I was a construction worker in the southern California area for almost 20 years. During that time, I worked as a fire sprinkler fitter through a local union based out of Whittier. I designed, installed, and repaired automatic fire sprinkler systems in homes, restaurants, high-rises, and warehouses all over the Los Angeles area.
At the time, the money was fantastic. But the money came with its own price, and I soon realized there were both positive and negative aspects of working as a construction worker. If you or someone you know is considering a career in the construction industry, be sure you know what you're getting into!
The Good: As a construction worker, you are going to get paid extremely well. This is especially true if you join a local union and graduate from their apprenticeship program. Union workers are always the top paid construction workers when directly compared with their non-union counterparts.
Another perq is your are going to get off work relatively early compared to traditional office-based careers. You can expect to be on the freeway heading home anywhere from 1 pm to 2:30 pm every day. For Los Angeles residents, this is perfect because you can avoid the evening traffic and you can get home relatively quickly no matter where you live in southern California.
Another benefit (and this depends on your personal style) is you don't have to wear a suit and tie to work. You are going to get dirty every day, so you will need to wear rugged clothing and construction boots, and there's no need for gel and stylish hairdos; a Dodgers ball cap is completely acceptable every day of the week!
The Bad: It's true, you do leave work exceptionally early every day as a construction worker. On the flip side, it means you are getting up extra early every day, anywhere between 3:30 am and 5:30am.
After the Northridge earthquake destroyed most of the Northridge Mall in 1994, I was assigned the position of superintendent for the fire protection installation. My day would begin at 3:15am and I would get home around 7:00pm each day. I followed that schedule for nine months straight until the mall was finally reopened to the public.
The Ugly: Construction sites are dangerous. I've personally witnessed men stepping through an unseen hole on a roof and falling twenty feet to a concrete slab below. I've watched men get their fingers caught in machinery and almost ripped off. I've sliced open my own skin dozens of times. I've had to drive myself to an emergency room twice.
My worst accident was a torn shoulder that landed me in a hospital room and eventually the surgery room. Blood is common on a construction site, especially the big ones when there are several hundred men working. After my shoulder surgery, I knew I didn't want to work in the construction industry. I figured if I worked in the industry for 30 or 40 years, I might retire with a great pension but I would probably need a wheel chair to get around, and that wasn't for me.
The Great: There are some aspects of construction that are absolutely fantastic. What I enjoyed most was seeing new buildings and meeting new people every day of week.
I've worked in all of the major film studios, and been able to work on some great film sets, such as Dracula and Hook. I've also got to shake hands with some of Hollywood's most notable celebrities: Daryl Hannah, Billy Crystal, Keanu Reeves, and even Tom Cruise. I've brushed shoulders with countless others.
I've also worked extensively in all the major theme parks around Los Angeles: Six Flags, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and Universal Studios. It's definitely fun seeing the working side of the entertainment industry!
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to being a construction worker, and just as many negative aspects. For me, the bad didn't out-weigh the good, and I quit the industry after almost 20 years of dedicated work. It wasn't all bad though; I certainly acquired a lot of great memories!