Over the years I've been asked many times about work as a Rope Access technician. Often by Instructors and Guides working for themselves in an industry difficult to make a year round living from. How do you get started? Is there plenty of work? And such like. Unsurprising perhaps that it should appeal to climbers who perceive an opportunity to transfer their skills and earn good money.
So, in light of that here's a rundown of the industry and what it's like to live in it.
In reply to UKC Articles: This is a really good article and may i reinforce some of the comments to help those who may be interested in the offshore side of the industry ?
There needs to be an understanding that simply being a climber or caver is no longer enough, the value is added when you have a dedicated skill set such as asset integrity inspector, NDT specialist, any of the main trades (mechanical, electrical or instrumentation) etc which then allows you to carry out your trade via rope access as opposed to scaffolded structure. As noted, there is often a misconception that we have people climbing around doing menial tasks on ropes, nothing could be further from the truth.
High rates are available for those who are well qualified and have a good trade apprenticeship in any of the in-demand trades, that is where the real opportunity exists. It would be better to retrain in that area and then transfer to Rope Access later if that floats your boat, but it is very uncomfortable work and rarely if ever glamorous !
Demand is slowing currently as we see a severe dip in investment, falling oil price and failure of governement to act on taxation breaks, however we will come through this so i would encourage anyone interested to get on the training course and get your CV out to market but think out-side of pure rope access, the industry simply doesnt need that.
Aberdeen Press and Journal is a good starting point for opportunities, all the main contractor agencies will help as will the big companies run by climbers such as CAN.
It's worth emphasising the point that you will be working away from home, all of the time, unless you are very lucky. Whether this is Mon-Fri, or two-on-two-off. If you want to earn a good wage you have to be able to put up with this. Having said that, I have just started a steady Mon-Fri job 40 mins from home, but this is the first one in over 8 years of being in the industry, and I wouldn't change a thing about my time in the industry.
That used to be the case (always working away) but now that every refinery and power station has a permanent team it's much less so. We train loads of guys who are settled into onshore positions that they can commute daily.
This area of work has interested me for sometime. The off putting side is that I guess the majority of work will be offshore, I now have a young family and I do wonder whether it would suit my life as it is now.
I am a lift engineer, I enjoy the variety of electrical and mechanical work and many of the skills are generally quite transferable to other engineering sectors.
Is there much in the way of onshore work? southwest?
> It's worth emphasising the point that you will be working away from home, all of the time, unless you are very lucky. Whether this is Mon-Fri, or two-on-two-off. If you want to earn a good wage you have to be able to put up with this.
I work 10 mins from home and have a contract at the biggest refinery in Scotland. I actually miss working away sometimes.
> This area of work has interested me for sometime. The off putting side is that I guess the majority of work will be offshore, I now have a young family and I do wonder whether it would suit my life as it is now.
On the flip side, you get two quality weeks with the family when home.
Also, if on a regular 2+2 offshore, you can factor in a couple of weeks holiday, with good timing meaning you can get a couple of 6 week stays at home a year.
I think it's a relatively small trade in the rope access scheme of things, the jobs seem to be short duration and guys that are certified on the ropes still spend much of the time 'feet on floor'. Offshore I'd assume the money is really good, but then I don't know what you guys earn in ordinary circumstances.
In reply to UKC Articles:
Interesting. What about a typical climbing bum or instructor looking to supplement their income now and then doing the lower paid basic work - window cleaning, painting, that sort of stuff. How easy (or difficult!) is it to find work? Is it all about knowing the right people? The entry standards for that kind of stuff are quite low so I imagine there will be a lot of competition?
Competition and not very much money by todays standards. 2 years ago I did some work in London, for a change of scenery, some of the lads I was working with were on less than £8 ph, before o/t and stuff. I guess if you know someone to give you a job with minimal fuss, then it's worth it as a sideline. But dude, aren't you an accountant?
An other area which I didn't touch on is renewables i.e. wind turbines, simply because I don't know anything about it.
In reply to Murko Fuzz:
Worse, I'm a tax adviser ;-) I wouldn't be going into rope access for the money, that's for sure! But it could be attractive as an occasional sideline if I were to become a climbing bum...
It sounds like the IRATA courses are quite interesting if you're into ropework and as a climber you may well learn something new and useful - an added bonus if you're going to do the courses anyway.
Hard to say without knowing more about you. I know a few electricians who have gone into rope access. Casual work is fairly thin on the ground but big industrial plants like refineries and power stations will have permanent positions. There are also jobs on the wind turbines. Both will require the correct industrial electrical quals. So it depends where you live, whether you want to travel and what tickets you have.
Ropeman1.027 Nov 2014
This is in response to those who say there's no work out there for those without a trade - aside from irata qualification.
I hear this all the time, especially where folk giving newbies advice are concerned, and frankly it's bollocks, there is plenty of work out there for - plain old - climbers/cavers. Not having a trade qualification in the rope access industry is no different than not having one in the real world; it just means you are limited to what you can do, but doesn't mean there's no work.
I'm flatout most of the time and i'm no tradesman. Having a contact to help get your foot in the door and gain hours is key. Robbie
> This is in response to those who say there's no work out there for those without a trade - aside from irata qualification.
> I hear this all the time, especially where folk giving newbies advice are concerned, and frankly it's bollocks, there is plenty of work out there for - plain old - climbers/cavers. Not having a trade qualification in the rope access industry is no different than not having one in the real world; it just means you are limited to what you can do, but doesn't mean there's no work.
I never had a problem as a level 1 and 2 finding work, and the likes of CAN will keep you pretty busy, without a trade.
That will work to a certain extent with the smaller companies, but I'd assert that IRATA L1 is not enough when passing on advice. If someone who only has L1 phones up one of the big service companies, who do on and offshore work, they're not going to get very far quickly. CAN London, for example, (good company) are small but they don't need very many people for much of the time, and even so they're asking for a safety passport cert in addition. Granted though, L1 is about £800, so not very much in the scheme of things. Anybody persistent enough is going to get there eventually, but there's a very long line of people who certified as L1 and then never made it as far as a job.
So 'no work' might be bollocks, but very limited options and difficulty getting a start is certainly not.
In reply to Murko Fuzz: Depends. If you expect to walk into a well-paid full time position offshore, then you're likely to be disappointed (though if you have contacts anything is possible). But the vast majority of L1s we train get work without too much trouble, in fact I can't think of any forced to give up (and they usually phone us if they are struggling - we tell them to) I'm not usre where your 'very long line of people' is but it isn't round here.
You need some persistence at first, but climbers still have a head start with most employers. And one job inevitably leads to others, it rapidly gets easier. My main advice would be that if you haven't got work lined up then save up more than the course fee to give yourself some time to find work.
To be honest, I'm heartened to hear what you have to say. My 'long line of people' was particularly noticeable around 2003/5 but has been evident since. I see you're in the training game, and if you're getting good feedback from attendees after training that's awesome. Fairly recently I was chatting to a woman who's son had done L1 and an OPITO blasting course plus survival and whatnot, he wasn't getting anywhere at that point, which may have been for a host of reasons, (because certainly in some climates he'd have no sweat getting a start). But it reinforced in me the opinion that for new people some cash and a plan is vital.
I can see that climbers might have a head start where hirers understand climbers. But in most big companies there's just no way. Now admittedly, in the last 10 years my experience has been in oil and gas, and those guys have no idea about the roots of rope access. As I said in the article, I'm often seen by these outfits as mildly eccentric - just for being a climber! A good number of years ago I saw an article in a climbing mag about rope access, written by a climber who was director of a rope access company in England. His opinion as stated was that climbers are lazy and don't know what work is! I kid you not. That was his perception. I haven't seen much evidence of a resurgence of climbers in the industry up here, but if that is happening....spot on.
> Interesting. What about a typical climbing bum or instructor looking to supplement their income now and then doing the lower paid basic work - window cleaning, painting, that sort of stuff. How easy (or difficult!) is it to find work? Is it all about knowing the right people? The entry standards for that kind of stuff are quite low so I imagine there will be a lot of competition?
My experience (late 90's) was that I soon found out that to make any head way I had to be serious about one or the other - access or instructor work. I chose the latter and consider myself a career instructor. If I'd gone the way of access that too would have been a career option. There was, for me, no time for both - as has been said once you say yes to work, often times more comes your way. Say no and it can dry up. I couldn't make the two mix. Perhaps it's changed.
One thing is sure for instruction, and from friends still in the access game, is probably the same for roped work - the idea that either can be seen as a means to earn a bit of extra money to fulfil the life of a climber bum (caver bum for me) are possibly on the wane. To get on you need to acknowledge that they will and do become "a job" with all that goes with that. The way shifts work for access work does mean you can still have lengthy periods of time doing what you like.
In reply to UKC Articles:
Good article indeed. I have to agree with the invisible barriers for women. I have worked with quite a number of guys recently who have had way less experience than me but when applying for the same jobs as them I was basicly told I had no experience but the guys got the jobs.
I also know with one course I did the trainer was shock to have a women on the course.
I do have to add that geo isn't as bad as some people make it out to be. For me it's like climbing you don't need to be beastly strong yes it helps to be fit but if your smart you'll find a better way of lifting heavy items and not trash your back. I don't see way more women don't give it a go.
I'm just shocked at the number of guys who don't like hard work or getting their hands dirty.
The worlds of offshore and city-based roped access are different animals altogether. Most of the later don't require any particular tickets and people can get away with not much in terms on previous skills.All that is usually necessary is good working ethics, a willingness to learn, and that all important first job (Mate of mine's got a small company and he gets dozens of CV's a day) . For people with all 3 life turns sweet quick. (If your idea of a sweet life is to get soaking wet jetwashing for 8 hours in winter, work inside an atrium sweating litters in summer, or deal with bird shit fairly regularly for a wage that is ok, but not like the 'good money' described in the article.)
As for getting anywhere offshore, you either need a very good contact, or chancing it and spend £10k worth of tickets. There's way too many people spending their retraining allowance from leaving the military in every ticket they can get their hands on. You see them all the time in the relevant forums. People posting "i have irata l1, ndt UT/mpi/ l1, rigger l1, painting and blasting, bosiet, mist, Looking for work". People with just their irata ticket and a trades ticket simply have no chance.
FWIW the holly grail for very many people i've met in London is to end up bagging a job offshore. So far, due to the difficulty of it and lack of relevant contacts doing work in London i know of only 1 person who got offshore.
And i don't think climbers have so much of an advantage or transferable skills unless they are aid climbers or spend more time dogging routes than they do climbing.... What they (we?) do often is to setup dodgy rigging and jump from wobbly handrails while saying "I abseil from worse things when out climbing. It'll be ok"
Interesting article. I know a number of older (50s) rope access workers. Most enjoyed it when they were younger but would now love to be able to get out. The lifestyle becomes less attractive and aches and pains make the work a lot tougher. If you're thinking of this as a career, make sure you have an exit strategy. Not everyone can become a manager, supervisor or trainer.
Around 2003/5 there were less than 10,000 IRATA techs worldwide - now there are over 75,000. Totally different environment.
Follow a sensible career path and you're unlikely to struggle - e.g. 1-2 years onshore doing netting, window cleaning etc, get your L2, move on to bigger more interesting jobs, refineries etc for another year or two, then either look at offshore or L3, or both. Expecting to walk into a cushy number in the north sea is likely to disappoint (though it does happen - all about who you know!).
Also worth remembering to get a start offshore is a lot easier if you're prepared to go to Nigeria, Trinidad etc first.
I know about ten rope access managers and they are all climbers. They'll employ climbers at L1 because they know their basic skills will be up to scratch, they'll be fit and not afraid of heights. The downside is they aren't the most reliable long term. Networking is very important to get regular work and helps massively - in our local climbing wall in Sheffield on an average night there'll be two or three rope access managers and a bunch of Level 3s. Get to know them and you've got a massive head start...
I'd agree with Flaneur that a long term plan is important - though less than it used to be. The growth in permanent teams means a lot more positions in middle management. Combining with outdoor instructing seems to work okay as long as you are passionate about doing the outdoor stuff. Otherwise most seem to drift into rope access due to better pay.
Thought this would be a good place to give you an update. I got a job...eventually...
Projecting managing the construction division of a rope access company in South Africa. Head over at the end of January. Initial contract for two years, signed it last week, prob won't be on the ropes much but hey ho....
Got the job based purely on my experience of having run my own construction company, having ten years of construction background, having a trade and having experience of running crews. Admittedly I could of course feck the whole thing up still....
I'll go for my L2 in jan, a year to the week of getting my L1. I've only ended up in this position because I wrote to companies and called them like a demon. Treated it as a second full time job until it all came together.
Anyway that's been my very limited experience of working in rope access so far.
"the value is added when you have a dedicated skill set such as asset integrity inspector, NDT specialist"
I recently looked at training in the various NDT disciplines you mention. I understand you need to complete a number of supervised hours on the job before you are fully signed off and certified. In your experience are these positions available? Are companies happy to take on newly trained employees (presumably for less pay) to give them the experience they need to become certified? And can these trainee-type postions be obtained in a job using ropes access if the employee was Level 1 IRATA?
NDT Inspectors or Offshore Inspection Engineers (OIEs) are hard to find, very good ones with extensive experience are a rare and valuable commodity.
Asset Integrity is a major focus for all offshore platforms and quite rightly so, it is our greatest threat and contracting companies will always look favourably on someone with NDT qualifications.
Any notion that operators (BP, BG, Chevron, Shell, Nexen etc) will let a newly qualified NDT tech loose on their facility are misguided and therefore they are supervised until the reports they produce are considered accurate.
NDT is a far better route than pure rope access but combine the two and you add value to your CV.
Some varied comments on here and the advice is generally correct, get your NDT training first but if you have a rope access qualification it will always help.