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Proposals for education in the fast-moving waste industry

Few would disagree that it is time to update the way technical competence is handled in the waste management industry and it comes as a consequence of the rapid rate of change in the industry. The current system served its purpose but was not designed to deal with the increasing sophistication of modern waste management and the challenges it faces. More legislation and stricter compliance requirements, the proliferation of treatment technologies, and the industrys worrying health and safety record all point to the need for a new approach. This consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), part of its wider Environmental Permitting Programme review, should therefore be welcomed. Two schemes have been put forward in the consultation, a joint proposal from the Environmental Services Association and EU Skills and a joint proposal from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and the Waste Management Industry and Training Advisory Board (WAMITAB). Taking quite different approaches, the two proposals are fairly complementary, and one or both of these schemes could be approved after the consultation process has been completed. Whatever the outcome, the end result will be that operators will be required to be compliant with the approved scheme(s), so it is important that the industry takes the time to respond on this important issue. The joint CIWM/WAMITAB proposal aims to provide a relatively simple scheme that meets the needs of an increasingly complex industry. The submission puts forward three key changes to the current technical competence scheme that will address priority issues raised by Defra concerning proportionality, flexibility and continuing competence. Firstly, the proposal acknowledges and caters for different risk levels to reflect the range of waste treatment technologies in use now or in development. Where the previous full NVQ was essentially a one size fits all approach, the suggested scheme proposes three risk levels and makes an initial attempt to populate the categories, although the CIWM has emphasised the need for consultation with the industry before the risk matrix is finalised. At present, the proposal suggests: * Low risk: encompassing inert waste storage, transfer and treatment operations and green waste composting; * Medium risk: covering non-hazardous transfer and treatment operations, biological treatment other than green waste composting, and potentially CA sites and contaminated land operation; * High risk, all previously PPC regulated waste operations including landfill and most hazardous waste transfer, treatment and disposal activities. Linked to the different risk levels, the scheme also provides flexibility to accommodate individual learning preferences. High risk facilities require a full NVQ, but technical competence for medium risk could be six technical NVQ units or alternatively a VRQ which is a taught course and assessment qualification. For low risk facilities and operations, the options include a course with a final test at the end or four technical NVQ units. As well as catering for different learning preferences, this system also encourages quicker and wider uptake of technical competence by opening up more opportunities. Candidates taking the VRQ, for example, dont have to be observed on site to get the qualification, which means that personnel can be trained prior to a facility becoming operational and professionals looking to transfer into waste management from other industries can get trained before they make the move. Importantly, for an industry that is working hard to professionalise its image, it also gives people a more flexible way of getting the qualifications they need to move up the waste management career ladder in the future. Finally, in a sector that is changing so fast, it is no surprise that one of the key issues in the consultation is continuing competence. The CIWM/WAMITAB proposal puts forward the idea of a two year competence period, during which candidates must update themselves and demonstrate their knowledge about subjects specified in a syllabus set every two years by a cross-industry working party. Candidates can choose how they update their knowledge e.g. through in-house or external courses, training schemes, or workplace coaching but they must complete the learning and be tested successfully on it within the two year timeframe. Although the details of how the testing will be carried out have not been decided on, there would need to be an adequate geographical distribution of testing centres and an element of choice in the test format i.e. oral and written. These are some of the key elements of the scheme that CIWM and WAMITAB put forward but there is much more detail in the full proposal. All the consultation documents can be found on the Defra website (www.defra.gov.uk) or through a link on the CIWM website (www.ciwm.co.uk) and the CIWM will be running a short briefing session in the Autumn.

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