When someone thinks of road construction, they typically envision a crew working around a paver and some flaggers directing traffic. But did you know that there are well over 50 different job positions here at Gerkens that all coordinate the planning, production, and execution of building a new road? Last post we touched on some of the many benefits of joining the workforce right out of high school. This time we’re going to shift gears and touch on some of the heavy highway construction industry’s opportunities and what those positions entail.

 

Paving Crew

At the heart of road construction is the paving crew. A paving crew is a group of team members coordinating the construction of a new road or repairing and maintaining an existing one. Some of the perks of being part of a paving crew include working outside, getting to visually see your progress throughout your day, having a strong team bond, operating at different locations throughout the working season, and great pay! The leader of the paving crew is known as the foreman, who directs the team’s actions and is responsible for on-site project execution. Some of the critical attributes of a good supervisor include strong leadership skills, adaptability, and good communication skills. Laborers make up most of a paving unit and carry out tasks such as manually distributing hot asphalt with a shovel when needed and raking the asphalt to reach appropriate grade and depth. You can also find a laborer working on the back of the paver (otherwise known as the screed), checking the depth or thickness of the asphalt being laid, and making adjustments accordingly. The paver operator is the member that steers and runs the paver itself. Though the laborers assist in the paver’s operation, it is essential to have a keen sense of detail and awareness of your surroundings when operating a large machine such as a paver. At least one roller on site is typically necessary and serves the purpose of compacting the asphalt after it is laid by the paver. The roller operator directs this machine, which vibrates and compacts the pavement to the desired density. Density is important because it is one of the variables measured when considering if a project’s specs have been met and can affect durability and drivability down the road. A good roller operator knows the importance of consistency and compacts the pavement in a learned pattern through experience and repetition. 

Most of the job positions on a paving crew are comprised of union members. Two distinct unions make up these teams. The operators union consists of the team members that operate the different machines used in the paving process. In contrast, the laborers union provides just that, the laborers. It’s important to note that if you’re interested in pursuing a career as a paving crew member, think about which one of these two classes you would prefer to be in. Once you’ve made that decision, the next step would be to reach out to your local union and see their availability and application process.

Safety & Support

A paving crew does the installation of a new Road. Still, many other team members assist and cooperate in this process. One of these positions is known as a flagger, who directs and controls traffic flow to keep everyone in the work zone safe. It takes a great deal of patience and awareness to be a flagger, but can be rewarding in that you know you are helping to keep others safe. Safety managers oversee this position and it is important to note that safety is extremely crucial when considering road construction’s dangerous environment. A quality control technician’s role is to ensure that the desired outcome or design spec is met on a specific project. Believe it or not, all roads are not created equal, and some projects call for different mix-designs according to their use. Keeping this in mind, a quality control technician carries out various tasks such as taking core samples from compacted asphalt on-site, taking hot asphalt directly from a plant, and testing these materials in a lab to measure certain variables such as air voids, amount of liquid asphalt, and overall mix composition. These various tests are done at every stage of the project to ensure accuracy and consistency. Becoming a QC tech requires some training and experience, mathematical skill, and is a job well suited for individuals with an affinity for detail.

Truck Drivers

Building a road properly requires the consistent delivery of hot asphalt product by truck drivers. Truck drivers are an essential part of the process and are among the most in-demand jobs to date. One of the key requirements to becoming a truck driver is obtaining a CDL, in this case, a CDL-A. This includes going through classes and receiving a certificate that shows you have the skill and training to operate the dump trucks and mixer trucks used in road construction. Speaking of mixer trucks, asphalt isn’t the only material used in road construction, and concrete work is a newer division of The Gerken Companies that is crucial in both commercial and residential projects. Becoming a mixer driver is a path much similar to becoming a dump truck driver. You must obtain a CDL class B (though a class A will work for this position). As I stated before, a tremendous upside to getting a CDL is that truck drivers are in such high demand and will grant you a great deal of job security.

Material Production

So far, you know who installs the road, who supports the process of installation, and how the actual material gets there, but where is the asphalt pavement and concrete made? Imagine an outdoor factory where different materials are mixed and stored in large insulated silos. These materials are then distributed to trucks that come to and fro a job site delivering the most key component in the construction process. At an asphalt plant, this process employees various positions, some of which we’ve mentioned before, such as dump truck drivers who move materials from point a to point b. Additional positions include front-end loader operators, who also distribute different sizes of rock or “aggregates” to different piles and loading bins around the asphalt plant yard. Operating a machine such as a front-end loader certainly takes practice and experience, as well as a keen awareness of your surroundings. The coordinator of the asphalt production process is known as the plant operator. The plant operator is a pivotal role that monitors many different factors of the asphalt production process, such as what is actually going into the mix and at what proportions (mix design), the efficiency of the different machines at the plant, and the temperature of the finished product when it goes into the silo as well as when it enters the truck. Temperature is a pretty big deal in asphalt production because it relates to workability and can make things difficult if it is not at the desired range when it reaches the job site. A plant operator must enlist skills such as attention to detail, adaptability, and the ability to diagnose a problem before it becomes reoccurring. A concrete plant mirrors an asphalt plant in many ways. However, it’s important to note that the concrete material itself is much different from asphalt and has various construction applications other than road building.

Quarries / Sand & Gravel Pits

As we’ve talked about many times in this article, a mix-design is the particular makeup or combination of materials put into concrete or asphalt. If we zoom out even further when looking at the road construction industry as a whole, we can see that these different types of materials or aggregates are produced or cultivated from areas known as stone quarries or sand and gravel pits. To simplify the concept of aggregates,  picture different sizes of rock, scaling from the finest grain of sand to watermelon-sized boulders. Because these materials make up a large part of the product we use in road construction, The Gerken Companies owns various stone quarries and sand & gravel pits throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. These locations employ loader operators, dump truck drivers, and a new position known as a scale clerk. A scale clerk is responsible for keeping track of how much of each product is being purchased from our facility and from what party. This is important because other companies and individuals use our facilities to purchase different materials daily. There’s a specialized position known as a dredge operator at a sand and gravel operation, who man’s a giant clam bucket that dips down in the water and retrieves sand from the bottom of a body of water. This job is about operational efficiency almost as much as it is about bucket placement. If you’re not getting the desired product, you have to move the machine to a new area.

Mechanics

Some of the unsung heroes that keep this massive operation rolling are our mechanics. If you envision the entire process we’ve talked about thus far, not only does it involve the use of many different types of production machines, but many vehicles are used in the operation, transportation, and installation as well. These various tools are rather expensive, and keeping them maintained and working properly is paramount in running a well-oiled machine. The typical mechanic likes to work with their hands and has the mind of an engineer.

Rest of the Team

A project manager carries out the technical planning of these various projects. The project manager typically has a civil engineering degree and can see a job from a bird’s eye view, including all of the challenges in tackling a project. Some of the variables that a project manager has to account for are timetable, various costs, and project specs (the given minimal requirements that a project calls for), to name a few. Most of our project managers operate out of our headquarters in Napoleon, Ohio, where other supportive positions such as accountants, HR and clerical, IT specialists, safety and legal, and much more reside. As you can see, there are various positions to fit people of a wide range of interests in our industry. If a rewarding team-centric career is something you’re interested in, click the link below to see our openings and apply today!