The laborer on every paving crew is an entry level position, designed as a stepping stone to move an employee up to other positions in the paving crew. But don't make the mistake of thinking that because it's an entry level job that it's an unimportant job. On the contrary, no paving crew can operate efficiently and effectively without one or more quality laborers.
Now why is that? What is an entry level, unskilled (at the start) worker going to contribute that makes him (or her) so essential to the success of a paving crew?
That's right, the laborer on the crew is there to assist everyone else on the crew - plus do his own job. In some cases that means he's a "gofer," fetching whatever it is someone needs, but most often the laborer is there to handle small tasks that enable the other people on the crew - the paver operator, screed operator, roller operator, foreman - to focus on their own jobs.
He reports to the foreman and communicates (often negotiates) among the paver operator, the screed operator, and the roller operator. He assists in keeping all equipment fueled and watered, helps clean the paver and the roller, and he assists in greasing - all important tasks for each job but also important for the laborer as he learns the equipment and lays the groundwork for moving up to an operator position. He assists in lining up trucks as they wait to bring mix to the paver, and he assists the paver operator and truck driver in dumping mix into the paver, helping the paver connect to the truck without bumping and making sure the tailgate opens properly so mix is dumped smoothly and evenly, reducing the chance for segregation.
Shoveling, raking, luting
But just because one of a laborer's job descriptions reads "assist others as needed" doesn't mean he doesn't have his own job, responsibilities, and skill sets. First and possibly foremost is labor. He's going to be responsible for the lifting, heavy and otherwise, so the person applying to this job must be in good physical shape.
Days are long, weeks are longer, and hot mix asphalt doesn't get any lighter the more you push or lift it, so only sound physical specimens need apply. The reason he has to push, pull, and lift is because the laborer on a paving crew is usually responsible for maintaining the quality of the mat. If he sees a hole in the mat he gets a shovel of the correct amount of mix from the hopper and places it properly in the hole. He has to know when to fill a hole and when to rake or lute, and he needs to do it all quickly so the mat is ready when the roller operator comes along.
In addition to being physically capable of all that shoveling he has to know (or be willing to learn) proper shoveling technique (and yes, there is one). Proper technique involves bending the knees and putting a back into the shovel - all to prevent injury and to enable him to shovel all day long. Plus, he has to know (or learn) how to distribute the shovel full of material onto the mat so it doesn't segregate. Mix should be plopped onto the mat in a mass, almost as one piece; casting it broadly across the mat not only results in complete segregation but also can cause injury to the laborer.
As simple as this sounds most laborers don't distribute material properly, and many haven't figured out when to stop raking or luting, and the results can be seen in the poor quality of some finished mats.
Running support equipment
The laborer on a crew needs to be a versatile operator of much of the support equipment on the job. Other operators on a crew likely know how to operate the support equipment (after all, they were all laborers at some point) but the foreman doesn't want to stop paving so his screed man or roller operator can run the skid steer or jackhammer.