The Explosives Sector: Setting standards
The explosives industry is very attractive to many servicemen and women coming to the end of a career where the use and management of Ordnance, Munitions and Explosives (OME) may have been an everyday occurrence. You may have been an Infantryman in Afghanistan, firing hundreds of rounds of small arms ammunition during an operational tour, you may have been a specialist searcher in the Royal Engineers, you may have been a RAF Armourer or a munitions storekeeper. Clearance Diver, Ammunition Technician, Military Police CSI: all of these are potential routes to a career in the explosives sector if you have the drive to make it so.
Some of the fields of expertise in the explosives sector are: quarrying, mining, construction, demolition, security, the oil and mineral exploration industry, film and TV special effects (SFX), explosives licensing, munitions design and manufacture; explosives search and detection; EOD operations and training; logistics; explosives forensics.
There are some harsh realities to be taken into account when considering a career in the explosives sector. The UK’s explosives industry has generally been in decline for a number of years as the number of mines, quarries, explosives manufacturers and research establishments have reduced. The global recession has hit the explosives sector as hard as any other and those companies that have survived have done so by taking hard decisions and consolidating their positions. All of this can only mean that recruitment has been very limited in most specialist areas. That said, another factor that has been well recognised by explosives companies and government departments is that the workforce that has ‘always been there’ is declining due to normal retirement, leaving space for well trained and motivated individuals to take up.
Training and Qualifications
The Standards Setting Body for Explosives, Munitions and Search Occupations (SSB for EMSO) was established in 2000 in order to develop National Occupational Standards and National/Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) for those involved in munition clearance (ie bomb disposal – both EOD and IEDD) and search activities. The standards would provide specific, objective, measurable and nationally agreed statements of competence that could be used in any part of the explosives industry – military, civilian or private sector. These standards were launched in October 2003. In the autumn of 2003, the Defence Ordnance Safety Group (DOSG) of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) approached the SSB and asked for help in defining the competences known at the time in the MoD as Ordnance, Munitions and Explosives (OME) but which later became known as Explosive Substances and Articles (ESA). Since the MoD ideally wished its personnel to gain national accreditation for achievement of the resulting standards, the project was therefore widened to include all organizations that employed people who needed expertise in dealing with explosives (both military and civilian).
The SSB was made up of experts from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, QinetiQ plc, the Atomic Weapons Establishment plc and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories, along with representatives from commercial companies working with explosives in conjunction with a qualifications specialist. The NOS were to be the basis for a raft of S/NVQs covering the whole explosives sector.
24 NVQs were developed, each covering one of the functional areas identified during mapping of the explosive substances and articles industry. Each NVQ is based on National Occupational Standards (NOS) and relates to the roles identified by the early research – from operator to operational manager level.
The difficulty in developing these NVQs beyond the initial stage was the lack of take up by existing Awarding Bodies who perceived that the aforementioned decline in explosives workers population would automatically mean that there was little profit to be made from this sector. So, Homeland Security Qualifications (HSQ) was established to meet the needs of this niche market. The asterisked qualifications are immediately available from HSQ and more qualifications (in Defence Range Safety and in the vehicular movement of explosives) are currently under development.
Some, but by no means all, of these NVQs have been migrated to the new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) that is being phased in to replace the existing national qualifications system. Homeland Security Qualifications has begun the process of translating the majority of the ESA NVQs listed above into the QCF format and has also developed bespoke vocational qualifications for its client organizations that wish to accredit the training or competence of some its specialist personnel.
Some of the explosives specialist occupational areas have very specific requirements and their own industry training and qualification standards. SFX is a growth area which requires specialist training through the BECTU, BPA or ASP schemes. If you wish to become a shotfirer in the mineral extraction industry you will need to qualify through one of the appropriate training providers - the Mineral Products Qualifications Council (MPQC) is the awarding body for vocational qualifications in Blasting Operations at level 3 - for operators, shotfirers, explosives supervisors, store keepers working within a blasting environment.
Very few of the military qualifications in OME gained by servicemen and women were obviously transferable until quite recently. The past few years has seen a lot of effort in the Defence training organisations to map military qualifications to National Occupational Standards and S/NVQs. As the QCF becomes fully operational, these VQs will be re-developed into QCF-compliant qualifications as the awarding bodies and training organisations are driven by demand from the servicemen who need to show their abilities to civilian organisations. There are, of course, some specialist areas such as EOD where most of the civilian companies recognise and may insist on evidence of military training and experience.
Service leavers should not forget all those additional skills and qualifications they have picked up over the years, and should ensure that as many of them as possible are still current at the time they leave the Service. Qualifications such as HAZMAT Instructor, ADR driver, Government Authorised Representative are worth their weight in gold in the outside world. Many companies will look for a multiskilled operator able to turn his or her hand to different facets of the task set. Remember that it is up to you to prove your competence, not to expect a civilian employer to accept military service as assurance that you have the skill set he is looking for.
As with any sector of industry, there are a number of professional bodies that can provide advice on entry into particular specialisations. The explosives sector includes the Institute of Explosives Engineers, Institute of Quarrying, Institute of Mining and the National Federation of Demolition Contractors. Trade bodies include BECTU, the BPA and ASP for those wishing to work as professional pyrotechnicians.
The IExpE has individual members from most of the specialist areas within the explosives sector and military applicants with appropriate verifiable training and experience are always welcome. Through the Institute, members of all categories and from all disciplines have a live forum. Demolition contractors, explosives manufacturers, underwater specialists, miners, tunnellers, quarrymen, disposal contractors, vibration specialists, oil industry contractors, special effects technicians (pyrotechnicians), firework display operators, Police Explosives Liaison Officers, Legislators and members of the Armed Services find a common voice to express concerns and ideas and to understand better the requirements and concerns of those explosives engineering disciplines that are less familiar to them. Members receive a quarterly journal and access to a network of expertise. The IExpE now provides a route for explosives workers to registration with the Engineering Council in the grades of Engineering Technician (EngTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), through a partnering arrangement with the Society of Environmental Engineers. Potential registrants must be members of IExpE.
A Wide-Ranging Sector
The explosives sector is very wide-ranging, from research scientist to explosives manufacturer to ammunition storeman to tunnelling shotfirer to search adviser to EOD operator. Many service leavers will be attracted to work in this industry due to their military experience in the use of ordnance, munitions and explosives (OME) or in counter-terrorism or counter-IED operations. Some civilian or government specialist areas are in decline and some are growing, but there is always space for the well-trained and motivated individual with the right skills and qualifications