment test. The test costs £22, and you book it over the phone or online at the CITB website.

2. Pass one of the required qualifications for your CSCS green card

There are several routes to completing your CSCS green card application. Each route involves an approved health and safety qualification, for which you take the associated course. These courses can be found online.

3. Apply for a CSCS green card

Once you've passed your CITB test and one of the required additional qualifications, you can apply for your CSCS green card. These cards are valid for five years from the point of issue. You can't legally work in a labourer role without one, so holding a green card is critical.

4. Search for open positions

There are several ways to search for labourer positions. Many labourers choose to join an agency to find support while job seeking. If you're new to the industry, limit your searches to entry-level positions or those that offer on-the-job training.

5. Apply for a labourer position

Once you've found a labourer job that seems right for you, submit your CV, a cover letter and any evidence of the qualifications listed in the job listing. Be sure to highlight any experience you have in the industry towards the top of your cover letter and CV, as this is the first thing a prospective employer sees. Ensure that you also fulfil any additional requirements.

Related: How to write a labourer CV (with tips)

6. Prepare for interviews

Begin preparing for an interview as soon as you secure one. Not only does this prepare you for future interviews, but labourer jobs are typically filled on short notice. Your first interview might be over the phone or via video conferencing, so be sure you know as much as you can about the company and the project.

Related: 7 different types of interview questions (with examples)

7. Gain experience

Many labourer jobs in the construction industry offer an opportunity to learn on the job and build up experience. Others prefer candidates that have already received on-site training elsewhere or who can demonstrate a minimum level of experience in the trade. The more experience you have, the more jobs you can apply for.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

Explore more articles