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Europe's first demolition degree takes professionalism up a notch

The demolition sector has been under the spotlight like never before in the past 18 months. Now, a new demolition degree is set to help increase the professionalisation of the trade.

This year’s CN Specialists Index painted a picture of a demolition sector in rude health – financially at least.

Out of the top 10 biggest demolition contractors by turnover, eight of them had increased their turnovers year on year, while seven had boosted their pre-tax profit margins. Last year was certainly busy, though there have been suggestions of a slowdown in the market during 2017.

All of this, however, took place against a backdrop of increased uncertainty across the sector in the wake of the premature collapse of the boiler house at Didcot Power Station, which tragically took the lives of four men.

A number of directors of demolition companies spoke with CN in the wake of that incident about the need to take stock, and to ensure processes and procedures were robust.

Demolition is not an easy trade, and it’s fair to say that the complex engineering that regularly required isn’t always given the credit it deserves.

Now, the University of Wolverhampton is breaking new ground to try to change those perceptions by launching Europe’s first ever demolition degree.

‘Queuing up’

Paul Hampton is head of built environment in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Wolverhampton and is overseeing teaching for the new degree.

It’s certainly the first qualification of its kind in Europe, and quite possibly the world, with Dr Hampton only coming across one other demolition degree – at Purdue University in the US – but that is not a Master’s course.

“We’ve got people queuing up to do the MSC”

Paul Hampton, University of Wolverhampton

Unusually for a new qualification, Wolverhampton’s course will be a two-year Masters degree, with students ending up with a MSc qualification. “You would usually do it the other way round, with a BSc launched first then followed by the MSc,” Dr Hampton says. “But we’ve got people queuing up to do the MSC. It’s worked out that way because the average man on the street doesn’t understand what we do.”

Without an undergraduate degree to qualify candidates for the Master’s, the university is accepting candidates for interview if they have worked for more than five years in the demolition sector. “It’s not always about having certificates,” Dr Hampton says. “It’s about recognising those people who have a wealth of experience.”

He hopes to get around 20 students on the course when it starts in September, with 10 signed up so far. Most of those confirmed are directors of demolition companies – leading from the front to help get the course off to a flying start.

“We gave them our ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech to try to convince them all that we needed them to sign up, to get them on board, and for them to prove that they are serious about this,” Dr Hampton says. “But we wouldn’t be where we are today unless John [Woodward] had come in for a coffee with the idea two years ago.”

Richard Dolman MD AR Demolition Uni of Wolverhampton demolition degree

Richard Dolman MD AR Demolition Uni of Wolverhampton demolition degree

AR Demolition chief Richard Dolman is among those set to take the course

John Woodward, owner of C&D Consultancy and a former president of the Institute of Demolition Engineers, has been involved in helping to set up the demolition degree, along with Richard Dolman, director of AR Demolition (reigining Demolition Specialist of the Year at the CN Specialists Awards) and current member of the IDE Council of Management – as well as others from the IDE.

Both Mr Woodward and Mr Dolman were on hand in Wolverhampton for CN’s visit to help explain some of the thinking behind the degree.

Increasing credibility

“The first CSCS card issued was for demolition,” Mr Woodward says, making a point about the importance of recognising demolition as a skilled engineering discipline with the qualifications it deserves.

“I’ve been on jobs where I’ve sat with the client and, because they have a building degree on a piece of paper, they try to tell us how to carry out the demolition. I want us to have that credibility, too – we’re currently the only professional trade [in construction] that doesn’t have a degree.”

Mr Dolman agrees – so much so that he has committed to actually undertake the degree himself, alongside two others from within AR Demolition. “I thought I’d like to get a degree in what I do, especially as I was never interested academically when I was younger,” he says. “There’s been a lot of work involved in putting it together, from a lot of people.”

The degree will see students undertake modules in a range of topics to do with demolition, including health and safety, asbestos awareness, methods of demolition, structural awareness, equipment awareness, associations, legislation and contracts.

“I want us to have that credibility – we’re currently the only professional trade [in construction] that doesn’t have a degree”

John Woodward, C&D Consultancy

“It’s a brilliant thing,” Mr Dolman says. “You could argue that deconstructing a building is almost harder than constructing it – when you’re building something it’s planned to the nth degree and fully calculated. With demolition, it is planned too but there are so many unknowns. It’s a very difficult trade. We want to professionalise it, and get a bit more rigour into the processes.”

Patricia Sloneczny is director of quality and HR at AR Demolition, and is also set to undertake the degree this year. “I’ve always wanted to do a degree and this will help me to get an even better understanding of demolition,” she says. “It’s also exciting to be part of the first-ever demolition degree – that’s something.”

Uni of Wolverhampton demolition degree John Woodward Richard Dolman Patricia Sloneczny Paul Hampton

Uni of Wolverhampton demolition degree John Woodward Richard Dolman Patricia Sloneczny Paul Hampton

John Woodward, Richard Dolman, Patricia Sloneczny and Paul Hampton

She echoes Mr Woodward’s points about qualifications for the trade – and wanting demolition engineers to be better recognised for what they do. “Would you build a building without fully qualified architects, building surveyors or construction managers?” she asks rhetorically. “You wouldn’t. They all have letters after their names – we don’t have that apart from being able to say FIDE or MIDE [fellow or member of the IDE].

And, as Mr Dolman puts it, the MSc qualification is “globally recognised”. It’s not attached to any particular organisation or association, so it gives it a level of recognition that anyone around the world, in any industry, can see.

Centre of excellence

The course starts in September this year, with students set to study one day a week for the two years it lasts.

While teaching will take place in the School of Architecture and Built Environment’s current building, it will eventually move over to the university’s new Springfield Campus. This is a £100m project to convert the derelict 5 ha site of the former Grade II-listed Springfield Brewery into Europe’s largest specialist construction and built environment university campus.

The brewery closed in 1991 and a fire destroyed much of the historic old structure in 2014. The site has already been partially redeveloped and is home to the West Midlands Construction University Technical College – the only UTC left in the UK dedicated solely to construction, with an Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills also opening this year.

“It’s a great site – and we’ve managed to entice the Construction in the 21st Century conference to come here as well in 2019, which will really help put us on the map,” Dr Hampton says.

It’s an exciting time for the University of Wolverhampton, then, as well as the demolition sector.

A new state-of-the-art campus and a built environment centre of excellence – with what may be the world’s first MSc in demolition the cherry on top.

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