Examining the Hardest Contractor Jobs

Examining the Hardest Contractor Jobs

Construction work can be brutal at times. Shake hands with a contractor if you ever need proof of that, but prepare for the possibility of damaged fingers. Tough work produces tough people, and it’s easy to tell when a person has worked a lifetime of hard work by the force of their grip. But out of all the different types of occupations in construction, which ones stand out as the hardest contractor jobs?

Not all construction jobs are equal in terms of the effort they require, that much is for sure. Some are much, much harder than others. We took a look at several data sources to pin down some third-party perspectives about which jobs stand out among the hardest.

In this review, we’re not necessarily looking at the riskiest jobs or ones most likely to encounter an injury, but rather which ones are the most physically demanding on employees every day. With that in mind, the following are several examples of what experts consider to be the hardest construction jobs out there.


Sweat Index

It’s tricky to find any actual metrics regarding how difficult a particular job can be, because levels of difficulty are often subjective. But earlier this year, editors with Business Insider put together a pretty cool resource using data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), which is a database of occupational information developed for the public and for the U.S. Department of Labor.

O*NET provides a lot of data on physical activities and strength requirements that people need in certain occupations, such as “dynamic strength, explosive strength, time spent walking or running, stamina, and trunk strength.” These are given a score between 1 (low) and 100 and those numbers were then averaged into an overall activeness score.

Jobs mentioned in the report came from an array of industries, most of which were construction-related but several were not. For example, the most physically demanding job out of any category was dancers, which were ranked as requiring the greatest amounts of stamina, flexibility, and coordination. Athletes/Sports Competitors and Fitness Trainers/Aerobics Instructors came in at numbers two and three, respectively.

Most of the list pertained directly to construction and maintenance jobs. The following were among the most physically demanding and are listed with their overall activeness scores:


Occupation Overall Activeness Score (An averaged measure of physical demand)
Structural Iron and Steel Workers 60
Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers 58.8
Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers 57.6
Fence Erectors 56
Brickmasons and Block Masons 55.8
Fallers (Cutting down trees) 54.8
Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers 54.2
Manufactured Building and Mobile Home Installers 53.6
Mining Roof Bolters 53.6
Stonemasons 53.4
Construction Carpenters 53
Tree Trimmers and Pruners 51.6
Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Worker Helpers/Assistants 51.4
Roofers 51.4
Brickmason, Block Mason, Stonemason, and Tile and Marble Setter Helpers/Assistants 50.8
Landscaping and Grounds-Keeping Workers 50.6

Source: O*NET, Business Insider


Perceptions Vs. Reality

In another report from late last year, an interesting survey was published by an online construction industry lead-generation resource called CraftJack. The organization reached out to more than 1,600 contractors and more than 650 consumers to gain their perspectives on what they felt were the hardest jobs in construction. There was a bit over overlap between the two points of view, and some big differences.

According to the survey results, “Consumers and contractors agreed roofing and demolition are the most physically demanding trades. And while contractors voted carpentry as the third-most physically demanding trade, it barely cracked the top ten for consumers.”

This indicates there is a lot more exertion happening in construction than most consumers realize, which is likely attributable to average people having limited knowledge of what actually takes place on jobsites.

As far as an informed audience goes, contractors themselves ranked the most physically demanding jobs as:

    1. Roofing (13% said it was the most physically demanding)
    2. Demolition (11%)
    3. Carpentry (7%)
    4. Drywall and insulation (7%)
    5. Cleaning (6%)
    6. Masonry (5%)
    7. Electrical (5%)
    8. Excavation (5%)
    9. Landscaping, trees, shrubs (4%)
    10. Flooring (4%)
    11. Ceilings (4%)

It’s worth noting that construction professionals had varying views of difficulty regarding jobs beyond their own specialties, but they share a mutual respect for some roles. For example, the authors pointed out that “Contractors don’t believe [jobs like] painting, carpet cleaning, and electrical work to be very physically demanding – unless it’s their specialty. On the other hand, carpentry was equally saluted by both carpenters and non-carpenters.”

The survey also included some details about which construction jobs were the most difficult to master, when it comes to skill levels and training. In this subject area, the survey’s responders had a much tighter consensus. They ranked Electrical, Carpentry, HVAC, and cabinets and countertops as the jobs that were the most difficult to master, generally uniformly across respondents.


Sore Workers are Vital Workers

It probably goes without saying that although many of the jobs listed in this article are really hard jobs, they’re also vital to our economy. After all, construction is an investment-driven industry. And as such, it contributes greatly to the overall growth of the country. If it weren’t for the tough men and women who were willing to endure difficult physical jobs, it’s likely that our whole way of life would be totally different.

Although this article likely won’t settle the debate among professionals about who works the hardest, it does provide a few baselines of comparison. At the very least, we hope it will add to the mutual respect shared by members of various trades, because they all work so incredibly hard.

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Category Cover Story, Features