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The United States Department of Labor defines the construction industry as companies that are engaged in the construction of buildings or engineering projects, such as bridges and roads. Construction work also takes place when renovating existing buildings.
The construction industry is an important part of the country's economy. The health of the economy is often gauged by monitoring new home construction starts as an indicator of consumer confidence. According to the U.S. Census, spending on construction projects totaled more than $993 billion in 2014.
In general, there are three primary types of construction projects: residential projects, such as homes, housing developments, buildings, and garages; nonresidential projects such as large and small commercial buildings, including stores, churches, schools, and hospitals; and engineering projects such as bridges, roads, and reservoirs. Many types of businesses are related to all three of these sectors. For example, surveying companies are required for all three types of projects. Architectural and engineering firms are also needed for any type of construction project. Additional companies directly involved in construction (aside from construction companies themselves) include inspection service companies, project management firms, and companies that specialize in creating models of large construction projects. Other companies associated with the industry include those that provide plumbing, heating, central air-conditioning, electrical wiring, lighting equipment, elevators, and escalators.
Construction projects can also be divided into public and private. Private construction is construction work performed for private owners, paid for using private funds. Public projects are completed for federal, state, or local agencies of government and usually paid for out of tax money, bonds, or other public funds.
While humankind has been constructing structures for centuries, the industry itself formally began as early as 3,000 years ago, when Egyptians first began organizing and building large structures from stone and baked brick. In North America, the origins of the construction industry coincide with the rise of agriculture and the need for residences as more settlers arrived in the colonies. The earliest buildings in North America were grist mills, water mills, windmills, and residences. It was not until 1796, with the first iron-frame building in England, that the next major breakthrough in building design occurred, with cast-iron pillars that allowed architects and builders to construct buildings higher than 10 stories. By the 19th century, buildings were being constructed 14 and 15 stories high and equipped with mechanical elevators, precursors to modern skyscrapers that rise more than 100 stories.
Today, the construction industry is still testing new materials and new methods of building with metals and synthetic products. Lighter, stronger materials allow the construction of larger, more open structures with less support. These new products are designed to withstand natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The industry is also moving toward less traditional models such as design-build, in which the same construction company completes both the design and construction of the project and seeking ways to conserve natural resources and become more environmentally friendly.
The construction industry offers many types of jobs and positions for all types of workers, those with degrees, those without, skilled workers, and unskilled workers. Degreed professionals in the industry typically work as architects, engineers, project managers, or site managers. These professionals may also be part of sales and marketing or other jobs such as advertising, human resources, and accounting that are part of every company. Nondegree workers or those with associate degrees or certifications may be hired as design technicians or assistants, site supervisors, customer relations or service representatives, materials coordinators, or similar positions. Skilled workers must usually complete formal training or an apprentice program and they typically focus on a specific trade such as brickwork or masonry or welding. Unskilled workers are hired as laborers on construction sites to operate equipment and provide the physical labor needed.
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