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Reflections on demolition in construction city

- 14/12/23

If you’ve been to Toronto recently then you’ll know just how much construction is going on there.

Every corner you turn there are hoardings, cranes, road closures and diversions, temporary lights, bollards and muck tracks across pavements -sorry, sidewalks.

Talking to locals, construction has been a constant for the past twenty years – even my hotel had construction in three different places while I was staying!

It was ironic therefore, that I visited ‘the six’ (the rapper, Drake’s moniker for Toronto) for the World Demolition Summit from 17-18 October 2023.

A gathering of the best

KHL Group and Demolition and Recycling International (D&Ri) magazine brought together around 450 industry professionals from across the globe to share case studies and best practice, to discuss key issues and forge relationships to build a path for growth and improvement.

Throughout the day of 18 October, 10 speakers (including me) covered a range of topics.

One key theme that kept arising was that of explosive demolition. Several case studies explored this ‘exciting’ process and various short films drew gasps and rounds of applause from the informed audience, who understand the rigour behind such a process. These projects included demolitions at the Redcar Steelworks in England, a disused power plant on the north shores of Lake Superior, as well as other large industrial sites in North America.

During these presentations, the Project Directors explained the vast amount of planning that takes place to ensure absolute safety, to minimise dust pollution and avoid negative impact on the natural environment.

Blow-down demolition can take months to plan and involves far more than a pump on a big fuse box, as the cartoons would have you believe.

There were some truly impressive projects on show.

A matter of perception

Near the end of the day, I ran an interactive session on the talent and skills issues facing the industry, much of which I will share in due course.

The crux however is this…the workforce is getting older, it’s harder to recruit than ever before and perceptions of the industry amongst young people are largely poor.

These are issues that the industry itself recognises. In the UK alone, it is expected that 225,000 more construction and demolition workers will be needed by 2027, so this represents a serious issue.

Toronto under construction taken from the CN Tower

Matters such as blow-down demolition undoubtedly make for crowd pleasing YouTube videos, but are not fully appreciated by the wider public. Perceptions of the industry include a lack of safety, poor environmental management and a lack of opportunity for career path development.

Yet, the brilliant insight provided by the various contractors earlier in the day belie these perceptions.

The industry is doing a huge amount to green itself, safety is number one every single time and the career development opportunities are numerous – from machine driving, to engineering, environmental management and people leadership.

Jonathan Cox from Rye Demolition and Jose Blanco from the European Demolition Association at the World Demolition Summit - October 2023

Constructing a future for demolition

If the industry is to thrive and develop a sustainable workforce for the future, then these perceptions need to be addressed.

I know that Rye Group is committed to helping address the issues at play, the NFDC has talent and skills as a key pillar of its strategy and Associations such as the Association EDA (European Demolition Association) and the Ontario Association of Demolition Contractors are putting together working groups to encourage greater talent acquisition. So much is being done, but more needs to follow.

Perceptions are reality and it will take a concerted group effort for the shift to be made and for myths to be busted.

So perhaps this demolition summit in the city of construction can be the explosive reminder the industry needs to look at itself and shout out loud to build a bright future.

Author: Jonathan Cox, Marketing Director at Rye Demolition.

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