Comment – Chance of a lifetime…

The industry is one small step from true recognition and respectability. But…

A man once told me that, for the UK demolition industry to achieve true recognition, credibility and respectability, it would need to be considered a viable career among educators and academics, and not merely a final refuge for the uneducated.

Sidney Hunt Snr 2That man was the late Sidney Hunt senior (left), quite possibly the most respected individual in the industry’s history. As a leading light of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors, he moved the industry to meet the educators half-way, pioneering both the Institute of Demolition Engineers and the National Demolition Training Group and slowly eroding the industry’s reputation as the poor man of the construction sector.

Seven years after his untimely passing, his dream is closer to becoming a reality.

Earlier this week, representatives of the NFDC, NDTG and IDE gathered in the Midlands for a meeting with senior officials at South and City College Birmingham’s Bordesley Campus who have expressed an interest in creating a legitimate college course on demolition.

Although the details of that course might currently be in the bureaucratic mixing bowl (and may remain there for some time), it is notable that this was not a push from industry; rather it was a pull from the education sector which has – at long last – realised that the industry is no longer the employment-last-resort that it once was.

In many ways, such recognition is belated. For years, the demolition sector has achieved levels of health and safety that are the envy of the wider construction business; and levels of recycling that are the envy of industry as a whole.

Overdue or otherwise, this meeting has the potential to put demolition on the path to the respectability that it has long craved; it has the potential to cure the skills gap that stems from the boom and bust roller coaster upon which the industry rides; and it has the potential to safeguard and enhance the future of the sector with a steady flow of educated demolition workers to fuel and revitalise demolition companies up and down the country. And the fact that the meeting was brokered by Sidney Hunt’s one-time protégé – former NFDC convention chairman Patrick Williamson – lends the meeting a certain serendipity.

But, for this initiative to have legs, it must overcome several key challenges. The NDTG must set aside fears over loss of income and accept that this has the potential to benefit the sector as a whole. The NDTG needs to seize this opportunity to take the industry to the next level, even if that means ceding a degree of control. And the NDTG needs to demonstrate a degree of stability that has been sadly lacking during a period of revolving door staff churn.

Above all, the industry – and not just the various trade associations within it – needs to unite behind a single goal.

Sidney Hunt would have made this happen through sheer force of will. Sadly, men of his calibre and vision – like this opportunity for unprecedented credibility – come along just once in a lifetime.