Is it hard to sell the prospect of a fulfilling career when the word ‘waste’ is involved? According to LondonEnergy, formerly LondonWaste, its “continual challenge” to recruit the right people for the business and ensure succession planning was part of the reason it rebranded and repositioned itself with a focus on sustainable energy. It is striving to position itself as a leader in this area and therefore an attractive place to work.
Meanwhile, education and skills is one of the six priority areas that the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) will be focusing on this year. This will include work on the new waste and recycling apprenticeships in England and the wider skills for a ‘resourceefficient economy’ agenda.
Claire Poole, professional development manager at the CIWM, explains that the organisation is currently reviewing the training needs of the sector and this will inform its plans for the year. It has successfully applied to be included on the apprenticeship training provider register and will “continue to review the potential for future apprenticeship delivery”.
An objective for 2018 is to help the sector understand the new apprenticeships framework. It is scoping out what information, advice and support the recycling sector needs to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the apprenticeship levy scheme.
The CIWM is part of an employer-led group that is developing the new waste management and recycling Trailblazer apprenticeship standards. Poole reports that the proposal for a Level 2 waste & resource operative apprenticeship is progressing towards the approval stage and the Level 4 resource technical manager is now due for development.
She agrees that the industry can find it a challenge to recruit the right people: “Resource and waste management is not always seen as a sector to aspire to, and the academic and career paths are less clear than for other more recognised disciplines.
“That said, once people work in the sector, they often come to see it as an interesting and challenging area in which to work. As the industry moves from traditional waste management to resource management, it needs candidates with a broader skills set.
“For example, anecdotal evidence suggests that some local authorities are worried about succession planning because they are not seeing people come in who have the right mix of practical waste experience and general business experience – such as contract management.”
She believes there may be scope to address this through the apprenticeship framework, but it will require greater employer commitment to and engagement in developing employees on the job. Indeed, Poole adds that the sector is a prime example of one that needs people with transferable skills and where lifelong learning is important because of factors such as changing technology, legislation and regulatory controls.
Skills gaps are apparent in the industry. Poole explains: “Some of these are related to changes in the availability of skilled labour at an operational level, such as HGV drivers, and others to public sector budget cuts, which have seen council planning and contract management capability reduced significantly.
“At a wider level, as the sector engages with other UK industries to move toward more circular economy models, additional skills across a range of areas from reuse and remanufacturing through to engineering, environmental economics and life cycle analysis will be required.”
Poole adds that in the CIWM’s response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy, it said that skills related to low-carbon growth, resource productivity and efficiency are increasingly important to most professions and supply chains – not just the core resource and waste management sector.
“In this regard, it would benefit from a Government-led, strategic approach to skills linked to the Industrial Strategy,” she says.
As to whether the waste industry has a problem with attracting and recruiting young people, Poole agrees that “more could and should be done” to promote the sector.
“Collectively, we need to better articulate the diversity of disciplines and the clear link to the low-carbon growth, climate change and energy agendas, as well as the environmental protection remit, to appeal to those who may not have identified the waste sector as a potential career choice but are interested in applying new techniques and approaches to solving sustainability issues.”
She says that “embedding resource and waste management more visibly in further and higher education has to be a long-term goal”. But in the shorter term, the CIWM will be looking to see how it can “help the resource and waste management sector to be more proactive in developing people”.
At secondary school level, the Careers Strategy, published by the Department for Education in December 2017, states that by the end of 2020, schools should offer every young person seven encounters with employers: at least one each year from years 7 to 13 and “some of these should be with science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) employers”.
An initiative by the Careers & Enterprise Company, which connects schools and colleges with employers and career programme advisers, is asking employers to reach out to one young person for every 10 employees they have working for them. Claudia Harris, its chief executive, says: “Young people need vivid experiences with potential employers to bring career opportunities to life.”
Will your business take up the challenge?