Highways Maintenance/Road Worker

The Job and What's Involved

Cars, motorcycles, large goods vehicles (LGVs) and bicycles all need safe, smooth roads on which to travel. Road workers repair the thousands of miles of road and motorway in the UK, as well as building new roads. They are also needed when cables and pipes are laid or repaired.

Maintenance work may include:

  • Repairing potholes and cracks.
  • Widening roads.
  • Digging access trenches for supplies such as gas, telephone or water.
  • Re-surfacing roads so that they are safe for motorists and pedestrians.

Road workers use hand tools such as picks and shovels to clear and dig out the area they are working on. Heavy jobs need a whole range of specialised machinery, such as diggers and rollers.

They also mix and spread materials such as crushed stone, tarmac and concrete - keeping it level and to the correct line. The surface is then compacted with rollers or vibrators to make it even and smooth.

Road workers also:

- Build or repair pavements
- Lay kerbs
- Put up road signs and street lights
- Put up fences and barriers
- Paint road markings
- Look after roadside trees and grass
- Spread grit and salt during the winter

The usual working week is 37 hours, but most road workers do a lot of overtime, particularly in severe weather conditions such as heavy snowfalls. Starting and finishing times vary to make the most of daylight hours, to meet deadlines, or to avoid disruption to the public. Road workers may even have to work at night or during weekends.

As the job involves working outside, conditions can be cold and wet in the winter, and hot and dusty in the summer. Road workers often have to work on sections of road which are still being used by vehicles. This can be noisy and potentially hazardous.

The job involves a lot of hard, physical work, using a range of tools, and carrying heavy or awkward materials. Workers wear protective clothing, including ear defenders, hats and boots. They can also expect to get very dirty.

The work can involve a great deal of travelling, both locally and further afield. Some jobs involve working away from home for short or long periods.

Starting salaries are around £12,000 a year. Road workers often increase their pay significantly with overtime and shift work. There are also extra payments for machine operators.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Private civil engineering companies and public bodies such as local councils employ road workers - although more local councils are contracting their work to outside companies. Work is available throughout the country.

Road workers can become self-employed, working on a contract basis.

Jobs are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices and the local press.

New Deal schemes may be available for people who have been unemployed for six months or more. These provide an allowance and training, and can lead to a job and further training. Contact local Connexions or Jobcentre Plus offices for details.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements for work or training courses. Key skills in English and maths are needed for promotion to supervisory levels. GCSE's/S grades, including English, maths and a science or technical subject, may be important if NVQ's/SVQ's are to be studied.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most road workers start as construction operatives. They train on the job and may work towards NVQ's/SVQ's. They learn practical skills and may spend time off-site at a college or training centre. Relevant NVQ's/SVQ's include NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Construction and Civil Engineering (Road Building), NVQ Level 2 in Highways Maintenance and NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Road Building.

NVQ's/SVQ's for individual utilities (gas, water, electricity) often include road maintenance functions.

All sites on existing roads must have at least one trained and qualified operative. These workers must be registered with the Street Works Qualifications Register and obtain an identity card. To be qualified, one of the following is needed:

  • A City & Guilds (C&G) award in Streetworks, Excavation and Reinstatement.
  • A Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) National Award in Excavation and Reinstatement.
  • A CABWI Awarding Body award in Streetworks Excavation and Reinstatement.

Accredited colleges and training centres offer courses leading to these qualifications.

Training is also available in plant operations for road workers who may be operating machinery.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Road workers need:

  • Physical fitness, stamina and a strong back and arms.
  • Practical ability for handling tools and machinery.
  • Common sense and safety awareness.
  • To be able to work as part of a team.
  • To be able to take measurements and calculate quantities.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience and training, it may be possible to progress to supervisory positions. There is an NVQ Level 3 in Construction Site Supervision (Highways Maintenance) suitable for road workers wanting to become supervisors.

It may be possible to work abroad.

Get Further Information

CABWI Awarding Body,
1 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9BT
Tel: 020 7957 4523
Website: www.cabwi.co.uk

CITB-ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton,
King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577 577
Websites: www.citb.co.uk/careers and www.bconstructive.co.uk

City & Guilds, 5-6 Giltspur Street, London EC1A 9DE
Tel: 0844 543 0033
Website: www.cityandguilds.com

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