The two most important men on a construction site are the contractor’s agent and the navvy. The agent is important because he acts for the contractors and has the authority of the contractor on the site. The navvy is important because he, with perhaps hundreds of other navvies, does most of the work. Compared with these two, although no civil engineer will happily admit it, the resident engineer comes third, for without him the work would be completed in time, though perhaps badly and at high cost to the client. Most of the civil engineering design has been done by the time the contract has been signed, and the contractor is bound to follow the design as it is laid down in the drawings, though normally no contract is left without the supervision of a resident engineer or at least of a clerk of the works or a civil engineering inspector.
But between the agent and the navvy there are many other men who organize the work, help it to go smoothly, see to the arrival of the essential materials, check their quality and help to get the contract finished on time. The chief of these is the general foreman, a man who has worked for many years on construction sites, either as a navvy and then as a ganger in charge of group (gang) of navvies, or more usually, as a tradesman and then a foreman of his trade.
Tradesman in civil engineering or building is the name given to masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, mechanical fitters and others who do a special kind of work with their hands (a trade) for which they gained the skill by a boyhood apprenticeship to a skilled man.
Since navvies do the concreting and digging which are essential to most foundation work, and foundations are the first work after the demolition and site clearance, navvies are usually the first men employed on a building site.