Interview: ‘I’m a demolition geek’

1 May 2019 | By Will Mann

The first female president of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors is Keltbray’s Holly Price, who was also recently made a trustee of the Construction Industry Training Board. Will Mann caught up with her.

These are busy days for Holly Price. In March, Keltbray’s training and development director was appointed a trustee of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), just a few days after becoming the first female president in the 78-year history of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC).

And Price, who joined the demolition industry aged 16, has “diversity high on the agenda” in her term as NFDC president.

“The industry is at full throttle, with another 200,000 jobs needed over the next five years, and we need a dynamic and diverse workforce to help deliver the workload,” she says.

Last month, construction reported its latest gender pay gap data, and Price is pleased that her own company, Keltbray, has reduced the average hourly rate gap by 2% between male and female workers, while there was a 3% rise in the number of women in its second and the top pay quartiles.

“Gender pay is an important issue that we must address,” she says, “but direct gender pay comparisons are difficult in demolition. Traditionally, roles of males and females have been very different – as with the wider construction industry – with men tending to be on the technical and operations side while women are in back office roles.

“However, that has changed significantly in the last half dozen years, with more females coming into the sector.”

Changing perceptions

Price has been to the fore of that change. A self-confessed “demolition geek”, she quickly fell in love with the sector, and went on to become the UK’s only female explosives engineer.

Today, through Keltbray, she is involved with high-profile projects ranging from Earl’s Court, where the contractor had to assemble London’s largest crane, to HS2, where it was one of the first firms on site as part of an enabling works contract. Her NFDC presidential role will include promoting demolition’s varied career opportunities.

“The industry is at full throttle, with another 200,000 jobs needed over the next five years, and we need a dynamic and diverse workforce to help deliver the workload.”

Holly Price, National Federation of Demolition Contractors

“Perceptions of demolition aren’t always right,” she says. “The sites can be challenging, but the job isn’t all about carrying heavy drills and wearing face masks.

“There are complex engineering challenges, because every building we bring down is different, and we often have to work through 100 years or more of design alterations when planning the work.”

She believes there is “fantastic potential” in using 3D modelling to help plan demolition projects, and says there is “definitely an appetite” for using digital technology in the sector.

Another of Price’s “passion projects” as president will be mental health. “The NFDC signed the charter for Building Mental Health last year, and now we need to support out members so they have the tools to implement its principles,” she explains.

“Members include companies like Keltbray with hundreds of staff and SMEs with just
10 or 20. And, for a small business, it can be difficult to know where to start with mental health. So, the NFDC has employed a group of health and wellbeing experts, who are available to all our members to advise about issues like stress and its impact on cognitive function.”

Price has headed Keltray’s training and development function since 2007, identifying the people and skills requirements to support the company’s rapid expansion, and she has a similar brief as a CITB trustee.

“The whole of construction obviously has a major skills challenge and I’ll be looking at how we can make careers more accessible,” she explains.

“The industry has always operated very traditionally, and it can be hard to invest in skills when your business is working on short-term contracts.

“But construction will change dramatically as new technology comes in. That should allow us to introduce more agile and flexible arrangements into our work practices, and that can help us attract more people into the industry – including more women.”

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