Ask an Industry Pro Episode 3: What Math Skills Do You Need To Work In Construction?

By Construct-Ed Inc.

Welcome back to our “Ask an Industry Pro” series! If you could ask a successful industry pro one question, what would it be? Go ahead, we’ll wait while you think up your most burning construction industry questions. Ready? Great! Now, this is how you get your questions answered. 

Just visit this page and submit your question in the form and keep an eye out to see if your question is chosen.  And while you’re at the bottom of the page, check out our previous episodes!  

At the beginning of each month, we will compile a list of questions that were submitted and feature them in our “Ask an Industry Pro” series. In this series our pro and 30-year construction veteran, Christophor Jurin, answers your questions about the construction industry.  

In Episode 3, Chris answers questions regarding what math skills are required to work within he construction industry and how you can work on improving your math skills. You can also find a full transcript of the video below.

Get the companion course, “How To Read A Tape Measure,” here!


Welcome contractors to our third episode of asking Industry Pro. In this episode we are going to take a look at a couple of questions regarding math skills and what type of math skills does somebody need to work with in the construction industry.

So, a couple of points we’re going to take a look at here when we start to look at that question is there are basic skills that you’re going to need no matter what your trade, basic math skills. And a lot of these math skills are common sense math skills. They’re ones that need to be used in everyday life. No matter what you encounter, you’re going to run into it.

So, one of the questions we want to ask or you want to be asking as you go through this is are you getting a job, are you just filling the gap trying to get a paycheck to pay the rent, or are you trying to build a career? So, the skills you’re going to need if it’s just a job that you’re filling, probably not going to be as critical as the skills that you’re going to need if you’re trying to build yourself into a profession. But, at the base of all this, everybody is capable of improving their math abilities. You just got to practice.

All right, so let’s say you’re getting ready to go head off for an interview in construction. You’re going to a specialty contractor, wherever you’re heading. There’s a couple of things you want to know before you go.

Number one: You cannot avoid math in construction. Don’t even try. And math is very simple for a lot of tasks, so don’t get overwhelmed with it, but don’t try and avoid it either. Every trade is going to require some degree of math skills. What you want to do is you want to know your trade requirements. So before you go and get involved, you’ve got to look at and say “What type of math am I going to have to do?” Because if you can’t do math, you can’t get promoted and you’re not going to be able to move up in the trade and eventually earn more money.

So, for example, if you get involved in roofing, you’re going to have to have some knowledge of how to count, how to measure length, how to determine area, and there’s going to be some volume calculations. If you’re going to go and get involved in the excavating trade it requires count, length, area, and it’s very heavy on how to figure out volume. So, what you want to do, the key here is, you want to build your skills to meet the demands of your trade.

All right, so let’s take a look further at some of the most basic common math skills. You’ve got to master the four basic math functions. You’ve got to be able to add, you’ve got to be able to subtract, you’ve got to be able to multiply, and you’ve got to be able to divide.

In addition, you’re going to want to know whole numbers versus fractions. So, a whole number is just that, it’s 1, 2, 3, 4. Fractions, which are very critical when you get into using a measuring tape, you’ve got to know your quarter, your half, your three quarter, and then you’ve got to know it in a decimal form. So, 1.75, 2.25, 3.92. You’re going to have to understand how whole numbers and fractions relate to each other.


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A couple key tips here for when you get into working with some of these. When you’re adding fractions, you only want to add the top number but you don’t want to add the bottom number. So, you’re going to add that numerator, the denominator is just there as a reference. When you get into multiplying fractions, same thing. So, if you’re adding an eighth of an inch and an eighth of an inch, you don’t get 2/16, you get 2/8, which is actually simplified down into 1/4. Which brings us to our last point here at the bottom…simplify your fractions.

So, 4/8 is not how you want to state it. 4/8 is simplified down into 1/2. So, if you’re running a measuring tape and you measure it, you pull 4/8 of an inch, you’ve got to tell your crew members that it’s 1/2 inch.

Believe it or not, being able to tell time and work with time is actually a math skill. So you’re gonna have to know how to calculate your time on a job or on a task, that’s how it’s connected. So, you may be asked to provide hours worked. If your foreman comes to you and says “How long did you spend on that task?” you’ve got to be able to convey that over and say this is how much time. You can’t just say “Well, I think it took about 30 minutes.” You need to be able to say it took me 28 minutes to do this, it took me 15 minutes to do that. Then you’ve got to be able to add them together.

In the next step, your foreman could tell you that you may have a certain amount of time available in the bid to complete a certain task. So, you have to be able to calculate how much time you have remaining, how you’re going to be able to proceed through the work, and then you’ve got to be able to give that feedback. Remember, so much about construction is communication. And the key to communication is being able to talk the same language and the language in time is math. That’s the basis for it.

So as an example, let’s just look at being able to convert total minutes to hours and then vice versa. So, an example here is your foreman assigns you a job and tells you to track your time. Well, you work 92 minutes on the 1st task and you might work 132 minutes on the second task. Well, you could tell him that your 92 + 132 = 224 minutes. “Well, I took 224 minutes boss to get this done.” Is that really the best way to do it? Again, go back to the prior slide, it was about converting numbers and simplifying them. So, you want to convert here. So, 224 minutes and you’ve got to divide it by 60 minutes in an hour. That’s going to give you 3 hours, and then you’re going to have 44 minutes left over. So, simplifying 224 minutes means you spent three hours and 44 minutes on those two tasks.

Another basic math function that you have to be familiar with is how to use a tape measure. Tape measures are one of the most important tools you’re going to have on your project site. And it’s how you translate raw data, which is what you’re looking at. You’re looking at the site, and it’s how you quantify it, it’s how you capture it. It’s how you determine what you’re going to need as far as materials, how much you cut, there’s so many different functions of a tape measure on a job site.

So, the big thing here to remember is a tape measure and using it is a math function. You have to use tape measure or quantified dimensions. And then you’re going to apply those numbers to maybe get an area measurement. That’s an example of a math function.

Everything on a project site starts with a measurement. So, what do you measure? Well, you can measure area which is length times width, you can measure length, you can measure counts. So, with counting, you may have to determine how many 4-inch pipes you have on a job. That means you’ve got to measure the diameter and then you have to count them. And in some cases, some trades require you know volume which is length times width times height. So, if you are told you have to excavate and haul away a certain amount of soil, you’re going to have to be able to determine the volume so you know how many dumpsters or how many tri-axles you’re going to need on the job site. Using a tape measure is one of the most critical functions you can learn in order to be successful in getting into the construction industry.

So where does this all lead to? What is the next step? Well, it moves into geometry. Now that word may cause you a little bit of angst, a little bit of agita when you stop and you think about geometry. In high school you may have struggled with it. But once you get used to using it, you start seeing shapes on your job sites, it becomes a lot more familiar to you. There’s a purpose behind learning it, not just because you have some teacher in a classroom telling you you’ve got to learn it.

So, to get here, you’ve got to master the basics. You’ve got to master using a tape measure. That helps you gather your intel off of your job sites. And then you need to convert that intel into the needed information. So, your basic calculations for examples like area is length times width; volume is length times width times height. Slope rise over run. Where are you going to find slope? You’re going to find it if you’re working on excavating and you’re trying to figure out whether or not your equipment can access a certain location, whether or not you have to trench, whether or not you need trench boxes. You’re going to run into it on roof systems. You could run into it on setting staircases in place. You’ve got to know your rise over run calculation.


Introduction: How to Read Blueprints, Construction Plans and Specifications provides a firm foundation of skills for those who are required to be able to read construction prints and specifications. Whether you are a company owner, estimator or are working on project sites as part of a larger team, being able to read construction plans is a vital skill.

And where is that information used? It’s used by everybody in construction. It’s used by your estimators to determine whether or not there are certain safety aspects that are needed that they need to price into a job. You have project managers and superintendents, again, setting a job up, making sure all the materials are on site, and showing and making sure that they’re foreman and the crew can get the work done and is going to do it according to spec. Your foreman, that’s self-explanatory. They’ve got to know what type of information they have, what the intel is, so they can make sure and direct their crew to do the work according to the guide of what’s been sold to the customer or what the architects put together.

OK, it’s a wrap up.

First point. Basic math skills are essential in your life. You have to have these math skills in order to move forward in your life effectively. Some of these skills included being able to tell time. It’s how you communicate with people. If you tell people you’re there, hey let’s meet up at 5:30 for dinner, and you’re at 5:15 and it takes you 20 minutes to get there, you’ve got to be able to calculate out that you’re not going to make it, or you’re probably going to be late.

You want to be able to work with a tape measure. It’s not just for this job or what you’re trying to achieve, but just working on your own residence, being able to measure things out. You have to be able to deal with both whole numbers and fractions, not just whole numbers. Not everything is a nice round number. You’ve got to be able to deal with the fractions that are in between number 3 and number 4. There’s 3.25, 3.75 and a whole bunch of other numbers in between there.

You want to be able to build these skills to get yourself up to being able to work with geometry. Geometry is a vitally important math skill for anybody involved in construction. Get used to it.

And then you want to make sure that you are practicing and you’re repeating because these skills can only be built with repetition. Look at Michael Jordan with doing free throws. He didn’t just go out and toss a few free throws, he practiced thousands of them. Every day. That’s how you become great is through repetition, not just through one-off interactions with something.

Below we have provided you the link for our course on on how to use a tape measure. This is a vital skill. Take a look at it and pick up a few tips on how to quickly and effectively use a tape measure to be able to work on a construct.

Alright, that’s it, and until next time we will connect up and look at a different topic. If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail us at We look forward to being able to help answer some of these other questions for you.