Comment – Fighting a losing battle…

In the war for the hearts and minds of potential employees, demolition is falling victim to friendly fire.

Demolition is an industry that is constantly at war. It fights daily battles with competitors and rivals. It fights to win new work and to get paid. It fights battles with clients that expect a Rolls Royce service in return for a Dacia budget and that regularly demand that months of work is completed in weeks. It fights with legislators that are constantly shifting the safety and environmental goalposts. And it fights for recognition and to have its voice heard over the constant yelling from its noisy neighbour, construction.

As individual companies and as an industry, demolition wins more than its fair share of these battles and skirmishes. It may suffer a few war wounds long the way but, in the main, demolition emerges victorious just often enough to make it worthwhile.

But there is one battle that demolition is losing consistently. It is a battle that grows more intense with each passing year. A battle in which demolition is frequently outgunned, outmanoeuvred and now – apparently – betrayed by its own. To make matters worse, it is a pivotal battle that could dictate the outcome of the wider war.

When it comes to attracting dynamic, educated and enthusiastic into its fold, demolition finds itself at a serious and almost insurmountable disadvantage from the outset. Even setting aside those young people that are determined to pursue a treacherous career path as a sportsperson or celebrity or that are attracted by the bright lights of Internet fame, to most young people, demolition has an image problem. It is seen as dangerous and dirty. It is perceived as hard and thankless work; suitable only for those that don’t mind constant exposure to whatever the weather and the economy might throw at them.

Make no mistake, when young people emerge from school, college or university in search of a career, they are comparing demolition with a multitude of sectors that offer air conditioned offices, on-demand coffee and subsidised restaurants, dress-down Fridays, expense accounts and – let’s face it – a degree of interaction with those of the opposing gender. Compared to those sectors, demolition’s (virtually) all-male workforce, muddy sites, falling debris and tea and bacon rolls from a nearby café with a questionable attitude towards food hygiene is something of an acquired taste.

In short, in the battle for the hearts and minds of the young people that will swell our ranks, drive change and improvement, and bring a fresh perspective to the demolition business, we are fighting against a battalion of other industries and sectors that have at their disposal all the latest weapons. Meanwhile, demolition has a pointy stick that is a bit muddy, in need of repair and that should have been replaced years ago.

I realise that I am playing to the industry’s stereotype here. But, unless a young person has had some prior exposure to the demolition business, stereotypes are all that he or she has to go on.

We can – as we have for a number of years – point out the similarities between the controls of a modern excavator and a PlayStation remote until we’re blue in the face. But to do so merely adds a dab of gloss to an otherwise muddy and rain-soaked picture.

So we can’t compete on working conditions and perks. The wider perception is that we cannot compete on rates of pay and career progression. And I think we can all agree that demolition can’t compete in the glamour stakes either.

Having been hamstrung by perception and circumstance, you might think that we would attempt to redress the balance by removing any barriers to entry that we’re able to control; to smooth the way for those young people seeking a rewarding (in all senses of the term) career path.

You might think that. But you would be wrong.

Thanks (but no thanks) to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, the UK finds itself in a strange and possibly unique situation. Many sectors have been forced to make some uncomfortable choices. Companies across a variety of industries have made staff redundant so there is a larger-than-usual pool of potential workers from which to draw upon. At the same time, both demolition and construction have three or four months’ worth of work to catch up on. And the UK Government is clearly pinning its hopes for a rapid economic recovery on the wider construction industry which promises some trickle-down positivity for demolition.

We have a glut of potential workers. We have a glut of potential work. The only thing standing between the convenient marriage of the two is the prohibitive cost of acquiring the competence card or cards required to get on site in the first place.

The National Demolition Training Group, which sits atop a large pile of accumulated cash, has the ability to marry willing workers with eager employees. But through inaction or greed or a combination thereof, it continues to “cock-block” any such interaction. With the sweep of a pen, the NDTG could slash or even temporarily waive selected training fees to take advantage of the fresh pickings thrown up by this unique turn of employment fortune.
It could make demolition the cost-effective choice for those seeking a viable career path. And it could redress the balance in the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of young people that are currently negotiating the choppy waters of a post-pandemic recession.
here are those that will suggest that the NDTG’s inaction stems from the fact that it is run by and for those companies that are big, powerful and wealthy enough to dismiss training costs as petty cash. There are others that will insist that the NDTG is a sacred cash cow that requires constant fattening rather than a brief financial diet. Whatever the reason, the NDTG’s failure to make a land-grab at this time is an opportunity missed. With each passing day, the demolition sector surrenders the chance to seize a tactical advantage and to retake lost ground in the war against a seemingly endless skills shortage. Its failure to press home a unique and unforeseen advantage is to the detriment of the entire UK demolition industry.

In years to come, historians will see 2020 as the year of the Coronavirus; a global pandemic that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe and that quarantined great swathes of the world.

Demolition historians, meanwhile, might look back at 2020 as the year in which the industry snatched defeat from the jaws of a potential and much-needed victory.