Opinion – The Mark Noble way

You will have to bear with me. The story I am about to lay before you really IS rooted in demolition, even if at first it might feel like an excuse for me to talk about my beloved (and beleaguered) West Ham United.

Mark Noble has just been appointed as Sporting Director at West Ham United. Come January, one of the club’s most dedicated servants will return to the fold, just a few months after hanging up his boots for the final time.

Noble was that most rare creature in the modern game – A one-club man. He made his debut in the claret and blue aged just 17 years old. 18 years and more than 550 appearances later, he bid goodbye to the team he’d supported since childhood.

So what has all this got to do with demolition and construction, I hear you ask?

Well, the clue is partly in Noble’s new job title – Sporting Director. He has not been re-employed to kick a ball. He has not been employed to manage the team; David Moyes is doing that with varying degrees of success. And although he is likely to spend a fair amount of time with the West Ham Academy youth team, he will not be teaching them how to kick a ball – They already know that.

Mark Noble has been re-employed as an inspiration both on and off the pitch; someone to look up to and to emulate. Like having Usain Bolt trackside; or Sugar Ray Leonard as a constant presence in the gym.

Each year – in fact, each week- the demolition and construction industry allows dozens, hundreds and even thousands of Mark Nobles, Usain Bolts and Sugar Ray Leonards to walk out through the exit, never to return.

They take them some well-worn PPE and, if they’re lucky, a farewell gift from their employer and fellow employees. But they take with them something far more important and far more valuable. They take their knowledge, their expertise and their experience.

Teaching someone to operate an excavator is not particularly hard. It can’t be. Someone taught me to do so. But teaching them to operate it properly and safely is quite another matter. In the same way that passing a driving test does not make you Lewis Hamilton, gaining an excavator operator’s competence card does not make someone an operator. It merely grants them permission to start the journey towards experience. If they are lucky, they will draw at least some of that experience from those that have gone before them; those that done it all and seen it all; that can teach them not just to be a better operator but to be a better person and a more valued member of the team.

Allowing would-be mentors to just walk away is not just a waste of talent. It is a waste of money. Over the course of a career, a retiring operator or site manager will have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in wages and in training. Like the embodied carbon argument that is beginning to shape the UK demolition industry, allowing a person of that nature to just walk away means that all that embodied experience carbon is lost forever.

Just prior to Mark Noble’s retirement, a photo circulated on social media of West Ham club captain sweeping the floor of the West Ham changing room after a game. This was reportedly a regular thing; Noble’s way of showing respect to the unsung heroes that work at every club. Now that he is no longer in that changing room, that mantle has reportedly been taken up by a younger player – Ben Johnson – who says he now can’t leave a changing room unswept because that was not the Mark Noble way.

How many demolition and construction companies are losing out by failing to expose their younger workers to the Mark Noble way?