Selecting employees who can do the job right

By Jeff Winke

Finding good employees is a challenge, but it is not impossible. Yes, some paving contractors claim that in desperation, they’ll hire anyone, as the idiom says…anyone who can fog a mirror to show they are breathing. Operating a paver or being a part of a paving crew requires more than the requisite of being just barely alive.

When hiring, a contractor wants more than a mirror fogger. There is clearly more to the job.

“There are some basic qualifying questions should be asked of all prospects to be hired at an asphalt paving company,” stated Nigel McKay, sales manager with Weiler Products, Knoxville, Iowa. “You’ll want to ask ‘what is your attendance record at past jobs, what is your experience working around large equipment for extended periods of time, and do you have a valid driver’s license or CDL?’ These may seem elementary but could be a costly mistake if not asked and verified with the prospective hire.”

Imagine a new hire in a company truck running a simple company errand getting pulled over for speeding and then detained because their driver’s license is suspended. Ooops, forgot to verify that when hiring doesn’t help at that point.

Adding to the list of basic info needed from prospective hires, Thomas Travers, director of technical sales for Astec Industries, Carlson Paving Products/Roadtec, Inc., Chattanooga, Tennessee, adds: “New employees need to be open to training, willing to work long hours, willing to work nights and weekends, these basic skills are demanded and expected. The scope and function of a position can be taught.”

Getting people who are a good fit for a paving contractor typically means the applicant should possess qualities consistent with the company’s mission and business approach.

“We believe the baseline qualifications for a new paving contractor employee should have a strong work ethic, ability to work with others, and the ability to make a plan and more importantly execute the plan,” McKay said.

Additionally, Travers stated: “A new worker needs to be physically able to perform the expected duties while completing projects without excuses. They also need the flexibility to work long hours and different shifts. Asphalt paving can be demanding.”

Flexibility is also key in this age of evolving machines and asphalt mixes. There are machine and mix attributes a contractor should consider and may overlook when considering a new hire’s understanding.

“There are many ways to perform the same job, but most contractors never look outside of their own experiences,” stated Jennifer Brigman, director of marketing and product management
 BOMAG Americas, Inc., Ridgeway, South Carolina. “For example, the hot mix industry is always evolving and with these changes the paving contractor must change also. Many years ago, mix was produced with virgin oil (the good old days) no RAP, roofing shingles, or additives to deal with–it was much easier to place a good-looking mat. Small changes in how mix is delivered to the screed can create issues for the crew with todays’ mixes and this can affect mat quality.”

The machine operator position requires more skills than the paving crew member. Having past experience as a paver operator can be critical for ensuring quality production.

“In addition to direct experience, I would want the paver operator to be familiar with engine operation and daily fluid maintenance,” Travers said. “They also need the ability to communicate with truck drivers and material transfer vehicle operators. And to be able to set speeds and production rates of material delivery and maintain them. The paving machine operator needs to be good at communicating needs for uptime repairs.

“In today’s climate, we need to be able to train for all crew duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, the days of hiring on experience levels alone are becoming unrealistic.”

The paver operator is key.

“A clear understanding of the entire operation from initial bid specifications to final compaction is what the operator must have,” McKay said. “They need to know, for example, if the asphalt plant is producing 250 tons per hour, then their paver should not be laying at a rate much higher than 250 tons per hour or the job will inevitably come to a stop.

“They also need to understand the roles of supporting equipment such as the material transfer vehicle (MTV) and maintain an advantageous distance to the MTV.”

McKay continued with new operator training recommendations: “Regardless of a new hire’s experience, I feel it is critical that an operator be provided an extensive walk around by a qualified dealer or manufacturer’s rep on the unit they will be operating. Stepping through proper start-up procedures, as well as providing a ‘Paving by the Numbers.’ run through on the machine operation and ending with the recommended end-of-day maintenance procedures that ensures the paver is being properly maintained and will be ready for the next day on the job.”

To conclude, hiring is tough but setting clear expectations with a new employee and detailing for them what to expect with a typical paving season will help them understand that asphalt paving should be enjoyed as a new and interesting challenge every day.

“There will always be risk as new workers might not understand what they are signing up for,” stated Travers. “Asphalt paving is a very labor-intense industry. Be honest with your expectations and demands of employees. The more flexible the candidate is the better for the longevity of their employment!”

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through