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Training is for keeps

In the growing waste management and recycling sectors, where new technologies are rapidly advancing and stringent regulations being introduced, there has never been a greater need for training. A major priority for companies is the need to ensure staff retention. This can be achieved through training, which can help to show commitment to employee development and add to staff satisfaction.

With so many problems being posed by the challenging economy, at the heart of the issue is a real need for companies to find the right balance, within budgets, between keeping skills up to date while adding value and giving staff a competitive edge.

While budgets may be tight, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) education and training manager Claire Poole advises: “Never stop looking at learning and developing because, if you do, you will not be in the position to take advantage of new opportunities. Staff retention can also suffer because if that [learning and developing] stops, there is no incentive for them to stay with you.”

Poole emphasises the need for management to have a positive outlook towards training and recognise the significant role it can play during economic recovery.

“Do not write off training just because times are hard,” she says. “Spend time looking at the opportunities and think of what is best for the individual. It could mean somebody just doing a bit of research on their own or looking at online training courses. Be smarter about the way you look at it: do not think of everything as just ‘training’ - it is also about learning, and you need to be able to bounce back after the recession.”

The effects on the economic situation since the credit crunch have been felt hard by global institutions and the public sector alike. Students have taken to the streets in protest against increased tuition fees and cuts in the education maintenance allowance, previously available to school leavers continuing into higher education.

According to figures from the National Apprenticeship Service, 85% of school leavers remain in education after 16, but this drops to 50% after age 19. The proportion of school leavers aiming to remain in higher education is set to fall even further in coming years as students look for more cost-effective ways to gain qualifications and boost their career prospects. As a consequence, students will most likely opt for alternative development routes, such as apprentice-ships, which allow them to ‘earn while they learn’.

So how does the waste management and recycling industry use apprenticeships as a vehicle to forge ahead while placing itself in the best position to target and welcome new talent to fill skills gaps?

In February, Energy & Utility Skills (EU Skills), the sector skills council, joined the National Apprenticeship Service to celebrate the fourth annual National Apprenticeship Week, following the launch of its first apprenticeship dedicated to the waste management and recycling industry. EU Skills chief executive Tim Balcon used the occasion to proclaim the importance of strengthening the industry’s workforce through apprenticeships, particularly during a period beset with challenges from a competitive global economy.

He said: “Apprenticeships are critical to filling skills gaps and they play an essential role in today’s business. It is now more important than ever to focus on upskilling our workforce and training apprentices.”

With the Government pushing for more apprenticeships to become available and plans to invest £605m into adult apprenticeships this year, employing apprentices could be the future for companies seeking to recruit fresh talent.

“Never stop looking at learning and developing because, if you do, you will not be in the position to take advantage of new opportunities”

EU Skills apprenticeships manager Helen White highlights the advantages of the organisation’s new apprenticeship in sustainable resource management, which she believes can be used as a tool to boost the skills of the existing workforce or recruit new members.“Apprenticeships are entirely an employer-led product, and employers have been involved in developing every single part of the apprenticeship,” she says. “Research demonstrates that by providing training through apprenticeships, learners are more loyal to employers.

“Managers need to look at the sustainability of their businesses and look at skills gaps and where they need to be filled. Apprenticeships are a really good way of bringing those skills in.”

It is hoped that through embracing a move towards more apprenticeships, this will foster more structured career pathways and add to the variety of skills and diversity of age groups in the waste industry.

Training provider Serac managing director Don Glaister considers the possibilities: “It is about taking the opportunity to encourage recruitment to the sector, which has an ageing workforce, and meeting the skills gaps. Apprenticeships provide a framework for career development - in the past that has not happened. The apprentices can come in at an early stage and have a career path to develop through the industry. This will give them an opportunity to come in at level two and progress.”

Working in the waste management industry has traditionally not appealed as a career option to young people. But with new technologies being introduced, there will be more skills gaps to fill. Glaister anticipates that new technologies will help to bring new entrants into the industry, by adding a certain association of advancement.

“The waste industry is not seen as a glamorous industry. We are [now] using more advanced technologies, so that makes the industry more attractive to new recruits,” he says. “I think young people like to be involved in new technologies. They now recognise that companies are investing in processes which are more advanced, so it is no longer seen as a ‘dirty’ industry.”

Waste Recycling Group training manager Derek Chatting agrees. “The challenge in the industry is creating opportunities to attract young people,” he says. “But as we move on and technology becomes more advanced, I think there is going to be a situation where there is a steady flow of younger people who want to come into the industry.”

Chatting also voices the concerns shared by many about health and safety issues and the need for thorough training, especially where new entrants are involved: “There is always going to be a time when a company has to improve people and add to the apprentices’ understanding of health and safety.”

According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive in 2002, the accident rate in the waste industry was almost five times the national average. Chatting suggests a solution which employs a training method already used in the Royal Navy, to ensure the protection of new entrants in the industry.

“In the Navy, anybody who joins the ship gets a ‘buddy’, and it works because people can always turn to someone,” he says. “We need to make sure there is somebody the youngsters can turn to for day-to-day advice - it is also good for the person who gets to be the buddy because the role can be very rewarding.”

According to figures published in the 2010 Labour Market Investigation report by EU Skills, health and safety training was found to be the most common form of training offered to employees of SMEs, with 92% providing health and safety training within the period of one year. But financial pressures can still remain a barrier to providing technical training, more so with SMEs and micro-businesses than large employers.

Speaking to MRW before his retirement as WRAP director for local government services, Phillip Ward mentioned the importance to the sector of staff development. He says: “Enlightened employers recognise that as part of the work with their staff, it is important they develop staff. I think anybody who is trying to run a business or local authority department needs to be thinking how they can get more from the resources they have, and that includes the people.

“It does not have to be by formal training courses - there are lots of approaches to providing training. There is a big need to train crew and operators. If you have crew who understand what they are doing and why they are doing it, they are more confident.

“Everybody needs to be thinking about increasing the skills of their workforce. A tendency to think that training is dispensable is a real flaw.”

For a representative list of training courses, seeMRW29 April 2011 issue

By Emma Wordsworth

• Fill your own vacancies with your apprentices
“We think it is very important to offer training to a variety of employees. The apprenticeship programme provides training to young people and we have apprentices in all different types of activities. We look for roles that are difficult to fill. We aim to offer all our apprentices jobs at the end, which is important because you want to be able to fill your own vacancies with your apprentices.”

Consider your business needs
“Some companies choose to recruit more apprentices than they know they are going to need. Apprenticeships are a learning agreement and there is no obligation on the company to offer employment, but it is very important that you are open and honest with apprentices. Businesses really need to look for what it is they need. What you want to consider is: do you really have a business need to provide apprenticeships?”

• Getting help with funding
“Look to get somebody who can research and get funding for apprenticeships. Funding is available for all different size companies. The Learning and Skills Council can help and support in securing funding.”

• Recruiting apprentices
“When recruiting apprentices, we tend to advertise online through Connexions, where we ask people to complete an application and then we tend to shortlist from there. We believe it is really important that people have an interest in what they will be studying for a number of years, so we match up an applicant’s interests with the apprenticeships available. One of the apprenticeship schemes we offer is horticulture, so it helps if we have got people who have interests in gardening.”

• Legal pitfalls to avoid
“You need to make sure that you are not discriminatory to people and you need to be able to offer training to young and older people.”

The right atmosphere
“It is really important that apprentices feel part of the working environment. They should be encouraged to feel part of the team and it should make for a pleasant environment. It is really important that the manager works with them closely to monitor progress.”
Emma Wordsworth is human resources director at Veolia Environmental Services

Taunton-based Viridor played a significant part in developing the apprenticeship in sustainable resource management with EU Skills, and has created other apprenticeship schemes at its own sites, forming links with young people in the local community. The company offers a vehicle fitter apprenticeship, which is run in conjunction with a local college, using a work-based learning approach.

Since September 2009, some Viridor employees have taken part in a mentoring programme with students, helping them with assignments and ideas for their work experience placements. The company has also developed an initiative providing students from schools and colleges with the opportunity to gain practical experience of working in the waste management and recycling industry.

Viridor training and development officer Sue Perry says: “We have become more aware of the opportunities that apprenticeships can give us. It attracts more young people into the industry, which is important because there is an ageing workforce.”

Meanwhile, Veolia Environmental Services (VES) has been investing in staff training through its own training centre, Campus Veolia. The waste management firm offers an apprenticeship scheme which provides on-the-job training and nationally recognised qualifications.

In February, the company awarded certificates to two of its newly qualified apprentices who completed the NVQ level three in the Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme. The apprentices were also offered work at the company after gaining their qualifications.

Mark Jennings, currently based at the Energy Recovery Facility in Portsmouth, is halfway through his four-year engineering apprenticeship with VES. What appealed to Jennings was the chance to pick up specialist intermediate-level technician, supervisory and craft skills at NVQ Levels 2 and 3. He knew this would give him a great start on his chosen career path, working for VES or elsewhere in the power industry.

Veolia apprenticeship manager Jenny Mountford says: “Our apprentice scheme offers on-the-job training and qualifications in a growing industry. These young people will find their new skills are much in demand throughout their careers.”

Suffolk-based ABA Training is one of the first training providers in England to offer the new apprenticeship in sustainable resource management - the first dedicated to the waste management and recycling industry - and has registered three people. The new apprenticeship underpins a broad range of occupational roles in the collection, transport, treatment and final management of waste and recyclables, at both operator and supervisory levels. Its development has been driven by the Waste Industry Skills Initiative.

ABA business development assistant Alan Lowden says: “We see huge potential for apprenticeships in the waste management and recycling industry. We are delighted to have our first three apprentices on the programme. With a waste management background, I see the potential for individuals to undertake apprenticeships, while for new workers there are countless opportunities for a long career in the industry.”

Meanwhile, Cylch, the Welsh Community Recycling Network, in partnership with Vale of Glamorgan Training Association (Barry College), is the first organisation in Wales to have registered five people on to the new apprenticeship scheme. Nordic Pioneer has recruited 25 apprentices to start work for Darlington Borough Council.

The apprenticeship contains qualifications accredited by the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board and City & Guilds. It is based on national occupational standards, which are industry-agreed performance standards that an individual is required to work to in a given occupation to demonstrate job competence.

By Simon Catford

The lively debate surrounding apprenticeships has recently been stimulated by the Wolf Review, which recommended that the Government should take funding from vocational qualifications that “offer nothing to the employability of young people” and give it instead to employer-led apprenticeships and training. The Telegraph Business Club recently reported a similar sentiment among members.

While it is evident that many businesses view apprenticeship schemes as a burden rather than an advantage, Viridor’s experience of working in partnership with the sector skills council for the waste and recycling industry, Energy & Utility (EU) Skills, has been very positive.

Attracting fresh talent and updating the skills of existing staff is crucial to any industry. For the waste management sector, which is in the throes of evolution as it moves from simple disposal to renewable energy generation and invests in technology innovation, future-proofing its workforce is vital.

The key challenge is to make our industry attractive to potential talent against competitive industries, and partnering with skills councils and apprenticeship services is critical to achieving this.

EU Skills is working with Viridor, the wider industry, colleges and training providers to deliver quality apprenticeships. With this expertise and enthusiasm behind it, the initiative is becoming a driving force for change - ultimately helping to secure the future of our sector.

The recent re-engineering of the Apprenticeship Programme has provided a clear delivery route for skills and training - for both new and existing staff. There is also now a programme designed specifically for our industry - the sustainable resources management apprenticeship. In partnership with the Apprenticeship Service, Viridor is also investigating new ways of creating apprenticeship opportunities from existing job vacancies.

These resources are made possible through a full partnership between our industry and EU Skills, with the Waste Industry Skills Initiative steering group driving the work programme and EU Skills delivering it.

It is clear that through partnership working, the waste management industry is now in a position to set out its stall for the careers it can offer. It is crucial that we ensure our vacancies stand out from those of neighbouring industries such as utilities which, although they also suffer from similar skills shortages, are still well ahead in presenting role attractiveness and career development.
Simon Catford is corporate responsibility and regulatory director at Viridor


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