Section engineers carry out or organize the surveying and setting out work, and conduct any necessary technical tests. Initially there will be considerable work to do in site levelling, and setting out the main grid lines for the project. There will then be much detailed setting-out work to do, as required by the foremen on the works. Temporary works may have to be designed and set out, such as access roads, power lines, water supply lines, drainage, concrete foundations for the batching plant and cranes, and so on. In addition it is normally the job of the section engineer to record progress and keep progress charts up-to-date.
On small sites, the job of sub-agent and section engineer may be combined.
The plant manager holds a key position on site. His job can be onerous since construction work is held up if plant is not available due to breakdowns or failure to order in time. For sites in the UK and other developed countries much of the plant used on site is hired and kept in maintenance by the hirer. This requires constant liaison between the plant manager and the hire firms used. Where the contractors own plant is used, maintenance and repair of this will be needed. Assisting the plant manager will be fitters and welders and he will often have to get repairs done at times outside working hours when construction is not proceeding. He will also have to maintain power supplies to the site and its offices.
A general foreman is widely employed on the many construction projects which are not too large for one person to control. He then acts as the agents right hand man for the execution of the work in the field, his duty being to keep the work moving ahead daily as the agent has planned it. He often has much authority on site, and any junior engineer who gets at cross purposes with him may find his days numbered. Such men are often astonishingly capable from their long experience of construction. For instance, their familiarity with soil characteristics may often enable them to judge by eye that some foundation or fill material is no good, long before a site engineers tests prove it so. He will have a knowledge of what machines can do, and the basic principles of surveying and levelling. At his best he is an all-round craftsman in the art of civil engineering construction, and many of the great constructions of the past owe their quality to the general foreman who took charge of their construction.
The professional engineer can often learn much from him. On many civil engineering jobs the general foreman is the key outside person in charge of construction.
The skilled men include reinforcement fixers, steel erectors, concreters, formwork carpenters, bricklayers, pipe jointers, crane and machine operators, miners and other trade specialists. The contractor will often have a small nucleus of experienced tradesmen in his permanent employment, getting additional tradesmen through the local employment office, or advertising for them. Specialist sub-contractors or labour-only gangs are now widely used to carry out specific trade work. Labour-only gangs are self-organizing groups of workers under their own foreman or gang leader. Quite often travelling gangs of formwork carpenters, steel erectors or reinforcement fixers are taken on.
Hand excavation of tunnels was almost always undertaken by an experienced gang under a leader, because the work demands close teamwork. Once a gang proves its worth, an agent will endeavour to use the same gang on his next job if he has similar work to do. Such gangs of tunnellers, formwork carpenters, or steel fixers are employed as a whole, so any unsettled dispute arising between the gang leader and the agent usually about pay or conditions may lead to the gang leaving en bloc bringing the job to a standstill.
On overseas jobs in the less developed countries much manual labour is still used, not only because of low rates of pay and the cost or difficulty of getting machinery, but because it is the traditional way of undertaking construction which suits the local economy and workpeople. In some countries women are widely used to undertake manual labour. If machines are brought in to do most of the work, this can deprive the local economy of a benefit. For projects in underdeveloped countries, an international funding agency will often require that as much use as possible is made of local labour to reduce offshore costs. It is important to recognize that this inexperienced labour may require tuition before they can be expected to reach an acceptable level of output. Also provision of adequate living conditions and canteen services, plus training in safety, may be essential to improve the well being and output of such employees.