A number of companies that used to operate solely in one market can now be seen to operate or ‘converge’ across several linked business operations. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of converge is “come together as if to meet or join”, which is an apt description of what has been happening in the past decade or so in the waste and recycling sectors as well as facilities management (FM) and cleaning.
Although long considered to be separate entities, these sectors are becoming closer as synergies develop and competition increases. There has been a growing tendency for ‘one-stop shopping’ by customers seeking to ease the administrative process of managing their supplier base and achieve economies of scale by placing service requirements in the hands of one provider.
For example, companies that began in waste management may have expanded their services to include FM, which could include anything from cleaning, security and car parking through to supplying HR or finance services.
Equally, businesses that started as specialist cleaners may start to include other services either through organic growth, acquisition or by offering added value services such as sorting waste into different streams before the waste management contractor begins their part of the job.
Increasingly, the lines are being blurred between some service offerings, and this progression is even more likely for larger companies in the sectors. In addition, there are some clear synergies between the sectors where workers often provide unseen yet vital services and who share a common goal to keep premises of all types clean, safe and running efficiently.
The traditional approach of ‘take, make, use, dispose’ is not relevant in a world of dwindling resources where we need to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and make sure that, wherever possible, materials are remanufactured or reused rather than consigned to landfill.
Specialists cleaning companies
The cleaning sector is adopting a greener approach by utilising equipment and machinery that use less energy or chemicals, or can be more easily repaired to extend its life. The recycling and waste management industry has been at the forefront of technological progress in the past few years, developing ways of harnessing different energy sources and creating new methods to transform items previously considered as waste into useful materials.
It is not totally altruistic because being ‘eco-friendly’ or environmentally sound can also be a useful angle for marketing teams seeking to add a hint of green to their company’s products or services. At the same time, being green can also help to support a company’s corporate social responsibility strategy as well as helping to achieve significant cost savings by reducing waste.
With the carrot comes the stick, and the ever-present need to meet the increasingly stringent requirements of environmental legislation. It is interesting to note that while legislation is often ‘blamed’ on the EU, it is likely that some level of regulation will remain in place even when the UK has left because continued trade with Europe will make some aspects of it a requirement.
Innovation is the key to making the circular economy (CE) a reality.
However far away the worlds of waste, cleaning and FM may seem from the more rarefied fields of science and technology, it is clear that the application of the science, technology, engineering and maths subjects are essential to discovering new ways of converting waste streams into resources or seeking to maximise the efficient use of materials and equipment through the so-called Internet of Things. The component industries have a lot to learn from each other.
As things progress further, those involved in skills development must ensure that courses and qualifications complement these two industries, helping to create a more flexible and effective workforce.
With the Apprenticeship Levy coming into force from April 2017, it is important that the so-called trailblazer apprenticeship standard (developed by employer groups) is moulded to deliver the right skills to keep the UK on its path towards a true CE, and the input of employers is essential to make sure that happens.
Skills and knowledge development must keep pace with the changing world of industry to ensure that we have the correctly skilled people to drive things forward.
Wamitab is at the core of this convergence process, with a longstanding track record in the development of waste management qualifications, plus a range of qualifications for cleaning, street cleansing and FM. They are designed to create a potential bank of talent to meets the changing needs of businesses in these sectors.
A move to professionalise the waste sector will help to attract new talent and also ensure that those already in the industry are retained and engaged.
Chris James is the chief executive of Wamitab