It may be an obvious statement to make – as every profession inevitably changes over time – but a career in demolition now looks significantly different from how it did when I was 16.
Gone are the days when an itinerant workforce waited to be picked up at a bus stop for cash-in-hand work that would tide them over for a few days.
Demolition was something of a dirty word then. It wasn’t considered to offer a serious career path – it was simply a job for people who didn’t have many other options. Or perhaps, for a select few, if their father had worked in the industry before them.
There was no formal training, and certainly nothing like the continuing professional development we know now.
You would climb a chimney one day, learn how to operate an excavator the next, and then move on to be a wagon banksman.
Fast forward to 2019 and things have, thankfully, evolved considerably.
While demolition is not yet perfect, an ambassadorial stance amongst industry professionals has served to stamp out unsavoury practices. International conferences now seek to shine a light on best practice, and knowledge transfer is commonplace. Formalised training options are plentiful, and potential career paths are rich and varied.
So, what would I say to a 16-year-old starting out in this industry?
Firstly, I’d ask them what it is about demolition that interests them? Of all the engineering disciplines they could go into, why this one? These reasons and subsequent discussions could shape their future, so it’s important to acknowledge the drivers for their intended career.
Demolition is a small and specialist area of civil engineering, but there are many varied job roles the 16-year-old could aspire to hold. Does the design of demolition projects excite them, or the management of complex on-site programmes? Is it the practical side of demolition execution, such as driving plant, that they are eager to learn? Or are they an aspiring structural engineer?
They could have a particular interest in explosives, perhaps – and surely nobody would deny the fact that we need far more people with this niche area of expertise. Are they passionate about minimising the environmental impact of demolition schemes? Or has the containment of hazardous materials captured their curiosity?
If our 16-year-old doesn’t know that all these options exist, we need to be telling more young people about them. A career in demolition can be challenging, exciting and fulfilling. Yes, the job is a little tougher when it involves a 4am start, or a day spent out in the chilling wind and rain. But it is a growing market, globally, and much-needed skill-sets are in decline. So now, more than ever, is a perfect time to enter the industry.
Some 16-year-olds will be very focused on the here and now, and we should never be too quick to criticise anyone who simply wants to enjoy the present. But for those who do consider where their career could take them, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.
They could arm themselves with a raft of professional qualifications for instance. One guy I know is currently studying for an MBA with the Open University while running a huge demolition programme in the north west of England. He already has an established skill-set and an impressive CV but he is hungry to develop, and we should welcome this continued ambition.
Our 16-year-old may spot a new market opportunity of course, that as yet remains untapped. For me, the introduction of Construction (Design and Management) regulations in 1992 prompted the birth of RVA Group. But what else will the future hold for demolition entrepreneurs?
I would like to see more explosives engineers. I’d like more demolition professionals to export their expertise worldwide, to foster truly cross-cultural best practice irrespective of location.
I’d like to see us harness more technologies to further strengthen safety standards on sites that are inherently hazardous. To see more diversity and equality within the workforce.
And I’d like the industry to better engage with young people so that they struggle to find a reason not to enter the demolition profession.
So, how many 16-year-olds do we know who would fit perfectly into our world? Or perhaps who could mix it up entirely?
- This article first appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of Demolition & Recycling International. To see the full issue, or to register to receive the magazine on a regular basis, please visit www.khl.com/subscriptions