Contractors are usually categorised according to the sector in which they work or the skill set they possess.
Selecting By Sector:
There are four main sector groupings of contractors who undertake paving work:
- Residential Paving contractors - driveways and patios
- Horticultural/Landscape contractors - soft-landscapers occasionally laying a few flags or blocks
- Civils Paving contractors - commercial, industrial and retail projects
- Builder-know-it-alls/Jack-of-all-trades - anything and everything
Each type has their own 'best environment' and although there is considerable interchange and overlap between the groups, not all are suited to every job.
- Specialising in paving around the home
- Some are very good, some are rogues
- Should have good construction and interpersonal skills
- Follow advice elsewhere on this site for help in sorting good from bad
Horticultural and Landscape Contractors
- May work in residential or commercial projects
- Typically install planting, lawns and other assorted greenery along with maybe a bit of paving
- Reasonable standard of work, rarely fully compliant with the actual British Standards but close enough not to warrant having them rip it up and start again
- Fair and functional work at sensible prices but nothing that will win any prizes for workmanship
Builder-know-it-alls & Jack-of-all-trades
- Highly variable in competence, ranging from non-existent to very very good
- The really good builders who do paving tend to start specialising in it rather than rely on the occasional job to fill-in slack periods between extensions and porches
- In more rural areas, a local builder may often be the only viable option for any paving work. Thankfully, in these less densely populated communities, reputation is everything and this tends to keep standards to a tolerable level.
- Some have a tendency to overestimate their actual skills. Tarmacadam , pattern imprinting and sett-laying , for example, are not the sort of skills held by most general builders.
Civils Paving Gangs
- There are a relatively small number of properly clued-up contractors who have somehow acquired all the right documentation and insurances to be allowed to work on professionally managed commercial developments.
- These are contractors trained to deliver a fast and effective service. Fast and effective often means "not millimetre perfect". These gangs produce serviceable work at a serviceable rate. They are craftspersons rather than artisans. Their work meets the required standard but does not necessarily soar. They mainly ply their trade on larger sites rather than residential driveways and so may not have the customer-friendly approachability required by some homeowners.
- These gangs should not be underappreciated. They deliver good quality work that may see 100,000 pedestrian and vehicle movements per year or more, and these pavements endure. These are pavements built to last, but at an affordable cost. These contractors work hard for their money but they work "fast and effective".
- Increasingly, many of these gangs are European in origin. Unlike Britain and Ireland, who largely forsook streetmasonry apprenticeships in the 1970s, several European countries persisted, and so valuable skills have been retained. The indigenous supply of those skills is now running low due to lack of proper training, and consequently gangs from overseas are attracted by what they regard as good money for their endeavours.
- Some of the best work I've ever seen in Britain has been done by European streetmasons. Also, some of the most appalling public work has also been attributable to rogue gangs from the east who have a shockingly poor understanding of English until it comes to discussing money at which point their command of the finer points of vocabulary and syntax becomes impeccable.
Selecting By Skill
There are some skills that most paving contractors will have in their armoury. These typically include basic laying of block pavers and laying of flagstones . However, there are also specialists who have developed skills in highly selective crafts and these gangs may or may not offer block and/or flag laying.
Some paving contractors promote themselves as Block Paving Specialists. Sometimes, this actually means that laying of block paving is their sole skill and they can't or won't lay flags, kerbs, etc.
Some crafts really do need to be undertaken by trained and experienced contractors because the tools, techniques or materials involved are not something that can handled by the inexperienced chancer.
The Specialist Crafts include but are not limited to:
We strongly advise that for any project involving any of the above crafts, the contractor should be able to show a portfolio of recent similar work.
Skill Accreditation and Documentation
The most commonly required documentation is the fabled Streetworks Ticket which means the holder hasbeen on a training course in how to put out traffic cones, fill potholes and not to get run-over. Any gang working on a public highway, whether it's a main road, a motorway or a country lane, must have their StreetWorks Tickets.
Their are different Tickets for Operatives and Supervisors
A Streetworks Ticket is an acknowledgement of basic site sense, not a guarantee of accredited skills.
Gangs working on commercial works other than highways , for example a retail park development or an urban plaza, may also need a CSCS Card , which is a certificate to show they've been on a course about hard hats, not smoking jazz cigarettes at work, and efficient brush leaning.
A CSCS card is an acknowledgement of basic site sense, not a guarantee of accredited skills.
There are some 'trades' such as joinery which have a skills element to their CSCS cards. Sadly, we have not yet been able to get the Big Wigs to acknowledge paving is a skill rather than a general task, so there is no Pavior CSCS accreditation ... yet.
Paving Operatives are often given access to site under the green-coloured General Construction Operative card.
Oh sh…..! What a mess this is. There's probably an acronym ending with an F and U to describe the current state of accreditation for paving skills.
There sort of is a proper apprenticeship scheme but it sort of isn't actually implemented.
There are two flavours of NVQ: There's Civils/Streetworks Paving flavour and there's Amenity Horticulture flavour.
There are perfectly silly reasons why there are two flavours, but essentially one is for builders who want to lay paving and the other is for gardeners who want to lay paving.
NVQs have levels. Each level signifies a more advanced skill set, something like this…
- NVQ1 – can breathe unaided
- NVQ2 – can tie own shoelaces
- NVQ3 – can read and write
- NVQ4 – management potential
…except there is no proper NVQ 3 or 4 in paving at the moment. They are what is known as 'hypothetical'.
There are some not-quite-official training courses run by private companies who may or may not offer some sort of homemade certificate in exchange for 5 hours of your time and a three figure sum. Some of these are informative and bearable; too many are a bleeding joke.
Some elementary training is provided as optional short courses or "Tool Box Talks" by organisers of the manufacturer sponsored approved lists. Some of these courses are very worthwhile, others are nothing more than product plugging.
Generally speaking, any form of somehow-accredited training is usually slightly better than none.