What would I say to a 16-year-old looking at a career in demolition?

As part of a regular column for Demolition & Recycling International, RVA Group’s managing director Richard Vann, recently looked back in time at what a job in demolition was like when he was 16 – and what a role in the industry entails now.

If you missed the piece, you can read it here…

It may be an obvious statement to make – as every profession inevitably changes over time – but a career in demolition now looks significantly different to how it did when I was 16.

Gone are the days of an itinerant workforce, waiting 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 back 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, their father had worked in the industry before them.

There was no formal training, and certainly nothing like CPD. You’d 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.

Whilst demolition is not yet perfect – but then again, what is – 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.

Whilst it is a small and specialist area of civil engineering, 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’re 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 the 16-year-old doesn’t know that all these options exist, then 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, whilst 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.

The 16-year-old may spot a new market opportunity of course, that as yet remains untapped. For me, the introduction of CDM regulations in 1992 prompted the birth of RVA Group. But what else will the future hold for demolition entrepreneurs?

I’d 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. I’d like 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?