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Employers in almost all industries hire entry level workers to do tasks that require little training, or to assist more skilled production, construction, operating, and maintenance workers. These workers perform a broad array of helper and laborer jobs, ranging from moving boxes and feeding machines to cleaning equipment and work areas. Many do tasks needed to make the work of more skilled employees flow smoothly. They often do routine, physical work under close supervision. They generally follow oral or written instructions from supervisors or more experienced workers, and have little opportunity to make decisions. In order to perform their jobs effectively, helpers and laborers must be familiar with the duties of workers they help, as well as with the materials, tools, and machinery they use.
Freight, stock, and material hand movers move materials to and from storage and production areas, loading docks, delivery vehicles, ships' holds, and containers. They move materials either manually or with forklifts, dollies, handtrucks, or carts. Their specific duties vary by industry and work setting. In factories, they may move raw materials, components, and finished goods between loading docks, storage areas, and work areas. They receive and sort materials and supplies and prepare them according to work orders for delivery to work or storage areas. In grocery stores, they stock shelves, bag groceries, carry packages to customers' cars, and return shopping carts to designated areas.
Helpers assist skilled construction trades workers, mechanics and repairers, and workers in production and extractive occupations. (Information on these occupations appears elsewhere in the Handbook.) They aid machine operators and tenders by moving materials, supplies, and tools to and from work areas. Some may tend machines during operation if an operator is not available. Helpers may sort finished products, keep records of machine processes, report malfunctions to operators, and clean machinery after use. Mechanics' helpers assist mechanics and service technicians who repair motor vehicles, industrial machinery, and electrical, electronic, and other equipment. They may fetch tools, materials, and supplies; hold materials or tools; take apart defective equipment; remove rivets; prepare replacement parts; or clean work areas. Construction trades' helpers carry tools, materials, and equipment to carpenters, electricians, plasterers, masons, painters, plumbers, roofers, and other construction trades workers. Helpers for bricklayers and plasterers, for example, mix cement or plaster and fetch bricks or other materials, set up and move scaffolding, and perform other lesser skilled tasks.
Construction craft laborers provide much of the routine physical labor at building, highway, and heavy construction projects, tunnel and shaft excavations, and demolition sites. They clean and prepare sites, dig trenches, set braces to support the sides of excavations, and clean up rubble and debris. In addition to performing a variety of excavation, tunneling, and pipe work, construction craft laborers work as individuals on highly specialized tasks. The installation of utility pipe, for example, requires the set up and operation of lasers guidance equipment for precise pipe elevation and placement. Tunnel and shaft projects may require workers to be trained and experienced in the use of drilling equipment and explosives. Construction craft laborers operate jackhammers, earth tampers, cement mixers, buggies, front-end loaders, "walk-behind" ditchdiggers, small mechanical hoists, laser beam equipment, and surveying and measuring equipment.
In addition to working on building and transportation projects, construction craft laborers work on other projects, such as hazardous waste cleanup and asbestos and lead abatement. In hazardous waste removal, they may operate, maintain, and read monitoring devices; perform material and atmospheric sampling; build, clean, or maintain facilities for hazardous material removal and decontamination; and package and transport hazardous or radioactive materials.
Hand packers and packagers manually package or wrap materials. They may inspect items for defects, label cartons and stamp information on products, keep records of items packed, and stack packages on loading docks.
Machine feeders and offbearers feed materials into or remove materials from automatic equipment or machines tended by other workers.
Service station attendants fill fuel tanks and wash windshields on automobiles, buses, trucks, and other vehicles. They may perform simple service and repair tasks under the direction of a mechanic, such as change oil, repair tires, and replace belts, lights, windshield wipers, and other accessories. They may also collect payment for services and supplies.
Refuse collectors gather trash, garbage, and recyclables from homes and businesses along a regularly scheduled route and deposit the refuse in their truck for transport to a dump, landfill, or recycling center. They lift and empty garbage cans by hand or operate a hydraulic lift truck that picks up and empties dumpsters.
Vehicle washers and equipment cleaners clean machinery, vehicles, storage tanks, pipelines, and similar equipment using water and other cleaning agents, vacuums, hoses, brushes, cloths, and other cleaning equipment.
Parking lot attendants assist customers in parking their cars in lots or storage areas and collect fees from customers.
Most handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers do repetitive, physically demanding work. They may lift and carry heavy objects, and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl in awkward positions. Some work at great heights, or outdoors in all weather conditions. Some jobs expose workers to harmful materials or chemicals, fumes, odors, loud noise, or dangerous machinery. These employees may need to wear safety clothing, such as gloves and hard hats, and devices to protect their eyes, mouth, or hearing. However, they can avoid injury if they constantly observe safety procedures.
In many industries, handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers may have to work evening or "graveyard" shifts. Their shifts are generally 8 hours, but sometimes they may work 12 hour shifts. Service station and parking lot attendants may work at night since these establishments may be open at all hours; handlers in grocery stores may stock shelves at night when stores are closed. Garbage collectors often work early morning shifts, starting at 5:00 or 6:00 A.M.
Handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers held about 4.8 million jobs in 1994. Their employment was distributed among the following detailed occupations:
Hand packers and packagers 942,000 Freight, stock, and material movers, hand 765,000 Helpers, construction trades 513,000 Machine feeders and offbearers 262,000 Vehicle washers and equipment cleaners 249,000 Service station attendants 167,000 Refuse collectors 111,000 Parking lot attendants 64,000 All other helpers, laborers, and material movers, hand 1,727,000Handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers are employed throughout the country in virtually all industries, with the greatest numbers concentrated in manufacturing, construction, and wholesale and retail trade. Nearly 1 out of 4 works part time. A growing number are employed on a temporary or contract basis. For example, companies that only need a laborer for a few days to move materials or clean up a site contract with temporary help agencies specializing in this type of worker.
For most handler, equipment cleaner, helper, and laborer jobs, employers will hire people without work experience or specific training. Some require a high school diploma, others do not. Some jobs require union membership and may have long waiting lists. Most employers, however, require workers to be at least 18 years old and physically able to perform the work. For those jobs requiring physical exertion, employers may require that applicants pass a physical exam. Some employers require mandatory drug testing prior to employment.
For all of these jobs, employers look for people who are reliable and hard working. For those jobs that involve dealing with the public, such as grocery store helpers and garage and parking lot attendants, workers should be pleasant and tactful. Some jobs require reading and basic mathematics skills to read billing and other records and collect payment for services from customers. Handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers are often younger than workers in other occupationsreflecting the limited training but significant physical requirements of these jobs.
Generally, handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers learn skills informally from more experienced workers or supervisors. Workers who use dangerous equipment or handle toxic chemicals, for example, often receive special training in safety awareness and procedures.
Formal construction craft laborer apprenticeship programs provide more thorough preparation for these jobs. Local apprenticeship programs are operated under guidelines established by the Laborers-Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) Education and Training Fund. Programs include at least 4,000 hours of on-the job training, including 144 hours of classroom training. Most union contractors and laborer unions require some training before an apprentice is placed on the job. Apprentices are instructed in the correct use of numerous tools and equipment that must be mastered before they complete the program.
Experience in many of these jobs may allow workers to qualify for or become trainees for more skilled positions as construction trades workers, machine operators, assemblers, or other production workers; transportation, material moving equipment, or vehicle operators, or mechanics or repairers. Some may advance to become supervisors of handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers. In fact, rather than directly hiring workers for mechanic, construction trade, production, or similar occupations, many employers prefer to promote qualified handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers as openings arise.
Employment of handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Job openings should be numerous because the occupation is very large and turnover is relatively highcharacteristic of occupations that require little formal training. Many openings will arise from the need to replace workers who retire, transfer to other occupations, or who leave the labor force for other reasons.
Employment changes for individual occupations, however, will vary. Among service station attendants and machine feeders and offbearers, for example, employment is expected to decline. A decline in employment has also been projected for freight, stock, and material movers. Employment of refuse collectors, on the other hand, should increase more slowly than the average. Vehicle washers and equipment cleaners, hand packers and packagers, and construction trades helpers can expect average employment growth. Employment of parking lot attendants is also expected to increase as fast as average.
Overall, demand for handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers will depend on growth in the industries that employ these workers, as well as growth of the skilled workers whom they assist. Average growth among construction trade helpers and laborers, for example, is directly related to construction activity and the growing demand for construction trades workers. Growth of helper and laborer employment may be spurred by the Nation's emphasis on hazardous waste cleanup and other environmental projects, and on rebuilding infrastructureroads, bridges, tunnels, and communications facilities, for example.
Employment growth will also be affected by automation. Some of these jobs are repetitive and, therefore, easily replaced by new machines and equipment that improve productivity and quality control. Some helper, handler, and hand packer and packaging jobs will be eliminated by automated material handling equipment, such as conveyor belts and computer-controlled lift mechanisms and machines that automatically load, unload, and package materials. As more skilled jobs, such as those of assemblers, become automated, demand for these types of employees who assist them will decline.
In addition to automation, many employers have adopted cost cutting measures such as consolidating or combining job responsibilities or contracting out labor. Job combinations may lead to displacement of handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers because the tasks they perform may be assumed by more highly skilled workers, or they may be required to assist more than one type of worker. These types of occupations may increasingly be staffed by a growing group of contingent workers and as companies continue to downsize, more employers may turn to hiring temporary handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers.
Median weekly earnings for handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers in 1994 were about $311. The middle 50 percent earned from $234 to $456 weekly. The top 10 percent earned over $632 weekly, and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $186 weekly. Construction craft laborers generally have higher weekly earnings than other workers in this group. However, they may be more likely to lose work time because of bad weather and the cyclical nature of construction work. Mechanics and repairers' helpers, garage and service station related occupations, and stock handlers and baggers have the lowest weekly earnings among workers in this group.
Over 20 percent of all handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers are members of a union. Many helpers and laborers belong to the Laborers' International Union of North America.
Other entry level workers who perform mostly physical work are roustabouts in the oil industry, certain timber cutting and logging occupations, and groundskeepers. The jobs of handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers are often similar to those of the more experienced workers they assist, including machine operators, construction craft workers, assemblers, mechanics, and repairers.
For information about jobs as handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers, contact local building or construction contractors, manufacturers, and wholesale and retail establishments, or the local office of the State employment service.
For general information about the work of construction craft laborers, contact:
Laborers' International Union of North America, 905 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20006.
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