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Testing times for waste sector as education rises up agenda

The waste industry needs to start investing in the education of its staff or face a future where it fails to retain the best candidates, according a leading academic.

In an interview with MRW, University of Southampton school of civil engineering and the environment deputy head Dr Ian Williams said that waste management companies do not appear to want to invest in the education and training of their staff. 

He said: The attitude of many of the old guard appears to be I did not need a qualification to degree level to get ahead in the industry. Many people in positions of power within the sector do not have a degree or higher qualifications and do not see the need for them. But the world is a different place now.

So what does the waste industry think? 

Environmental consultancy Hyder Consulting head of waste management Adam Read agrees with Williams. Read said in ten years time the old guard in the industry will be approaching retirement and the industry increasingly needs to attract more bright young things.

When a father asks his 18 year old A-Level biology student son or daughter what he or she wants to do for a career they dont mention the waste management industry, Read added

We need to make waste management über sexy so that when students are studying geography at school that they have modules that include waste management and landfill restoration.
When kids at 14 are at school they automatically think of a dustman and black sacks when they think of waste management and are not seeing it as a crucial industry.

Read said that the industry needed to attach waste management to the wider issues of climate change and saving the planet. He also said that not a lot of graduates are coming out of the waste management chain and only one university in the UK offers a specialist undergraduate degree course in waste management. Williams says only the University College Northampton offers this course. 

Yet, at undergraduate level, waste management is taught in 49 modules at 41 universities in the UK, with a total of 65 named degrees offering some type of waste management education. Read argues that topics such as anaerobic digestion, pyrolosis and gasification can easily be embedded in an environmental engineering degree or geography degree.

The industry is changing. There is new technology, public awareness of waste management and we as an industry need to pull for new people to come into the sector.

We need to raise its sexy profile so when we are next at a dinner party we need to send out the message that the waste industry is the new black.

Claire Poole, manager at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, the body for waste professionals, education and training, said that the UK waste industry needs a range of experienced people to meet the growing use of new technologies. Poole said that education and training offered ways of ensuring companies move forward and respond to changing needs ahead of competition. There are a range of qualifications available at different levels and time commitments. However, these are usually subject to demand if they are not used they will disappear.

Williams said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had invested £400,000 in Masters level module waste management courses around the country but take up had been pitiful. CIWM said that the course material had been requested by and issued to over 50 University contacts. But Williams said: I will happily stand corrected if I am wrong but I suspect that a very small number are actually taking or using the module.

Sita UK agrees with Williams that the recycling and waste management industry needs to attract more skilled employees. HR and communications director Kevan Sproul said last year

Sita reintroduced a nationwide graduate recruitment scheme and had recruited 10 people on this scheme who work across the company. Next year we have decided to change the focus to recruit engineering graduates, who will be pivotal in helping us to deliver new types of waste treatment.

Another large waste company, Cory Environmental, said that it has invested more than £200,000 in the past three years to develop its middle managers and senior managers, paying for more than 20 of them to do a Chartered Management Institute Executive Diploma in Management equivalent to an NVQ Level 7.

Learning development advisor Fiona Cummins explained: Since achieving the qualification many of the managers have been promoted and there has been very little turnover of staff that have achieved the qualification thus encouraging a culture of long stayers.

But Cummins said that courses should be run in-house and that some of the external off the shelf courses may not achieve the same results it has to align with our systems and processes.  

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