What is the Dirt World
Written by Marilee Brewer • Reviewed by Eric Jumper
January 26, 2023
What have you done today?
Have you flipped a light switch? Taken a shower? Driven down the street? Texted a friend? Whatever you've done, you owe a big thank-you to the Dirt World.
This essential industry impacts every aspect of our daily lives. Today, we're going to explore the Dirt World, its impact on our society, and the sub-industries and jobs it encompasses.
Let's dig in!
What is the Dirt World?
The Dirt World is the industry that builds our society's critical infrastructure and provides the essential resources that keep it running.
What does the Dirt World do?
Dirt World workers are the ones who pave the roads you drive on. They prepare the earth to hold important structures—like hospitals, grocery stores, airport runways, dams, and even the home or apartment you live in. They run pipes so you can have gas for your stove or clean drinking water for your children. They mine the minerals and metals to make items you use every day like electricity, cars, and cell phones.
Basically, they provide all the necessities to build and make the things we need to live our daily lives. Without the Dirt World, society can't function.
What counts as part of the Dirt World?
The Dirt World is another name for “heavy civil construction," so called because it constructs much of what civilizations need to function. Some people also call it “infrastructure” because that's what this industry builds: systems that support life.
But if you want a simpler way to look at it, think of it like this: the Dirt World includes any construction that starts at the earth's surface and goes down, across, or through. It also includes the people who do that construction work, the tools and equipment they use, and the bond they share.
No matter what you call it, the Dirt World is the place where man meets dirt with the purpose of building something beneficial to society. Up next, let's take a look at the industries within the Dirt World and meet the blue-collar heroes who keep the whole thing running.
Dirt World Industries
We talk about the Dirt World as one big industry, because it's all essential work that helps our society survive and thrive.
But just like a tree has many leaves, the Dirt World has many parts, and you'll often hear people call these parts industries.
Companies in each Dirt World industry have specialized knowledge. For example, one company may specialize in paving roads while another speciales in underground tunneling. So, it typically takes multiple Dirt World companies working together on a jobsite to get the project done.
What industries does the Dirt World include?
You’ll find some variation from region to region, but several industries consistently make up the Dirt World. Let's take a look at some of those:
- Earthwork: moving dirt to prepare building sites or create earthen structures
- Transportation: paving, roadbuilding, and other specialties that make it possible for people to travel from place to place
- Utilities: connecting and maintaining essential services to businesses and homes, like gas, sewer, electric, fiber optic cable, and more
- Water: cleaning or moving water, or converting it for use as power
- Energy: building and maintaining the infrastructure that powers our society and delivering energy to consumers
- Manufacturing and industrial: constructing factories, warehouses, and distribution centers so other essential industries can make and distribute their products
- Mining: extracting raw materials from the earth for use in other Dirt World (and non-Dirt World) industries
- Environmental restoration and preservation: protecting, preserving, and rehabilitating the environment so future generations can enjoy it
- Sanitation: managing and disposing of waste in landfills to keep our communities clean
- Demolition: safely tearing down and removing old or unsafe structures
- Engineering: ensuring that Dirt World companies build infrastructure and mine raw materials safely
For more info on these Dirt World industries, read "What Industries Make Up the Dirt World?"
Dirt World Jobs
Dirt workers generally fall into two categories: those who work in the field and those who support those on the field (also known as the office).
Field workers are the backbone of the Dirt World, and they're almost always paid hourly for their work. Office workers are more like muscles holding everything together. They're more likely to be salaried.
For this article, we're going to focus on the main field roles to consider when you’re working in the Dirt World. Then at the end of the section, we'll give you a quick overview of some of the support roles in this industry.
Reports to: Foreman
Laborers are arguably some of the most important people in the Dirt World. They do the daily physical work on a job site. A laborer might dig with a shovel in a trench to help out an operator, fuel machines, hook up an attachment, or clean up the job site.
This role is often the first step into a construction or mining career, so it gives you the opportunity to learn the lay of the land and earn respect from your team for your work ethic. This is a good job for people who love being in the field, where they can stay moving and get their hands on many projects.
Reports to: Foreman
A pipelayer puts pipe into the ground or through subsurface material. The pipe could be for storm or sanitary ewers, drain mains, or oil and natural gas. Pipelayers typically work outside, in the weather. Pipelayers work closely with people in other roles, like operators and laborers. Together, they excavate and grade trenches and culverts, repair pipe, and seal joints. Sometimes pipe crews work in remote areas or miles apart from each other.
Pipelayers must be safety-oriented, because they often work in trenches that are more enclosed than the jobsite's surface. It's a great job for people who like to play crucial behind-the-scenes roles: most of your work will stay underground, but you feel proud and accomplished knowing it's there making the whole project work.
Reports to: Foreman or Superintendent
Equipment operators run the heavy equipment on a construction site. Newer machines have cabs with radios and heaters, so many operators get to work in relative comfort. Others may work in the elements and sit for long periods of time on uneven surfaces. They must learn to operate big iron with precision and be aware of hazards buried in the ground near where they're working.
Operators take enormous pride in their skills—which is why you should never call them "drivers." They're not just driving a machine around. They're maximizing its power to do very skilled work, and they often have a "feel" for their machine that goes beyond technical knowledge. They are creative problem-solvers who understand the characteristics of the material they are working with and the overall goal of the job at hand.
Reports to: Operations Manager or Superintendent
Location: 80% Field, 20% Office
A foreman is the leader of the boots-on-the-ground team on a construction or mine site. The foreman is responsible for communicating with the front-line workers (like laborers, operators, and pipelayers), subcontractors, and the superintendent or project manager who's in charge of the entire project. The foreman oversees safety protocols on their team and keeps up productivity. They understand the importance of the construction schedule and can adjust to last-minute changes.
A good foreman knows how to keep a project running, inspire their crew, and make the most of the skill and experience of everyone on their team. They should also have a good technical knowledge base that comes from experience and training.
Reports to: General Superintendent or Senior Project Manager
Location: 50% Field, 50% Office
The superintendent runs day-to-day operations on large construction sites, typically spending half of their time on the jobsite and half in a field office or trailer. For big projects, there will be multiple superintendents. They'll have a leadership hierarchy and coordinate the project through other superintendents or foremen. Superintendents are responsible for quality control and the construction schedule, and they are liaisons between owners and project managers.
Superintendents typically have many years of experience in construction and are well-versed in the compliance requirements of their trade. They know how to represent the company well when they deal with clients, and they can effectively communicate the owner's needs to the project managers and vice versa.
Reports to: Lead Mechanic or Shop Manager
Location: Field or Workshop
Mechanics are the people who analyze, evaluate, and repair malfunctioning heavy equipment, machinery, or tools on construction sites. Mechanics often specialize in an area of interest, like hydraulics or electronics.
This is a good job for someone who loves learning, doesn't mind (or even likes) getting their hands dirty, and enjoys working on all kinds of equipment.
Reports to: Fleet Manager
Drivers operate dump trucks, haul trucks, articulated dump trucks, and all other trucking rigs found on construction sites. Drivers may shuttle material to and from a construction site or from one part of a mine to another. A driver coordinates with the person loading their truck, weighs their loads on a quarry scale, and must take proper precautions and abide by all laws on public roads and highways.
Trucking is a good job for someone who is self-motivated, likes driving, and is okay with repetition in their work. They should also have a heightened sense of safety—after all, there's a lot to watch out for on the jobsite!
Reports to: Foreman
A grade checker works with a grading crew to set grade stakes on slopes, highways, embankments, and rough terrain. The stakes guide equipment operators who are responsible for making the grade. A grade checker uses hand tools and measuring instruments to perform their job.
Grade checkers should be detail-oriented people who like numbers and enjoy being outdoors in all kinds of weather. Hey, you can be a math nerd and work outside.
Field Support Roles
Field support roles are vital to the success of any Dirt World project, and while they do require industry-specific knowledge, these roles aren't as exclusive to the Dirt World. You can often find them in companies across many other industries. Here are some of those roles:
- Project Engineer
- Project Manager
- Project Coordinator
- EHS Manager
- Business Development Manager
The Dirt World's Greatest Secret
It’s all around you, but the real secret of the Dirt World? It’s hidden in plain sight. You don’t notice it until you know it’s there. The Dirt World can be found wherever humans are (and some lonely places in between) building our towns and cities up through work like:
- Tunneling to lay drainage pipes for the railroad
- Dredging to increase port traffic for barges
- Digging deep foundations to construct new hospitals
- Mining for energy resources to supply people with light
- Paving a new stretch of highway to reduce traffic
- Excavating deep holes in the city for high rises
If you've always had eyes for the Dirt World or you want to learn more, check out the free BuildWitt App to explore all things dirt.
Written by Marilee Brewer
Reviewed by Eric Jumper
January 26, 2023
More aboutWhy Build a Career in the Dirt World? What Industries Make Up the Dirt World? Why Is the Dirt World Important?
Meet the Expert
Marilee Brewer's philosophy on heavy civil construction is that everything—even the Bingham Canyon Mine and the Willis Tower—starts with ideas put into words. An avid writer and researcher, Marilee brings inspiration, storytelling, and human candor to Dirt World information. Her writing focuses on providing content that enhances user experience, improves engagement, and ultimately increases revenue. A trained Linguist and social media storyteller, ask her for story and social media writing tips.